Drew Emmitt - vocals, mandolin, fiddle, electric guitar; Vince Herman - vocals, guitar, washboard; Mark Vann - banjo; Glen Keefe - bass; Michael Wooten - drums; Guest:; David Nelson - guitar, vocal
Leftover Salmon formed in 1989 in Boulder Colorado, when Vince Herman of the Cajun/Calypso/Jugband, the Salmon Heads, joined forces with Drew Emmitt, Mark Vann, and Glenn Keefe, all members of the progressive bluegrass Left Hand String Band. With no other aspirations other than to have a good time playing music, Leftover Salmon's success can be attributed to a purely organic process where the various band member's interests in bluegrass, Cajun, string band, funk, Southern rock, Caribbean, Latin, and jazz has resulted in a unique sound the group describes as "Polyethnic Cajun Slamgrass." With an improvisational fervor that rivals many of the greatest jam bands, Leftover Salmon is one of the few groups that has successfully bridged the gap between such diverse forms earning them legions of devoted fans and a reputation for being an exciting touring band.
Leftover Salmon's first two albums, 1992's Bridges to Bert and their 1995 live album Ask The Fish were low-budget self-released indie affairs, and for the first several years the band survived on constant playing in and around Colorado, where they honed their skills and developed a devoted following. This eventually led to the band signing a deal with Hollywood Records, which released their breakout album Euphoria in 1997. The group's virtuosity and versatility was soon recognized and the follow-up album, 1999s critically acclaimed Nashville Sessions found the band recording with many of Nashville's most notable musicians, including Sam Bush, Bela Fleck, Reese Wynans, John Cowan, Sally Van Meter, and Jerry Douglas. Legendary country music stars Waylon Jennings and Earl Scruggs both contributed, as did Lucinda Williams and members of Widespread Panic, Blues Traveler, and Big Head Todd's Todd Park Mohr. This star-studded album catapulted the band to the next level and despite personnel changes and the death of founding banjo playing member Mark Vann, the group has endured and continues to delight audiences of all ages and musical tastes.
This festival performance, recorded live by the Bill Graham Presents crew at the 1998 Hog Farm PigNic is of particular interest, as it captures the band shortly after the release of the break out Euphoria album, but before the Nashville sessions. Performing before a highly receptive audience at the beautiful outdoor location of Black Oak Ranch in Laytonville, CA (a natural music bowl beside a wooded riverside location with unlimited camping), this event inspires a remarkable performance focusing on choice material from the group's first three albums along with several spontaneous surprises. Already embraced by the audience on the previous day (also available here at Wolfgang's), this second Leftover Salmon performance presents an entirely different set list and features guitarist David Nelson (co-founding member of New Riders Of The Purple Sage) sitting in on several numbers.
The set begins with Leftover Salmon putting their spin on a couple of classic reggae numbers and setting the tone for a party atmosphere with a cover of Bob Marley's "Soul Shakedown Party" that also includes a bit of Peter Tosh's marijuana anthem "Legalize It" thrown in for good measure. Sourced from the band's 1995 live album "Ask The Fish," a prime example of the group's "Polyethnic Cajun Slamgrass" follows with Drew Emmitt's "Bend In The River." Similar to "Orange Blossom Special" but devoid of fiddle, the group's high energy approach to bluegrass is represented next with "Doin' My Time," featuring Emmitt, Herman, and Vann providing plenty of hot acoustic picking over a frantic rhythm provided by Keefe and Wooten.
Emmit humorously belts out the opening lines to Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" just before the band dips back into their repertoire for "Just Before The Evening," which appeared on their 1993 debut, Bridges To Bert. Here the group heads into straightforward country music territory, but with a reggae twist on each chorus. Dedicated to the marijuana growers in attendance, the band continue with the electrified fiddle tune "Green Thing" which segues into a lyrically revamped "Whiskey For Breakfast" (smoking green bud for breakfast) and concludes with a quick romp through "Over The Waterfall." Take away all the pothead lyrical bait and the group's approach to this medley sounds not unlike an American version of Fairport Convention.
The love of playing music versus the loneliness of relentless road travel comes next with "Highway Song," a highlight of their newest album Euphoria. Featuring a little jam at the end, this provides Emmitt his first opportunity to cut loose on some electric guitar. A live staple, but unreleased at the time, "Get Me Outta This City" comes next, followed by the Cajun madness of "Zombie Jambouree."
The band's spin on traditional bluegrass is nicely conveyed as they tackle Bill Monroe's classic "Walls Of Time," which also showcases the band's vocal prowess during an a cappella sequence. Ruminating on the sweet taste of success, "Breakin' Through" from their Nashville Sessions album follows and then it's Latin polka time with "4:20 Polka."
At this point, Leftover Salmon invite New Riders Of The Purple Sage cofounder David Nelson to the stage to join in on a few numbers to close the set in style. They begin with a fine collaboration on Peter Rowan's "Lonesome L.A. Cowboy," a highlight of the NRPS album Panama Red. They close the set by pairing up the traditional "Nine Pound Hammer" with the Rider's tune, "Glendale Train" which works perfectly and provides the band another opportunity for humorous ad lib lyrics which leaves the Hog Farm PigNickers clamoring for an encore.
When Leftover Salmon return for the encore, they sarcastically announce they have time for one more song before zipping through a three-second ditty of "Cactus Flower." The goofing around continues as they expand the number into "urban dance mix" form, which weighs in at nearly eight-seconds. The set concludes with a celebration of the here and now with "This Is The Time," from the Euphoria album. This begins with some lovely mandolin work from Emmitt and finds the band deliriously drifting into Dobie Gray's "Drift Away" before wrapping up the performance to a rousing response. The recording concludes with host of the festival, Wavy Gravy, doing stage announcements and for anyone who became fixated on the Woodstock album and film, hearing Wavy's voice is entertainment in itself. When asked to describe Leftover Salmon, he also summed it up succinctly by stating "Their music is unique. It just makes you feel good. There is nothing like them, with their incredible buoyancy and joy. That's what they do—they make joy." (Bershaw)