Grateful Web Interview with Vince Herman - 2020

Article Contributed by June Reedy | Published on Saturday, February 15, 2020

Vince Herman came from a musical family, inspired by his grandfather that would sing on holidays when he had a drink or two. He began guitar lessons in the third grade from a local accordion player in a polka band. By the time he reached high school, he had found bluegrass while sipping moonshine and listening to Bill Monroe sing Walls of Time. By 1980, Vince found the Grateful Dead and we are all better for that magic event. Leftover Salmon celebrated its 30th anniversary under the Big Top on New Years' Eve 2019. One of the most influential bands around, Leftover Salmon’s Vince Herman shared some time with Grateful Web recently.

GW: Hi Vince! It’s June from Grateful Web.

VH: How are you doing, June?

GW: I’m doing well, how are you doing?

VH: Excellent. I’m driving through the Smoky Mountains heading up to Brevard, North Carolina.

GW: Are you playing some John Denver?

VH: Yeah well ya know the thing about that West Virginia is there ain’t no Smoky Mountains and there ain’t no Blue Ridge Mountains and there’s no Shenandoah River in West Virginia either… details…

Vince Herman | Summer Camp 2011 | photo by June Jameson

GW: Fuggin Artists! (chuckles)

VH: Yeah, what were they thinking…?! (chuckles)

GW: So how are the shows so far? How many have you played? It’s you & Drew doing this, right?

VH: Yeah just 2 shows so far. It’s somewhat frightening playing to an audience that is sitting down. We’re learning! We’re learning the singer-songwriter kind of feel to things. It’s definitely a different thing for us.

Drew Emmitt | Summer Camp 2011 | photo by June Jameson

GW: Are all the shows at City Wineries?

VH: A lot of em, not all of em. (tour dates listed below) 

GW: I will be joining you for your leap year shows here in Chicago at the City Winery. I can’t wait to see you! In the spirit of City Winery, do you have something to whine about? What is something that recently irked you?

VH: The whole country has something to whine about, jeebus. Believe me. These are serious times, there is plenty of whining to do.  But there is more voting to do so…

GW: Amen. Are they gonna have a bottle of wine with your faces on it? I never thought I’d see the day! Leftover Salmon inspired so many front porch jug bands across America, maybe City Winery would sponsor a jug of wine with your faces on it.

VH: That’s a good idea. Tonight maybe we’ll have a jug of moonshine. 

Vince Herman | Summer Series 2019 | photo by Steve Baran

GW: That would be so great! So, in regards to the book, 30 Years of Festival! By Tim Newby, now that it’s been out there for a while and a lot of people have read it, does it feel like a window in your Leftover Salmon soul?  Is it weird that everybody knows all these stories now? 

VH: I feel pretty good about it. It was a huge honor for Tim Newby to take all that time to do all the research, getting the dates and places of all that stuff. It was certainly a great service to us. That is how I’ll remember it. I got it in writing now, so that must be how it happened.

GW: (chuckles) Ah, right so now everybody can tell you what you did, so thank you.

VH: Exactly! That’s about how my memory works… It works out alright

GW: My other question while reading the book was, I guess I hadn’t really thought about the Nashville Sessions and the timing of it all.  Nashville Sessions came out in Sept of 1999. O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack came out a little over a year later in December of 2000.  What are your thoughts about the synchronicity of all that? 

VH: I think we caused the whole movie to happen. (chuckles)

Leftover Salmon | Summer Series 2019 | photo by Steve Baran

GW: I think so too.

VH: I mean, I never really saw any connection between that but it was shortly after that we did O Cracker Where Art Thou record.

GW: Oh heck yes

VH: That’s where we did the Cracker tunes in a bluegrass setting, O Cracker Where Art thou got a riff on that I guess. But yeah, ya know that’s the thing with music. It always feels like this is our year. Bluegrass is gonna become more popular than polka! Ya know?

GW: You are really hung on this polka thing, huh?

VH: Oh yeah, I’m on it! Billy Strings might just be the guy to do that. 

GW: I just had a chance to interview Molly Tuttle. That whole generation is coming for us!

VH: Yeah, they are definitely doing great things for music. Maybe we’ll have another wave of bluegrass appreciation.

Drew & Vince

GW: Bluegrass appreciation, I love it.  So here is a deeper question. You’ve been doing this for 30 years, you are the originators of “Polyethnic Cajun Slamgrass," you’ve traded in your normal life for a weird life on the road. I think that speaks to your service to others, letting the weirdos out there feel normal when they come to a show or listen to your music. Would you describe yourself as an empath?

VH: I think I’m conscious, I’m aware. I gotta have social interaction with people like you that allows me to see what’s going on with people, but I wouldn’t go so far as to describe myself as an empath. I don’t take on their pain where I can’t shake it, ya know? I have music... I just saw an article that said 9 minutes of playing music will get rid of sorrow. 7 minutes of playing music will bring joy.  We’re feeling really lucky to have music as therapy. We take our people in, we feel the pain of the country right now. We get right back onto that path of joy, where we should be… as frequently as we can.

GW: This sounds a lot like the new tune you’ve been playing a lot lately, The Brand New Good Old Days. Can you tell us more about what inspired that? 

VH: It’s more like it used to be now than it ever has been! 

GW: That’s deep.

VH: When you’re getting older, it’s just gonna keep continuing to get older. This is as young as we’re gonna get, today. Gotta remember that.

GW: I love that. Now is the right time!

VH: These will eventually be the good ol days.

Vince Herman | photo by Jake Cudek

GW: The brand new good ol days! Was there any sort of sympathy with this song for losing Jeff (Austin)? I know you wrote another shortly after the news spread..

VH: Sure is. It’s hard to make sense of it. This way of making a living can chew you up and spit you out, pretty… pretty easily. I think Jeff felt the weight of the world on him. Yeah, it’s hard. It’s hard, man. That was a major loss. We still grieve that. I hope that some good things come out of it. This Backline support, mental health organization, came out of it. For musicians, it’s a great idea. I’d definitely like people to support that. 

GW: Absolutely.  How do you do it personally? Walk the line between doing what you want to do and doing what you have to do?

VH: Luckily what I have to do is what I want to do. I’m really lucky to be playing music, producing records, making records with other bands. With Salmon, I am busy as could be. Luckily, I’m really happy to be doing what I’m doing when I’m that busy. Some time, it might be nice to have a little relaxing time.

GW: What do you do to relax?

VH: uhhh… yeah…. Play music!

Leftover Salmon & Infamous Stringdusters | 2017

GW: Kick back with your guitar! (chuckles all around) 

VH: Pretty much

GW: So in the spirit of Jeff (Austin) who was a cartoon nerd, you guys were the house band for Deadliest Catch, you’ve done some stuff with Adult Swim, is there any other TV spots or appearances that I don’t know about that we can geek out to? 

VH: There are some PBS things from the caves in Tennessee.

GW: Oh cool!

VH: Yeah, not a lot. I would sure like to do some more. I have a background in acting from college, that would be kinda fun to do someday.

GW: I’d watch it! Yer pretty face...okay! So I have one last question for you. In the great American tradition of Hall & Oates, Simon & Garfunkel, and Drew & Vince… What is your favorite American duo? 

Catch Drew & Vince on tour tonight in Albany, NY

VH: Yeah man, I love the Lily Brothers. Favorite duo?! Man, Del & Ronnie McCoury! They are so great together. I love the Lily brothers, the Stanley Brothers, the Everly Brothers! All those brothers… Gillian Welch and David Rowling, great duo… Trey Hensley and Rob Ickes! That was a great duo. There is a great tradition of duos...

GW: Peanut butter and jelly, beer and pretzels, Drew & Vince! Well, thank you for hanging out with us today and stay safe out there on the road.

VH: Thank you! I look forward to seeing ya!

Drew & Vince Duo Tour

Feb 14    The Egg   Albany, NY

Feb 15    Stage One   Fairfield, CT

Feb 16    City Winery   Boston, MA

Feb 27    Kenny’s Westside Pub   Peoria, IL

Feb 28    Redstone Room    Davenport, IA

Feb 29    City Winery   Chicago, IL (TWO SHOWS!  630 pm & 930 pm)