Leftover Salmon New Year's Eve Run at The Sweetwater

Article Contributed by Gabriel David Barkin | Published on Tuesday, January 2, 2024

The Bay Area was awash with live music during the final days of 2023. During the week leading up to and including New Year’s Eve, live music fans in the region could choose The String Cheese Incident, LCD Soundsystem, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Les Claypool’s Bastard Jazz, Jerry Harrison and Adrian Belew’s “Remain in Light” Talking Heads tribute, Charlie Musselwhite, and Jerry’s Middle Finger, among others. And of course, some folks stayed home to stream Phish.

Vince Herman | Leftover Salmon

For many fans, however, Leftover Salmon (LoS) was a must-see for at least one of their three gigs at Mill Valley’s Sweetwater Music Hall on December 29, 30, and 31. With their timeless, high-energy recipe for “polyethnic Cajun slamgrass,” the well-loved band rang in the new year to the delight of their faithful followers.

David Nelson | Sweetwater Music Hall

LoS advertised special guests David Nelson (New Riders of the Purple Sage, David Nelson Band) for the Dec. 30 show, and singer Maria Muldaur for New Year’s Eve. These two nights sold out, and as promised, each performance included a unique collaborative experience. A few surprise guests during the three-night stand added to the fun.

Leftover Salmon | Sweetwater Music Hall

LoS played their first NorCal show at the Sweetwater, in the club’s old site down the street, way back in January 1994, five years after they got their start in Boulder, CO. The venue holds a special place in the band’s heart. Thirty years after that first Bay Area appearance, the venerable bluegrass-jamband was in fine form as they returned for yet another Sweetwater run. Founding members Vince Herman (guitar, vocals) and Drew Emmitt (guitar, mandolin, fiddle, vocals) are currently accompanied by Andy Thorn (banjo, fiddle, vocals), Greg Garrison (bass, vocals), Alwyn Robinson (drums) and newcomer Jay Starling (keyboards, pedal steel, dobro), who joined in 2022.

Alwyn Robinson | Leftover Salmon

Drew Emmitt | Leftover Salmon

Leftover Salmon | Sweetwater Music Hall

Vince Herman underscored the importance of the Sweetwater gigs “We’ve always loved playing the Sweetwater since the early 90’s, but this year was really special for us. Having Lorin Rowan, Eric Thompson, David Nelson, Maria Maldaur, and Matt Axton as guests really made for a great celebration of California music history.”

Dr Greg Garrison on the Bass | Photo by Gabriel David Barkin

Friday night’s opening show included songs spanning their three-decade discography, including “Tu Nas Pas Aller,” from LoS’s debut album Bridges to Bert, and a cover of Lionel Hampton’s “Ridin' on the L & N,” a cut on their latest release, 2023’s Grass Roots. Eric Thompson (Black Mountain Boys, Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions) sat in for “Little Sadie” and “Beaumont Rag.” Local luminary Lorin Rowan (The Rowan Brothers) joined at the end of the first set for a cover of Lorin’s brother Peter’s song “Perfection.”  

Leftover Salmon with David Nelson | Mill Valley, CA

David Nelson sat in for most of the first set on Saturday night. After a few LoS songs to open the show, Nelson was given a chair at center stage to lead the band through a number of songs that touched on the NRPS songbook, including a lovely “Last Lonely Eagle” and a raucous “Crooked Judge,” the latter written by Nelson with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. Swimming on their own in the second set, LoS went deep into jam heaven with extended versions of Dylan’s “Tangled Up In Blue,” Doc Watson’s “Reuben’s Train,” and the LoS original “This is the Time.”   

Andy Thorn | Mill Valley, CA

Vince Herman | Mill Valley, CA

New Year’s Eve was, of course, particularly festive. The audience was festooned with party hats and swanky hippie chic clothing for the affair. Vince Herman covered his button-down tie dye with a sport coat. Andy Thorn and Jay Starling bookended the stage dressed in sparkly party sequins.

Maria Muldaur | Mill Valley, CA

Like the previous night, the first set featured the evening’s special guest. On NYE, it was Maria Muldaur, a Mill Valley resident whose picture is on the wall in the Sweetwater, sang with her trademark smokey voice, as vibrant and lively as ever. She kicked off her suite of songs with a post-pandemic original, “I’m Vaccinated and I’m Ready for Love.” She and Herman sang fondly to each other to close the set with a sultry tune, “Don’t You Feel My Leg.”

Maria Muldaur & Vince Herman | Sweetwater Music Hall

The second set kicked off with about 45 minutes left in 2023. After some Salmon tunes, With fifteen minutes to go before midnight, Matt Axton came out to sing his father Hoyt’s timeless classic "Never Been to Spain" and the blues classic “Stealin’.”

Drew Emmitt, Matt Axton, Vince Herman | Sweetwater Music Hall

Then it was time for the New Year celebration. Herman led the midnight countdown – only a few seconds after midnight, not too shabby for a NYE jamband show – and the band shared glasses of champaign for just a moment while leading the crowd through a singalong “Auld Lange Syne.” No balloons dropped, but a few fans brought their own confetti.

Happy New Year! | Sweetwater Music Hall

To top it off, Maria Muldaur came back to sing (what else?!) “Midnight at the Oasis,” her 1973 hit. Drew Emmitt filled the bridge with a tasty electric guitar solo to give the immortal Top Ten chestnut some Salmon flavor. LoS followed this with an appropriate positive-vibe “Joesph’s Dream”:

Drew Emmitt | Sweetwater Music Hall

Just when you think it can't get no better, then it does!

Maria Muldaur with Leftover Salmon | Mill Valley, CA

Later on, LoS paid homage to the Grateful Dead – whose legendary Bay Area NYE shows set the standard for all jambands – with a rip-snorting bluegrass rendition of “Black Peter” (Andy Thorn singing, as he does on LoS’s latest album), followed by Bonnie Dobson’s “Morning Dew.” The set closed with a spirited “Up on the Hill Where They Do the Boogie.”

Andy Thorn | Leftover Salmon

For an encore, LoS kicked down “Euphoria,” giving the audience a chance to hoot and holler along with the band on the refrain:

Patted Eve on the bottom, patted Adam on the back
Smiled at the serpent and the serpent smiled back
Took a bite of the apple, two bites gone, hollerin
'... Euphoria!

With that Bacchanalian scene in mind, LoS set the stage for a good time in 2024. May the Salmon run forever!


DECEMBER 29, 2023
Set 1:
Carnival Time
Gold Hill Line
Keep Driving
Two Highways
Light Behind the Rain
Tu Nas Pas Aller
Little Sadie (with Eric Thompson)
Beaumont Rag (with Eric Thompson)
Get Me Outta This City
I Don't Know You
Perfection (with Lorin Rowan)

Set 2:
Whispering Waters
Thinkin' About Whiskey
You Don't Love Me
Ridin' on the L & N
On the Other Side
New Delhi Freight Train
Blue Green Slime
Cactus Flower
Hot Corn Cold Corn
Aquatic Hitchhiker
Bass & Drums > Jam

Gimme Da 'Ting That the Doctor Ordered Me

DECEMBER 30, 2023
Set 1:
Boogie Grass Band
Gulf of Mexico
Bend in the River
Brand New Good Old Days
Rocky Road Blues (with David Nelson)
Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (And Loud, Loud Music) (with David Nelson)
Teardrops in My Eyes (with David Nelson)
Last Lonely Eagle (with David Nelson)
Crooked Judge (with David Nelson)
Ashes of Love (with David Nelson)
Redneck Mother (with David Nelson)

Set 2:
All Night Ride
We’ll Get By
Tangled Up in Blue
This Is the Time
Rueben's Train
Bird Call
Crystal Meth Freak From California
The Hobo Song


DECEMBER 31, 2023
Set 1:
Down in the Hollow
Sing Up to the Moon
Show Me Something Higher
Dance on Your Head
Midnight Blues
Morning Sun
I’m Vaccinated and I’m Ready for Love (with Maria Muldaur)
Let’s Get Happy Together (with Maria Muldaur)
Richland Woman Blues (with Maria Muldaur)
Don’t You Feel My Leg (with Maria Muldaur)

Set 2:
Mama Boulet
Steam Powered Aeroplane
Simple Twist of Fate
Breakin’ Through
Never Been to Spain (with Matt Axton)
Stealin’ (with Matt Axton)
- NYE countdown –
Auld Lang Syne (singalong with audience)
Midnight at the Oasis (with Maria Muldaur)
Joseph’s Dream (Get No Better)
Fire and Brimstone
Black Peter
Morning Dew
Up on the Hill Where They Do the Boogie