Drew Emmitt - vocals, mandolin, fiddle, electric guitar; Vince Herman - vocals, guitar, washboard; Mark Vann - banjo; Glen Keefe - bass; Michael Wooten - drums; Guest: Wavy Gravy on "Ask The Fish"; Guest: Garrett Dutton - vocals, harmonica on "Blues In The Bottle"
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 jambands, 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, 1999's 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 prior to 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 in addition to several spontaneous surprises.
The recording begins with the opening number, "Ain't Gonna Work" in progress. The mix is still being adjusted during this song, but it is a perfect example of the group's high energy approach to bluegrass, with Emmitt, Herman, and Vann providing plenty of hot acoustic picking over the frantic rhythm provided by Keefe and Wooten. This is followed by the spicy Cajun flavoring of the celebratory "Carnival Time," a highlight of their 1995 live album, Ask The Fish.
The first two numbers serve as warm-up exercises before Leftover Salmon begin stretching out a bit. This begins with a version of "Space Ride," with lyrics spontaneously tailored to the festival audience. This soon develops into a tasty jam that gradually increases in tempo and has Emmitt switching over from mandolin to electric guitar. Following several minutes of tight jamming, Mark Vann's banjo interjects and leads the way into "Funky Mountain Fogdown," another smoking example of the band's progressive approach to bluegrass.
In honor of the full moon, the group next delivers a fine version of the country-flavored "Valley Of The Full Moon." This is followed by the aptly titled "Boogie," and then "I Saw You Last Night," both reflective of the band's Southern Rock influences. A preview of a song destined for the Nashville Sessions album comes next with "Dance On Yer Head," a Cajun-flavored number performed here a year prior to that studio recording. The spicy Cajun flavor continues with "Mama Boulet," one of the standout tracks from Euphoria, before the band really begins stretching out.
The remainder of the set is based around three key songs in the band's repertoire of the time, but also features plenty of improvisation, where other familiar songs surface briefly, as the mood strikes the band. This more experimental portion of the performance is arguably the most interesting as well, beginning with a 20+ minute take on "Ask The Fish," which has master of ceremonies, Wavy Gravy, contributing to the weirdness. After the initial eight minutes of free-form madness, the song takes off into "Shady Groove," based on the traditional version, but with the band's own unique lyrical bent, including the group veering off into a version of the Beatles' lovely "Dear Prudence," midway. Eventually the group segues into "Shady Grove" proper and the conclusion of "Ask The Fish" nearly 20 minutes later.
At this point, Leftover Salmon invite Garrett Dutton, (aka G. Love of G. Love and Special Sauce) to the stage who contributes harmonica to an electrified cover of the Holy Modal Rounders' "Blues In The Bottle." With time for one more, the band finishes off their set with perhaps the ultimate example of their "slamgrass" style, applying it to Bill Monroe's classic "Rocky Road Blues." A high-energy up-tempo blowout, this cooks for nine solid minutes and includes the band spontaneously whipping into other songs including a comical pairing of the lyrics to the Eagles "Hotel California" applied to the music of "Old Rocky Top!" This romp also features spontaneous snippets of two traditionals familiar to any Grateful Dead fan, "I Know You Rider" and "Going Down The Road Feeling Band" before they rip back into the conclusion of "Rocky Road Blues."
This leaves the Hog Farm PigNickers clamoring for an encore and Leftover Salmon are happy to oblige. After a comical introduction by an unknown announcer with a British accent, who refers to the band as "Refried Eggheads," the group parodies the infamous "This is your brain on drugs" PSA, before taking off into the title track from Euphoria. Originally recorded by the Holy Modal Rounders and written by occasional Rounder Robin Remaily (who the band acknowledge is at the festival), this homage to the joys of expanded consciousness serves as the perfect precursor to their own "Wake And Bake," which closes the performance with a celebration of getting high first thing in the morning. Strangely enough, this segues into a brief drum solo as the band exit the stage for good.
When asked to describe Leftover Salmon, host of the festival, Wavy Gravy, summed it up simply and 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."