Leftover Salmon: Thirty Years of Festival!

Article Contributed by June Reedy | Published on Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Festivaaaaal! Everybody knows that rally cry. Do you know why it became the go-to rallying cry for Leftover Salmon? The origin of Festivaaaal! was wondering Telluride’s campsites, bonding over Star Trek’s Red Hour episode.  It’s not just an exciting statement of your location. Festivaaaal! has become synonymous with Leftover Salmon’s infectious enthusiasm and the way they can fit on any bill, in any location, with any other bands. Festival! is a shout of pure bliss while reveling in the good times listening to one of the most enduring bands of all times, Leftover Salmon. 

In Tim Newby’s book, Leftover Salmon: Thirty Years of Festival! the author goes on an anthropological dig uncovering all the stories and history that make Leftover Salmon the anomaly it has become.  It spans from stories about Drew Emmitt as a kid in Tennessee to their masterpiece album, The Nashville Sessions, to today, still touring and making new albums that grow with the times. Much like the winding road the band has traveled, the book reads in semi-chronological order.

Drew & Vince

The book itself is divided into chapters named for each band member over time. Now, this doesn’t include everyone as there would be way too many chapters but it covers that member’s influence on the band and the sound that their presence developed in time, or in the case of John Joy, the support they needed.  Polyethnic Cajun Slamgrass doesn’t just happen overnight. Of course, each chapter has miles of interviews and stories from surrounding characters absent from Mark Vann.  

The Mark Vann chapter has plenty of well-researched accounts of him but it feels a little hollow. That lack adds emotion to this book that at times can read like an anthology textbook. Both the addition of and hence, the subtraction of Mark Vann is very critical to Leftover Salmon’s rich history.  There are many stories of how Mark came to join the band and the vital role he fulfilled within the band. One funny moment is when Vince Herman recounts having to teach Vann about rock n roll. A bluegrass purist from Maryland, Mark Vann truly had no inkling of what a rock n roll band could be. So Drew and Vince showed him the ropes. 

Drew, Vince & Greg

Throughout the stories and miles, it's evident that Drew and Vince showed lots of people the ropes. The indelible fingerprint of Leftover Salmon reads in this book as a supernova in the universe of jam bands. While the chapter on Mark Vann is moving, the chapter on Greg Garrison brings the reader to tears if they have any affiliation with Jeff Austin.  Published in January of 2019, these stories have pictures of a vibrant bluegrass devotee Jeff Austin who was very much alive at the time. The emotion wells up in your eye as you struggle to continue reading about the power of music to connect people. 

As a budding journalist, I found myself at an afterparty in Nederland, Colorado. I had prepared potential generic questions but was unable to process the information when I found myself face to face with Vince Herman.  He is a man that is totally accessible both on stage and off. Reading this book, I realized the walking encyclopedia that Vince Herman is. The true brilliance of this book is that somebody finally wrote it all down. When I found myself as a journalist of sorts, sitting next to Vince, I asked him what exactly is Polyethnic Cajun Slamgrass and how would he define Americana.  He rambled off artist after artist, a few I had heard of, most I had not. It was the high dive jump into the pool of this music. He talked all night until I couldn’t pretend to understand a lick of what he was saying. This buttoned-up but dangerous music that is truly all American has many colors, many faces but mostly it’s made by and for underdogs. I went on to see many more Leftover Salmon shows and various incarnations of the band with the assurance that it would always be an of the moment happening where everybody feels good. 

Drew Emmitt

The magic of this book is seeing how every person truly played a role within this musical family.  The preface says it best with a quote from Drew Emmitt. “We are the underdog band. We are the band that clawed our way out.  We toured in a school bus for years and did everything grassroots style from scratch. We are the band that never got radio help or financial backing. None of that. Everything this band has gotten is purely from the love of music and touring and I am proud of that. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened had we gotten some of those breaks other bands got, but historically in the music business the bands that set trends, the bands that come before or start movements are not necessarily the bands that get huge.”

house party at Vince's pad - photo from the book

Drew Emmitt’s birthday is May 24. How about that? That is the same birthday as Jeff Austin. The coincidences are abounding until you realize that there are no coincidences. The first night Vince Herman pulled into Boulder CO, he saw Drew Emmitt play some bluegrass live at the Walrus Saloon.  That was no coincidence. It may have taken time in between then and the NYE show that formed Leftover Salmon, but that was no coincidence. Festivaaaaaal! has a story behind it and it’s more than you would imagine. Even having lived in Boulder, the stories were not complete until reading this book.    

At 13 chapters, 358 pages, complete with index, bibliography, annotations to further your readings, and a who’s who list of quotes about Leftover Salmon, this book has it all. Inevitably, it is just a placeholder of this time in the band’s long life.  In true Leftover Salmon fashion, when things get going there is another hiccup along the way and they begin again, ever-evolving, always adapting. There is no end to this story. Thanks to Tim Newby, they wrote down what happened so far and the next show is what's happening now. 

There is no telling the new styles and techniques Leftover Salmon will incorporate next. Stories from the Living Room tour and celebrated nostalgia have been surrounding the band all year with the 30th anniversary upon us.  The true celebration will be on New Year's Eve when Leftover Salmon will play the new Mission Ballroom in Denver for the official 30th-year show. What a long strange trip its been since that first one-off show when the Salmon Heads and the Lefthand String Band joined forces to take a gig in Crested Butte for New Year’s Eve. Knowing the history of the band has made the subtle nuances of the music come alive even more. This New Year’s Eve show will be a little bit extra for having read this fantastic collection of Leftover Salmon’s treasured past. Festivaaaaaal!