Leftover Salmon is deep into their third decade of performance and recording. While bands with no integrity that pander to the lowest common denominator of music fans are on the way to the state fair circuit, Leftover Salmon’s grass-roots and independent approach are what keeps their fans coming back for more. Being labeled “indie” isn’t just for the “guitar-angst-post-punk” crowd.
The beloved Colorado-based “polyethnic-cajun-slamgrass” band continues to be a darling of the festival circuit and is a favorite state and nationwide; despite a brief hiatus in 2004, they’ve been at it since 1989, with founding members Vince Herman and Drew Emmitt leading an on-stage party of musical spontaneity that has explored a wealth of genres. Leftover Salmon will be in town next week for shows at the Animas City Theatre on Tuesday and Wednesday.
You can tell a lot about a band by the company they keep; in this case, rock, jam, bluegrass and funk bands at the local, regional and national levels have all sat in or recorded with the band at one point or another. Their latest record was the live album “25,” chronicling a quarter century of songs about mountains, weed, friends, relationships and celebratory tales of a band on the road wrapped up in an unpredictable musical package.
“We call it polyethnic-cajun-slamgrass, but I guess it’s really hopped-up bluegrass these days,” said Herman in recent phone interview. “But it’s also calypso, reggae, blues, ska, polka … whatever.”
“Whatever” is a good catchall as bluegrass tunes meander into wandering psychedelic jams, or Cajun songs branch off into a rock tune with Herman ad-libbing lyrics. There are a lot of on-stage antics that come with some depth; while the content may seem lighthearted and often overshadowed by the party, Herman remains an astute and outspoken student of politics and activism, which can come out in song and even more so in his on-stage banter.
Salmon’s history in Durango goes back to 1991. The band would pull into town to play a happy hour set at the defunct and long-lamented Farquahrts (now the Derailed Pour House), and ending the show many hours later. Durango was a huge boost for the young band, establishing them as a heavy hitter on the festival circuit and in the jam scene.
Herman and Emmitt remain a solid foundation, both being there since the beginning. Bass player Greg Garrison is in his 16th year with Salmon, and keyboard player Erik Deutsch is sitting in for this tour. The front-men have many years on drummer Alwyn Robinson and banjo player Andy Thorn, the younger players who have breathed new life into Salmon.
“Alwyn is just such a great pile of energy, really fun to hang out with. A really strong steady drummer, combined with Greg Garrison, it’s a rock-steady rhythm section to work off of. And Andy Thorn, just such a godsend to have found Andy to do this thing with us,” said Herman. “We’re just happy as can be with the band right now; we’re really enjoying this place we’re in.”
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. [email protected]