Leftover Salmon have become a mainstay in the increasingly popular jamgrass scene since their inception in 1989, overcoming hardships and lineup changes, including the passing of original banjoist Mark Vann in 2002 and an extended hiatus in the mid-aughts. Since then, the band has enjoyed a reinvigorated resurgence with national tours and two new studio albums.
The band recently celebrated their 25th anniversary, and to commemorate the milestone, the band is releasing a 25-track live album on November 27. The record will feature all previously unreleased performances taken from various venues across the country and will coincide with the introduction of the signature Silver Salmon Lager from Breckinridge Brewery from the band’s home state of Colorado.
Drew Emmitt is one of the founding members of Leftover Salmon, providing vocals and his multi-instrumental talents to the group’s unique sound since they played their first notes together in the Centennial State. Speaking from the tour bus as they make their way around Florida, Emmitt discusses the anniversary album, the band’s place in the current bluegrass resurgence, their love of the Grateful Dead and why he thinks this might be the best Salmon lineup since the beginning.
What were the plans coming into your silver anniversary year?
Well, we’ve been kind of celebrating all year. We had our official 25th anniversary this past New Year’s—we were in Chicago and we had a really fun night. Our manager surprised us with an appearance from Sam Bush and Col. Bruce Hampton. We also had Keller Williams and his band More Than a Little opening for us, so it was quite the epic night. Sam walked out on stage carrying a cake, and then Bruce came up from the other side. It was just really great.
With the live download album, how did you guys go about picking out the tracks?
Really our bass player, Greg Garrison, is most responsible for that. He sifted through a bunch of different live stuff. But we recorded over the course of a couple of years in a few different places, the Boulder Theater being one, and also The Hamilton in DC; Lincoln, Nebraska, and Terrapin Crossroads, also the Vic in Chicago. So Greg and our sound man Mario Casilio pretty much put that together and produced it, and Mario did the mixing. That was kind of Greg’s baby. There’s some really fun stuff on there. Bill Payne is on it, as well as some special guests, so we’re really psyched with it.
Do you have any special plans for your Thanksgiving and New Year’s shows?
We do. We’re actually having special guests come in and play fiddle with us—Alex Hargreaves, who’s a very talented young fiddle player, so we’re looking forward to that. Bill Payne is going to join us again for Thanksgiving and for New Years. He is joining The Doobie Brothers, so he’s not going to be able to play with us full time anymore. Hard to say “no” to that [laughs]. We’re definitely going to miss him, but it was great playing with him while it lasted. He’s going to be joining us now and again, but in the meantime we’re kind of reaching out to different people and having different special guests to round out the band. Mostly, right now, we’re just playing as a five-piece, and that’s been really fun—kind of like the old days.
What has it been like to have Bill in the group—to have him come in and add that extra member and keys?
It’s been great. He’s an amazing world-class musician and has a lot of incredible experience not only playing with Little Feat but with tons of other people. Recording the last record with him and having him on this live record has been great. We’ve had the opportunity to play some Little Feat tunes with him, and it was just really, really fun. He definitely brought another element to the band and sort of gave us an extra gear. So that was a really wonderful experience, and great to get to know him—definitely very enriching musically and also on a personal basis. We totally dug it, and we’re keeping the tour open for whenever he wants to come out and do shows with us again.
During the Grateful Dead Fare Thee Well concerts, you guys played some shows and also hosted a webcast of the concerts, and then you also celebrated Jerry’s birthday at SolShine at Winter Park later in the year. Can you talk about the band’s connection with the Dead—what that music means to you as a band, and also personally as a fan?
Well, a whole lot—all of us have connections in one way or another to the Dead, musically, and we all got to see the Dead back in the day. I got to see them at Red Rocks, which was really amazing. There’s a lot of similarities because the Grateful Dead were, in a lot of ways, also from a bluegrass tradition, and they took bluegrass into a larger arena. We’re very influenced by bluegrass as well as lots of other styles, which is a lot like [the Dead]. I think every one of us in our own way was influenced by them.
It was great to be part of that Fare Thee Well week. It was such an amazing event. Some of us went to the show on Sunday—I wasn’t one of them; I actually ended up having to go home—but some of the band actually got to go see them on Sunday. But we did stream the shows at the venue through a big PA and with big screens, so for me it was very much like being there. And it was amazing.
We got to play with Phil at Terrapin Crossroads this past spring, and that was really, really great—just an amazing experience. Playing Dead tunes with him was kind of like being in the Grateful Dead, in a way. It was really, really cool. And we’ve gotten to know Bill Kreutzmann over the last couple of years. We’ve spent some time out with him out in Hawaii, and he’s come and sat in with us. So there’s definitely been a lot of connections with the Dead. And being there in Chicago during all of that, it was just really exciting, you could just feel it—the whole city was just electric from it.
What is it like playing Dead tunes with actual members of the band—like Phil?
It was great. I mean his band—his son on guitar and his band that plays with him are all really good, and they’ve got the harmonies down and the arrangements. To plug into that and be part of that was really super cool. And I got to stand next to Phil and just groove with him. I mean, there’s no other bass player like that. To actually play music with him and with his band and to play those songs—it’s really hard to describe how wonderful that was. And then we got to spend some time with him afterwards. He came out to the RV with us, and we hung out and he told some stories. I really cherish that evening.
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