The NorVa | Norfolk, VA | 05.19.02
“Virginia?” I asked my friend Melissa. “How long is the drive up?”
She glanced at some information that she had on the show. “About eight hours…” She looked at me and paused for my reaction, but she wouldn't wait long. It took her only a split second to say, “It’s worth it! Plus we get to see Leftover!” She smiled from ear to ear, and I knew she wanted to see the band and hopefully get a chance to talk with Vince again.
When she’s really happy and wants to do something, it’s hard to tell Melissa no. OK, eight hours to Virginia, no problem. The show was at The NorVa in Norfolk. Leftover has played there before in the past and the band enjoys the venue. Willie Nelson had just played The NorVa that Saturday and Leftover Salmon was playing Sunday. It looked like a good weekend to go.
I went ahead and submitted a show request form to their Upstream Team. One of the best things about Leftover Salmon is the amount of resources they provide for their fans to get involved with their tour. By utilizing the many skills of their fan base, Leftover has created a solid community of dedicated fans who help them on their trip “upstream.” It’s also beneficial for the fans that get involved, because the band and their management, Red Underground, goes well out of their way to make sure to thank everyone for their help. (Thanks to John Joy and tour manager Johnny Pfarr.)
Melissa and I recruited two friends of ours, Jon and Dan, to come along. It was going to be a great road trip.
We arrived at twenty past four and had plenty of time to kill before the show. I checked in with the front desk of the NorVa to see which band was opening for Leftover that night. The bill said “All Mighty Senators.” I didn't know much about them at the time, but from what I had heard of them the band was “mighty funkalicious.”
As luck would have it, Norfolk has a beautiful downtown district and an Irish pub to boot. We killed some time at Jack Quinn's, drinking a few stouts and hung out with the duo Marron and Charlie Austin. They played a great set of bawdy Irish bar songs and a lewd rendition of “Take Me out to the Ball Game.” It would be worth coming Norfolk just to hear them play; Charlie is excellent on the fiddle and Marron uses his strong Irish wit to taunt the crowd into singing along.
We drank a few more beers, and by accident ran into a spinner. We talked the old Deadhead that we had just met into going to see Leftover Salmon with us. He said he hadn’t been to a jam show in years, and was very interested. I didn’t kid him and said Leftover has a different flavor than the Dead, but the energy was the same beautiful kind that he was used to in years past. After another round of drinks, he was more than excited about seeing the show.
The show started a little past eight that night with the All Mighty Senators showering the crowd with a killer round of funk and soul. Their horn section isn’t just good: it’s superb. Both of their horn players, David Finnell and Craig “Sugar Ham” Considine, kicked it with a severe set that pumped up the crowd even more. (Later that evening, Leftover asked both of the guys from the Senator’s horn section to play with them for a few songs.)
I got a chance to talk to Landis Expandis, the Senators’ lead singer/drummer, for a few minutes after they played their set. He’s a unique person to say the least, plus he’s an energetic kinda guy that lends a comic book feel to the band. He stands a few inches over six feet and dresses up in a superhero outfit while on stage. I haven’t quite figured out the Senator’s super hero status yet, but they definitely sound great. You can check the out at the All Might Senators' website.
I checked the time; a few more minutes and Salmon would be taking the stage.
Just before Leftover went on stage, I went to the ticket office to straighten out a backstage pass situation and bumped into Vince, Bill and Drew on the way over. Vince immediately smiled and shook my hand. They were heading up on stage, so we talked for just a minute. The guys have been touring hard and the night before in West Virginia had been a chillier one, with temperatures plunging down to the 30s.
Regardless of the unexpected drop in temperatures, Vince said they had a great time and really enjoyed that show. Playing the NorVa, an inside venue with a high degree of band amenities and a large green room, this was a welcome change for the band after a cold night on the road. The ever-smiling Leftover bassist Greg Garrison was grinning even more when he found out the NorVa had a Jacuzzi in the back as well. It was turning out to be a good evening for everyone.
I wished the band a good show and Melissa got to see Vince before they played. The crowd was growing as more people flooded into the NorVa. Situated with one huge open floor with a wrap around, continuous second floor balcony, the NorVa has plenty of space for the Salmonheads to flip and dance.
It was a heterogeneous mix of people, with a surprising number of navy and military people from the local base. The floor was packed, and a few minutes later Leftover took the stage and the crowd roared, kicking the night’s energy into high gear.
The first set of the evening started out with “Stop All Yer Worrying,” followed by “Zombie,” “Bill’s Boogie,” “Steam Powered” (a good tune, since the band just released their new album Live on a Riverboat just a couple of weeks before), and then a slam filled “St. John’s Fire.” By the time the band got to “Dance on Your Head,” the crowd was already doing exactly that. Surging with energy, you could tell that everyone was happy to be there. The place was jam-packed full of dancing and yelling; if there was any doubt that you were at a Salmon show, it vanished in a snap.
It was definitely a hatter’s tea party, fun and festive with a unique Leftover style. As the classic Salmon magic did its trick, there was happiness abound. The set finished with “Cash,” “So Long A Journey,” “Georgy Lou” and “Whispering Waters.”
Even from the beginning, Drew Emmitt’s playing was fluid and focused through out the first set, and if you thought he was good then, by the second set, Drew gives you a second and more powerful dose of his playing.
This was a par excellent night for one of the best mandolin players ever to come onto the jam band scene. Like a true musician who knows his craft, Drew’s skills extend into fiddle, banjo, guitar and piano playing. Hailing from Nashville, Drew Emmitt shows a solid dedication to his blue grass roots, with a high mountain twist. It’s no wonder that Bill Monroe is one of Drew’s first and major influences, you can see it come through when he plays the mandolin. He doesn’t confine his style of mandolin playing to what is normally expected, it drifts well beyond the boundaries of bluegrass.
Emmitt’s unique and exceptional sound is pushing the boundaries placed on this instrument by traditional schools of music. He’s pioneering a brand of mandolin playing that is unclassifiable and innovative. Words are limited in describing the fluid motion of his style, so to truly appreciate Drew you have to see him play in person. After his performance that night, I hoped that someone taped the show, so I can hear it again. It was an extraordinary night for both Drew and the band.
At the end of the first set, Melissa runs back stage to see Vince. She comes back into the crowd and finds us on the front row saying that Vince wanted to make sure he got a chance to see us and to make sure that we are coming back stage after the show. The two friends that we brought along are amazed, but that’s just what happens with Leftover and that’s what makes the band special in it’s own right. I’m more than happy to see Vince and the band again, plus I wanted to ask Greg Garrison why he smiled so much and to spend some time talking to Bill McKay.
(Bill ironically ended up going out with us later that night to go see a local band called FamilyTree at the infamous little haunt called the Bassmint. We don’t know of his whereabouts since we dropped him off, but we are assuming he made it back to the bus. Like Mayor McCheese, we’re sure Bill showed back up in time to head out to Richmond.)
The evening went from good to supreme on the kickassability scale, but my plans for a simple two-page review got tossed straight out the window. You don’t get to do the backstage thing everyday.
Leftover started at the second set with “If You’re Ever in Oklahoma.” The song is also included on Drew’s solo album Freedom Ride. They move onto the crowd pleasing and signature Salmon song, “Carnival” and the made for Virginia piece, “Shanandoah.” (The largely Virginia crowd loved this one and cheered loud when the started into the first line.)
The rest of the second set included “So Long a Journey,” “Gold Hill,” “Delta Queen,” “Junko” and “Danger Man.”
Tony Furtado, of the Tony Furtado Band, has been the stand-up banjo player for Leftover during the month of May. Tony is good, very good. For a while, Tony played across the pond in the UK and is well respected on the folk scene in Wales, Canada and here in the US. Tony and his band have their own dedicated fan base that’s international. To me, Tony’s style has a very Celtic splash to it and he’s a pro on the slide guitar. Backstage, he’s funny, open and quick with his wit. I enjoyed watching him play and like Salmon, Tony loves the fans. (If he’s still on tour with the band, I hope to see him again in Telluride.)
Jose Martinez has been drumming with the band for a while now, and I made sure to let him know I appreciated his playing. Colorado is a big change for Jose; he’s originally from Florida, but he’s made himself at home with the band and with the mountain state. I did catch up with him after the show, but more on that later.
David Finnell and Craig “Sugar Ham” Considine, from the All Mighty Senators, joined in for the bit at the end. The Norfolk crowd is very familiar with both of these players since they play the coast from Baltimore on down. They start yelling as soon as they come on and give them a proper local band welcome. With a shake of Baltimore blues and a blend of New Orleans style jazz, David and Sugar Ham run with the piece to help tie up a great night of music.
As I promised, I’m going to write a bit more about Bill and his magically enhanced presto-matic funkadelic keyboard. Bill went all out for this show, period. It was obvious from the go that Bill was working the crowd with his playing. They love to hear him play because unlike most keyboardists, he’s not a side item. His playing isn’t the only thing that makes him good; Bill’s voice churns out the blues with uncanny skill. Bill is part of what makes Leftover’s own Polyethnic Cajun Slam Grass magical, inventive and innovative. (Bill even gets his own sign from the fans at the show. When he starts playing very fast, you can see lots of little hands pop up all over the crowd playing air keyboard.)
The crowd is highly responsive to Bill’s playing and pushed him to play faster by screaming at the top of their lungs and giving him “the sign.” Towards the end of the show, you can feel what he’s singing when his voice moves through the stanza “…feel like I owe it to some one, feels like I owe it to someone.” You knew who was on Bill’s mind when he sang it, you didn’t have to guess.
The show ends and the band heads off to spend some time with the fans out on the floor. Melissa grabs us and we head off near the backstage entrance. The scene is a hurried one: stagehands are already taking down the set and we have to dodge lights and amps as they are shuffled off the stage.
We find Vince talking to a few fans and signing autographs. I got a chance to see Vince’s response when people thrust their napkins, cards and show flyers for him to sign. For the most part he seems surprised, but at the same time, he smiles and asks them how they are doing while he signs their keepsakes. It’s an honest interchange and it makes the fans feel at home with him.
I point out that Vince is growing his beard back, he nods at this. “Well you know, time to grow it back.” He smiles again and after a few more minutes directs us to go backstage. Other members are saying bye to the fans and heading upstairs by this point.
Vince tells me that his mom has read my last review and really liked it. Vince smiles and adds “She does a lot of work for the band, and she was going through the emails and web sites when she saw it.” This is good to hear. Anytime you can make mom happy, I’m all for it.
As always, even before the show, the members of the band are approachable, positive in light of the hectic pace of their current touring schedule. Drew Emmitt and his wife Renee are expecting a baby soon, so they’ll be taking some much-needed time off. From what I gathered, most of the band will be heading back to Colorado. Greg says that he can’t wait and he loves it since he moved there about five years ago.
Now onto Sir Smiley and Salmon bassist Greg Garrison. I noticed a continuous smile from the third rift of “Stop Yer Worrying” to the last part of “Delta Queen.” By the time we get backstage, Vince had already lead us through the maze of signs that ends in a huge green room with large plush couches, pizza and plenty of Corona for Vince.
Greg and Jose are test piloting the Jacuzzi in the back. Ironically and for the fun of it, they started singing “Rock N’ Roll Fantasy” by Bad Company. Very appropriate for the scene backstage, with all the goodies the NorVa provides for the bands. Everyone is chatting about the posh ness of the place and the fact that their backstage is a lot nicer than what you would expect this far East. The band is pretty happy at this point, regardless of the rush to get packed back up and head out on the road to Richmond.
I have not seen a green room like the one from NorVa since I was in Nashville. Even Vince remarks that it’s more than what they are used to while Salmon is on the road. It’s sort of good karma working itself out for the band after they’ve been out in the cold just the night before.
Right after we sit down, the local crew lets us know we have twenty minutes to leave. (They kept doing this for about an hour, lowering the time with each warning, but still giving us plenty of time to relax and talk.)
Bill comes in at this point and sits down next to Melissa; he says hello to us. He’s surprisingly full of energy after his performance on stage. Bill’s very talkative and makes sure to let Melissa know they’ve missed her. He asks me if I want to come out to the Bassmint again. It’s very tempting and we at least make plans to get Bill there. We start looking at the directions and one of the local crew tells me that it’s not too far from the venue’s location. Great, the night’s going better that I thought it would.
Garrison enters from his run in with the Jacuzzi. I asked him why he smiles so much and he just laughs. Greg, who’s an extremely brilliant guy from Chicago, talks a little more about his home in Colorado. Honestly, I think playing with Leftover and living in Colorado has been part the reason Greg smiles so much. At this point, everyone is doing well and having a good time.
We settle in for kind time with the band for a moment, Melissa is thrilled; it’s more than any of us expected from the trip to Norfolk. Vince asks us if we are coming to Richmond, and I know she wants to go pretty badly. Vince keeps the storyteller spirit even when he’s off stage; those of us gathered around in the green room listen to him joke and carry on. You can’t help but to feel comfortable around him. My friend Dan whispers to me that everyone in the band is friendly and they don’t act like he thought they would once we got backstage. I saw Vince smile at that point, I’m not sure if he overheard, but he was obviously well pleased with the atmosphere.
Melissa plops right down next to Vince and tells him how much she liked the show. She lets Vince know that he’s part of her family now. His eyes brighten up and he gives her a big hug. He winks at her and says, “Hey, yep your right!”
The local security guy pops in one last time to let us know they are closing. We take it as our final cue and get ready to leave. It’s time to head out of the NorVa and go check out city of Norfolk.
I finally see Emmitt on the way out. Drew’s pretty quiet, but at the same time he seems very content. I only saw him a few times after the show, but there was a smile on his face each time. You could tell he was thinking about home and the baby that he and his wife are expecting this July (around the 22nd or 23rd, from what I understood). Life is going very well for Drew and it shows when he speaks. With a baby on the way, the tour with Salmon going great and his new solo album out, he’s on top of the world.
We say goodbye to the band and get ready to head out with Bill; I can’t help but think about how remarkable the guys are. On the way out, we bid Vince a good trip and regret that we can’t come to Richmond. (You know work sucks sometimes, thought I’m pretty sure Melissa is going to run off again when we get back home. Who can blame her?) Still there’s always Telluride and Salmonfest in Missouri. (And I was informed that the band and road crew manager really wants you to bring your baseball gloves out to the Fest, so bring ‘em if you got ‘em.)
Straight up or on the ice, Leftover definitely fits the bill and then some. I highly recommend catching a Salmon show if you can. Even if you don’t get to see them on the first phase of the Summer tour, don’t worry, there’s a phase two. Hope to see you there!
Special thanks to Leftover Salmon's website team, Shari from Compass Records, John Joy from Red Underground Management and Carrie Anne Hunt for editing assistance.
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