I am given a run-through tutorial about Leftover Salmon, The Mark Vann Foundation, and the newly formed Great American Taxi. I had not seen the musicians of Leftover Salmon since I was a teenager, when I’d fabricated some half-baked story in order to dance the night away at their show back in 2002, shortly after the band lost Mark Vann to a six-month battle with cancer. The spirit of both nights was of commemoration, rather than mourning. The eighth annual Mark Vann Holiday benefit was a celebration of music, community, and the “go big” attitude Vann had towards life.
The foundation had put together a line-up of artists including the Billy McKay Band, Bonfire Dub and Shannon McNally with her band, Hot Sauce. The Billy McKay Band brought to the stage a blue vibe, reflecting on recent losses in the nearby Left Hand Canyon fire.
Later, Bonfire Dub – a band from Vail, Colorado - had the audience stepping with high energy stage presence, combining a basic rock setup with ukulele, percussion, and electronic beats. They are certainly worth checking out next time you are in the Vail valley.
Todd Snider headlined with Great American Taxi and welcomed special guests Jeff Austin (of Yonder Mountain String Band), Bridget Law, and Bonnie Paine (both of Elephant Revival), as well as a small fleet of banjo players. The pickers covered a wide range of music, opening with a classic cover of The Band’s “The Shape I’m In” and moved into a driving fast-grass rendition of “Big Sandy River”. From bluegrass to blues, Todd Snider slowed it down with “Nobody’s Fault but Mine”.
In his bare feet and with a floppy brown hat pulled over his eyes, Todd Snider has been called “the epitome of a scruffy modern troubadour” (The New York Times). This evening was no exception, as he stirred the audience on songs like “Lookin’ for a Job”.
Jeff Austin filled in on mandolin and together they made a hardy groove that had the audience stepping and swaying. There were several Snider originals performed, but unfortunately no storytelling.
By the end of the evening the stage was a Noah’s Ark of bluegrass instruments, two of everything, and a clarinet to boot. All of the opening acts and the banjorchestra hopped back onstage for a round of Neil Yong’s “Helpless”. On the eve after the 30th anniversary of John Lennon’s death, the musician-packed stage ended the night with “Imagine”, both somber and uplifting.
Bridget Law of Elephant Revival was kind enough to share some of her thoughts from the Mark Vann Benefit show:
GW: What are Todd Snider and the guys from Great American Taxi like backstage?
BL: Peaceful and friendly. They are all total sweethearts! Todd kind of keeps to himself, but once he knows you he's a totally into talking and playing tunes. He's interested in new music and loves talking about obscure Bob Dylan records and stuff. The GAT guys are usual having a good time, especially in Boulder where all their friends and wives are around. Of course, the Vince Herman vibe is always wonderfully cheerful! He's the most friendly fun-loving guy in show biz!
GW: As a bluegrass musician, what do you think of Jeff Austin’s mandolin playing? Have you ever heard anyone like him?
BL: When I was 20 and just getting into bluegrass, Jeff really inspired me. Mainly because he's so good at engaging the energy. He feels the vibe and usually raises the intensity level, which is always fun when you are dancing! Now I'm 27 and I've met a lot of amazing mandolin players, but Jeff's playing still tugs on my soul! I've heard a lot of people try to play like him, but he's the innovator of his jamgrass mandolin style of playing for sure!
GW: Do you know Jim Lewis personally?
BL: I'm getting to know him more and more all the time. He lives in Santa Cruz, CA so I really only see him at Taxi shows. But he's such a sweetheart! And an incredible player! I've had some really wonderful musical moments trading solos with Jim. He listens and responds with great musical conversation and his tone is excellent! I'm a fan, obviously!
GW: Any comments on Mark Vann and /or the spirit of the evening?
BL: I never had the chance to meet Mark Vann, but he sounds like an incredible person. Humorous, innovative and multi-talented musician! Not only was he a great player but he also handled the business side for the band and did the carpentry on their tour but "Bridget"! I love his playing too... It's great to hear Vince and Drew (especially) reminisce about Mark. He sounds like and excellent guy and a wonderful friend. The spirit of the Mark Vann Benefit is a fun-loving annual community event that everyone looks forward to. There are so many great folks involved, obviously because so many people loved him! I'm honored to have been invited into this community gathering and I love engaging his wonderful spirit through the music!
GW: Are there any other profound thoughts you had about the whole experience?
BL: This year was the best year yet! I loved how by the end everyone was soft and sentimental. I believe Bonfire Dub and Todd Snider's presence really helped it flow that way. It was truly a heart-felt amazing musical experience and it was great to share it with so many wonderful friends in the spirit of a truly wonderful life!