Not only is the band coming to Telluride for a two-night party at the Sheridan Opera House March 11-12, in the midst of their 2012 On the Road Again winter tour – the band’s longest string of tour dates since 2004 – their new album, Aquatic Hitchhiker – is about to be released.
With banjoist Andy Thorn (Emitt-Nershi Band, Broke Mountain Bluegrass Band) now a full-time fixture with the legendary Colorado-based quintet, the band is fresh out of the studio from recording their first album to be released in eight years.
“There is definitely some new energy right now; everyone’s pumped up,” Thorn said Tuesday, from his home in Boulder, hours before the band’s first of a two-night 20th anniversary celebration at the Fox Theatre.
Aquatic Hitchhiker, planned for a May release, and recorded in January at studios in Denver and Portland, Ore., features 12 new originals, with Vince Herman and Drew Emmitt contributing four songs each.
“Everybody pulled in songs,” Thorn said. “We all sort of pulled the arrangements together and we even did some of the songwriting together.”
Thorn said the new album continues in the vein of Leftover Salmon’s polyethinc Cajun slamgrass sounds, but with new dimensions of rock.
“We are trying to honor the tradition of bluegrass while expanding on it,” he said. “With electric guitars and an electric banjo, rock is a big part of it. I’ve never been this excited about anything I’ve worked on in the past. I can’t wait to see what people think of it, I know it’s going to be fun.”
Along with working on the new record as Leftover’s full-time banjo player, Thorn said, he’s been having a blast touring and playing with the musicians he looked up to back when he was learning to play the banjo in North Carolina. Thorn first picked up a banjo at a neighbor’s yard sale and he stared messing with it; he went on to study music at the University of North Carolina, playing with the UNC Jazz Band as well as the Big Fat Gap bluegrass band.
“I started seeing a lot of different bands from Sam Bush to Seldom Scene and some of those kinds of bands that cross over into jam band stuff,” Thorn said, of his evolution as a musician. “I saw Leftover quite a bit and I really dug it.”
More than 20 years ago, Leftover Salmon was born in Boulder, when Herman, Emmitt and the late banjo player Mark Vann merged to create a band that plays combination of bluegrass, funk, Cajun, Southern rock, Latin and jazz music. Leftover Salmon released their first album, Bridges to Bert, in 1992. After gaining an army of diehard fans, several albums and notable tours, the band lost Vann to cancer in 2002.
After Vann’s death, the band carried on until 2004, when members decided to call it quits. In 2007, the first unofficial reunion performance of Leftover Salmon took place at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, billed as Drew Emmitt, Vince Herman and Friends.
After a few intermittent shows, fast-forward to the present, and today, Leftover Salmon is entering a renewed and refreshed period. It’s something Thorn is excited to be a part of.
“We’ve been getting pretty fired up,” Thorn said of the winter tour performances. “You can’t help but feed off of Vince’s energy. He’s one of the greatest stage performers I have ever seen in terms of getting the crowd fired up. The band’s energy is very infectious. The whole cycle of energy is really fun.”
The March 11 show is sold out. General admission tickets for the March 12 show are still available for $30 at sheridanoperahouse.com or 970/728-6363. Both shows begin at 9 p.m. (no opening band); doors open at 8:30 p.m.
And if you can’t get enough of Leftover Salmon this weekend, there’s always their performance scheduled for Friday night at this summer’s Telluride Bluegrass Festival.
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