Andy Thorn could be anybody’s banjo player. Jug or jam band, progressive newgrass or traditional bluegrass band, Thorn is more than capable of bringing a band to the next level with his banjo. The North Carolina native, 2003 winner of the Rockygrass banjo contest and member of the 2003 Rockygrass band competition winner Broke Mountain out of Durango is one of the hottest banjo pickers in the nation. When Leftover Salmon came off a short hiatus in 2009, Thorn joined, adding a solid dose of rejuvenation and a shot in the arm via banjo to the beloved Colorado “polyethnic-cajun-slamgrass” band.
Leftover Salmon will return to Durango Friday (Jan. 26) with a show at the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College. Opening the show is Head for the Hills.
Leftover has been driven since Day 1 by Vince Herman and Drew Emmitt, but the Leftover story can’t be told without mentioning the cast of people that have also come into the Leftover Salmon family, which includes Thorn.
Thorn, after playing in Broke Mountain, was already becoming known around the state as a solid musician. A fellow banjo picker pushed him toward the Leftover camp.
“Infamous Stringduster Chris Pandolfi has been a good banjo buddy. He was playing with Drew in the Emmitt-Nershi band, and in that time, the Dusters were going way more full-time and he had to quit,” said Thorn. “He recommended me, and I still thank him for that today because it got me the hookup with Drew. Leftover was on hiatus at that point and I started to fill in on reunion gigs and I think they were like, ‘Oh man, this would be easy; Andy’s down to join the band’ because they had trouble finding a full-time banjo player and I was very excited to be there.”
Thorn dove right in, contributing the title track to their last two records, and being a major part in their sound that walks a line between New Grass Revival and Little Feat. It’s a solid contribution. Thorn plays with the drive heard in a traditional bluegrass band, where the banjo is front and center, but is also capable of reeling it back when Leftover Salmon stretches a song out. The band’s unwritten mission statement celebrates lots of playing and even more fun, and Thorn had been a fan for years prior to joining.
“Drew had become a good friend, and I had become good friends with Vince over the years hanging around Boulder and Nederland, just by stopping by his house after skiing. All they wanted to do was jam, and that’s all I wanted to do,” said Thorn. “That’s when I got to know Vince and I think he accepted me, so I already felt comfortable with those two dudes and they were good at making me feel comfortable. I had been seeing them since I was a teenager in North Carolina, so it’s fun to be doing it now. I first saw them at Merlefest in 1998, and after the weekend, I was like, ‘Leftover Salmon, those guys have a lot of fun.’”
Later this year, Leftover Salmon will release their 10th record. Recorded at WaveLab Studios in Tucson, Arizona, “Something Higher” is touted by Thorn as one of their best yet: “It’s a lot more cohesive than the other albums. We’ve really developed a sound together. We went in and made a band album with not a lot of extra stuff. It’s going to be really cool, and recorded analog to tape so it sounds really old-school.”
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. [email protected]