Ziggy's | Winston-Salem, NC | 05.01.02
"You've never heard of Leftover Salmon?" my friend Melissa remarked. No, I hadn't, to be honest. Never once heard of the band, but I sure would not mind giving them a try. Besides, the name was "catchy," as the suits say. After a barrage of MP3s, and hearing Melissa's rendition of the "420" song several times over, I was starting to get a feel for the energy that the band produces.
We were trying to recover from Panic just the week before, and we had a great time. Still, I wanted a little more out of my musical experience before going back to work this week. Melissa suggested trying to catch a show of theirs; she remarked how the band loved to hang out with their fans and gave a personal "festival" appeal to their shows.
As the week went by, I wasn't able to catch them at Center City Fest in Charlotte, so at that point I figured I wouldn't have a chance to see band unless I went out to Colorado or Missouri. I checked up on their website to see where they would be playing next. Ironically, it was in Winston-Salem, not too far from home, and at Ziggy's, a local and infamous jamband stop. I got on the phone and called Melissa to let her know. She was ecstatic. Salmon is her favorite band and she wasn't aware that they were playing that night. So as it turned out, the legendary "salmon magic" was doing its work. To make it better, we were all off work. Plus, as I've been told by other Salmonheads, you have to see the band in concert to get a real appreciation for their "Polyethnic Cajun Slamgrass" style.
I did a little research on the band to get an idea of who played what instruments, who was singing and who was writing music for the band. The news about Mark Vann's passing was the first thing I noticed when I went to the website. The page detailed Mark's life as a banjo player and how he started playing with the band. He was an original member of the band and one of the founders of Leftover Salmon. It surprised me that the band was still touring, but it was noted that Mark wanted the band to keep going.
And that is exactly what Leftover Salmon did. As a tribute to Mark Vann, the band has kept playing and the spirit of Leftover Salmon is very much alive.
We ended up in Winston-Salem a little too early, so we hung out in the parking lot for a while. A few folks were standing around in the parking lot at Ziggy's, chatting and carrying on. A couple of guys were playing baseball in the parking lot, which I dig and made me miss my baseball glove. Ironically, one of them was Vince Herman, the lead singer for the band and self-proclaimed member of the National Hysterical Society (graduated with honors, I hear).
It took Melissa a while to recognize Vince, 'cause he had just shaved his beard that week. (I'll probably be the only person who will wonder who Vince is when he grows his beard back.) Still, it didn't stop her from running across the parking lot to meet the person she proclaims to be a "great source of happiness in the universe." Vince is just that.
The first thing Vince asked was if we had our baseball gloves and if we wanted to play with him. We didn't have gloves, but I told him I'd make sure to bring my glove next time. I was already impressed with him by this point, outside of the fact I love to play the same sport. Vince then passed out hugs and handshakes to everyone that came with us.
I shook hands with Vince and promptly told him I didn't know much about the band or the music they played, outside of what I had downloaded on MP3. (Probably OK to say to Vince, but not something I would say at a Metallica concert.) He just smiled and said, "I hope you like the show, then." I went even further: "What instrument do you play?" He told me a little about his guitar and we talked for a bit about the mandolin, which is my favorite instrument. His reaction to my ignorance could have been anything, but Vince simply smiled and said he did vocals, plus he loved bluegrass.
I lived in Nashville for few years and I've met a lot of artists. Most people would have been offended that someone would roll up to their concert and have the nerve to ask them what they did for the band, but not Vince. No, Vince is great guy and very down to earth. He was just glad I came and made me feel good about being there.
At one point, I asked Vince if fame had changed him any, and he said "No." But he promptly pointed at his belly with a grin: "But it sure has added a few pounds." To make Vince feel better, Melissa commented that there was more of him to love. Vince smiled. He got to ask us a few questions as well, about who we were and what we did. This gave my friend a chance to respond to him. In one of those rare moments where the impact of your music becomes very clear to you, Melissa told Vince simply: "I want to thank you for your music, it brings joy to my heart, and happiness to my soul."
Vince took a step back, nodded his head and thumped his heart. She smiled at Vince and it was obvious that he was touched. A wide grin spread across his face and gave her a hug. And that's exactly what Leftover Salmon is all about: the music, the festival spirit and the love of the fans.
We talked for a bit more, I wanted to come out and ask him about what they had been doing since the band had lost Mark Vann and his very beautiful style of playing the banjo. It was Vince that brought it up in an off-handed way. "We've been trying out banjo players as we go, just here and there," he said. It was obvious that it was a point of concern for the band, but Vince didn't let it bother him. "It'll work out," he said. I said, "Welcome to the Carolinas. Wait about fifteen minutes and banjo players will start falling out of the sky." He laughed at this, but if you're on the Carolina bluegrass scene for a while, you know it's true.
For a few more hours, Vince zipped around the parking lot on the not-so-famous yellow mountain bike that the band owns. Several musicians showed up and one fiddle player offered to play with Vince. It didn't take long for them to shoot over to a corner of the parking lot and start picking. Vince loves to play and sing, it came through when they first started playing. I enjoyed the scene and couldn't wait to hear him on stage. I can say I was truly impressed with his skill as a musician, as much as I am with his ability to make people feel at home with the band. He's a great human being and a fun person to be around.
Showtime starts and Ziggy's, which was previously desolate a few hours before, is now packed. The energy is high and the band starts to play. The crowd, a mixture of hip-billies, dreads with overalls, college kids, dead heads and a few other characters, just starts jumping. The set included "Las Vegas," "Gold Hill," "Shame and Scandal," "Fayetteville Line" and the appropriately sung Dear Old Dixie. By the time the band gets over to "Mountain Top" and the prophetic song "River's Rising," the crowd was screaming. Everyone was having a great time.
Drew Emmitt's mandolin playing is phenomenal, and his energy feeds the crowd even more. He picked his way through the songs and didn't stop once or miss a lick. Salmon's bassist, Greg Garrison, didn't stop smiling once. (Trust me on this one: I watched him for about three hours.) He truly enjoys playing and definitely adds to the combined energy of the band.
Jose Martinez is the drummer for the band, and needless to say, he did a lot of smiling himself. Jose pounded out a rhythm that blended Leftover's unique sound into a heart syncing melody that drove the crowd even wilder. Without a doubt, I have to mention Bill McKay's keyboard playing. Most of the time, the keyboardist is a side item in a band, but not Bill. No, he's right up front, his voice and keys add a lot to Leftover Salmon's eclectic sets. It's obvious that Bill comes from a classical background - the sheer mastery of his style comes through - but he funks it up enough that you know he's got soul.
I have to note that the banjo player that "fell out of the sky" that night was Matt Flinner. Immediately, Matt grabbed the crowd's attention with his playing. I didn't know it at the time, but Matt is the former national mandolin champion and continues to be one the best mandolin players in the country. He also won the national championship for banjo playing the year before. Matt Flinner's renowned mandolin playing came through, as he rounded each lick on the banjo with his own unique playing ability. Unlike most stand-in players, Matt blends in well with Salmon's Polyethnic Cajun Slamgrass style. It was a pleasure hearing Matt play, and I hope Leftover Salmon continues to keep him on tour during this season. (We hope he stays on for a while, actually.)
Fareed Haque (guitarist with Garaj Mahal, among other bands), joined in for a few songs. All you could say when he started to play was "WOW." Fareed blended rock and bluegrass with a very Indian style. His guitar was beyond description, and is best heard and seen but, as Vince said, one could definitely call it "an Electric Crossbow." At one point, the whole band about stopped to watch him play and listen to what one could call an electrified sitar on acid. Fareed is another player that made the night special.
Finally, before the end of the show, I got to hear the "420" song that my friends love so much. Needless to say, it drove the crowd nuts and people started hoping like fish going upstream. Steve Bernside was on accordion and used to play with Vince Hermann's Salmonheads. It was obvious that the two played together for many years. The "420" song was a definite crowd pleaser and it was good to see Steve play with the band.
To say "You just had to be there" would be an understatement. Leftover Salmon played an excellent set and definitely did a great job of bringing it home to the crowd. It didn't take too long to convert me from a person who "just came to listen" to an actual fan. I enjoyed meeting Vince, talking with the band, and the whole Leftover Salmon experience. As for me, I'm going to see them again in Colorado and at Salmonfest this September.
I'd have to say it was Vince that made the night magical for me. He makes himself available to the fans and dispels the image that artists are separate from their support base. I can't say enough about this band; to pass on the advice that was given to me, you really have to see them in person.
Hope to see you at Salmonfest in September. Bring your baseball gloves!
See Leftover Salmon's website for information on Salmonfest. If you don't have access to email or the internet:
Leftover Salmon Newsletter
P.O. Box 393
Nederland, CO 80466
For those fans that would like to send letters concerning Mark Vann, a fund has been set up to offset costs of Mr. Vann's treatment and in support of Jennifer Vann. Donations, cards or letters can be sent to:
The Mark Vann Fund
P.O. Box 393
Nederland, CO 80466
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