Does Leftover Salmon get better with age? It would certainly appear so, at least as far as Drew Emmitt can tell.
“We’re having so much fun playing right now, it’s just been great,” the multi-instrumentalist said. “The band in my opinion has never sounded better. It’s been a great couple of years.”
One of America’s most beloved jam-grass groups, Leftover Salmon is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. A mainstay on the national festival scene, the eclectic band can be found from Anchorage to Jacksonville, playing a folksy, funky blend of music for enthusiastic crowds.
“We’re psyched to be coming to Tahoe right after New Years,” Emmitt said. “The last few years we went up to Alaska, so this year we’re doing something different.”
The Colorado group recently announced a set of New Year’s shows at Crystal Bay Casino, playing the first Friday and Saturday of 2016 at the storied casino resort.
Leftover Salmon formed in Boulder in 1989, as the result of two separate bands (The Salmon Heads/Left Hand String Band) joining forces. The group quickly attained national prominence, recording a number of live and studio albums and becoming a fixture at bluegrass, folk and jam festivals around America. When founding banjo player Mark Vann succumbed to cancer in 2002, the group’s core was shaken, and Salmon would go on to announce its hiatus in 2004.
But as they say, you can’t keep a good fish down (don’t quote me on that), and after a handful of reunion performances in 2007 and 2008, Leftover Salmon was back on the menu.
“We started slowly, you know, our first couple summers we just did festivals and flew home,” Emmitt said. “So we didn’t even start touring for two or three years, we just did one-offs and special shows and things like that. And then we decided that it was time to step it up a little bit, we couldn’t just be a reunion band forever. So we put out an album and then another album and then got back on the circuit.”
The long-experienced musicians were only too happy to slowly ease into the routine of being on the road.
“We took our time getting there,” Emmitt said with a chuckle. “We didn’t want to jump into the whole mayhem touring thing right away.”
Salmon released “Aquatic Hitchhiker” in 2012, the group’s first release since reforming, and followed it up in 2014 with “High Country.” The band is currently preparing to record its next studio album in New Orleans later this year, working for the third time with producer Steve Berlin and featured local guest musicians.
“The idea is to do a sequel to the Nashville sessions, which was making a record in Nashville with a bunch of great musicians, so we’re trying to do the same in New Orleans,” Emmitt said “We have a lot of history with New Orleans; kind of being the birthplace of American music, it’s a pretty heavy place.”
But as any grass fan knows, live albums are where it’s at, generally speaking; to that end, Salmon released its live 25th anniversary album this year.
“We made that just in the last few years, touring around the country with the new band,” Emmitt said. “It kind of represents what Leftover Salmon is about these days.”
In another nod to the group’s silver jubilee, Salmon partnered with Breckenridge Brewery to develop and release the band’s signature Silver Salmon IPA, expected to be on shelves soon.
“They’ve been around 25 years, we’ve been around 25 years,” Emmitt said. “We just played their grand opening, and they wanted to do something special for us.”
As craft IPA’s are sort of a thing in and beyond the festival crowd, Salmon fans will no doubt be hankering to get their hands on this hop-laden concoction
“It’s really good, it’s a lager but it’s more on the hoppy side of a lager,” Emmitt said.
Leftover Salmon has also been cranking on the road this summer, including performances with Buddy Guy, Graham Nash, and Hot Rize, along with textbook appearances at summer events like Delfest and Telluride Bluegrass Festival.
One notable highlight was playing in Chicago for the final Grateful Dead tour.
“We played at the Park West, we did three nights,” Emmitt said. “We did one night just as us and then two nights, we streamed the Dead shows and had big screens and a big P.A.(system]) and a big crowd.”
Leftover Salmon will be playing at San Francisco’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in October for the first time, as well as a run through the Northeast. California Salmon fans can certainly catch the act in the Bay Area this fall, but it goes without saying that the New Years dates at Crystal Bay are ones to mark on the calendar.
The band agrees.
“We’re psyched to be coming back to Tahoe in the winter time, it’s been awhile,” Emmitt said.
- Leftover Salmon
Where: Crystal Bay Casino
— 9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 1 with opener Front Country and after-party with Dusty Green Bones
— 9 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 2 with opener Front Country and after-party with Mojo Green
Tickets: $27 in advance, $30 day of the show, $47 for a booth seat