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EXCLUSIVE: Drew Emmitt Talks Leftover Salmon, New Record, And Neil Young

If you’re looking to throw a party, a solid first step would be to get multi-instrumentalist Drew Emmitt to come on out. Over the last few decades, the Leftover Salmon mandolinist, guitarist, fiddle player, occasional flutist, and singer has been the go-to example for being able to pick a quick bluegrass line or rock out to whatever the occasion insists. There’s also the strong chance his friend and Leftover Salmon band mate of nearly thirty years, Vince Herman, will tag along just to make a little mayhem. There isn’t much that Drew Emmitt hasn’t seen, heard, and lived through over the decades of life on the road but his experiences have only made him a wise man with the heart and energy of someone half his age.

Leftover Salmon has had some time off from full-scale touring as they worked on material for their forthcoming new album. That hasn’t stopped the band from knocking out a few gigs and working in a quick visit to the Spirit Of Suwannee with Herman for next weekend’s Clusterpluck. With July comes a return to the busy life of a beloved band in high demand. Before the return to full-speed-ahead, Drew Emmitt sat down with our own Rex Thomson to discuss the new disc, their inspirations, and the influence they have had on others.

Check out the highlights of their conversation below:

Live For Live Music: In those first couple of band gigs from all the way back at the beginning, did you ever expect to end up joined at the hip to Vince Herman the rest of your professional career?

Drew Emmitt: Ha! I didn’t know that was going to be the case but I did know that we had a great rapport with each other. I love making music with Vince. Standing onstage with him…he’s one of the funniest people I have ever met in my life and I instantly loved the chemistry between us.

Whether I ever thought that thirty years later I would still be onstage with him making music together…I don’t know. But I am damn glad that is how it happened.

L4LM: It’s funny…Leftover Salmon has been around for more than a quarter century but thanks to the newest guys in the band you are a fairly young act, minus you and Vince. Do you find it funny that you became the wise old men in a band you, yourself, helped found?

DE: Yeah, that’s a really good point…somehow we became a really young band. In our lineup the youngest member is 28 years old. Our banjo player is 33, our keyboard player is 39. Then there is Greg, Vince and myself…I guess we’re the elders. It’s like we’re aging backwards as a band! Even though we’re sort of almost a new band, we are carrying on a thirty year tradition.

L4LM: Leftover Salmon is big on honoring the past while making modern music. You’ve been doing some really fun covers of music icon Neil Young. Was he a hero of yours personally?

DE: Definitely! All of us, I’m pretty sure, have a strong connection with Neil [Young]’s music. Also to add to that he sat in with us on the HORDE tour. He said Leftover Salmon was his favorite band on that tour. He came and watched our set every night on that tour. Vince finally went and invited him to sit in. Neil said he wanted to, but to not tell the rest of the band in case he couldn’t make it so they didn’t get too excited.

So we have a personal history and energy with Neil. Last fall it got suggested that it would be cool to do an almost acoustic show before our shows with Los Lobos in Denver. I think it was our manager’s idea for us to do Neil Young’s Harvest in it’s entirety. We decided to learn it, we got some guests, like my brother who came in and blew some harp for us and we went for it. We did change things up a little but we tried to keep the arrangements as close as possible to Neil’s original ones.

We enjoyed it so much we’ve recreated it a couple of times. We did it again at Wanee. He just did it again at DelFest, which was wild. We had Warren Haynes sit in with us on “Down By The River” and that went really great! Who knows…maybe we’ll end up doing that one some more down the line.

“Heart Of Gold”

L4LM: Neil Young has a tendency to…go on…and on…sometimes. Did you guys work out any contingencies for what to do if he took over your show when he came out?

DE: I’d have loved it! He is one of the original jam band guys in that he could stretch a song out for a half hour and make it interesting. If he had wanted to play our entire show we totally would have let him do it! He’s Neil Young!

I got to see him on the Rust Never Sleeps tour. He had those big giant fake amplifiers and big crazy mic…I think that was the loudest concert I have ever been to in my entire life. It was “ear bleeding” loud. It was crazy.

It’s funny how a guy who is known for being such a wonderful acoustic guy can be so loud at the same time. I can really relate to that. I’m a bluegrass guy who also like to play rock and roll. That aspect of Young’s music footprint appeals to me as well.

L4LM: Leftover Salmon does a wonderful job of crossing genres as you mention, and you’ve been doing this for basically thirty years. Along the way you have been influencing folks as Young did you. After your decades out there gigging you have influenced plenty of folks to pick up the guitar or mandolin. Do you ever reflect on those kinds of thoughts, or have other artists thank you for inspiring them?

DE: Absolutely. It all comes from the Grateful Dead of course. The audience was out there, as they had showed.

We basically started out when Widespread Panic did, a couple years behind Phish. We were playing venues about the same size as them, when they came out to Colorado we were playing some of the same bars. We started at a time when there weren’t really a lot of bands doing this, and there weren’t many bands playing bluegrass with electric guitars and drums. And nobody was doing it like we were doing it.

When we hit the road, started gigging around the country, I think Leftover Salmon helped create that wave, that business model. Bands saw what we were doing when we came to their town and said “That’s all we need? We could just get a van or a bus and go out and make it happen? Cool.”

L4LM: Who would you say followed your example first?

DE: The first band that really followed in our footsteps like that was the String Cheese Incident. They have definitely let us know how much they tried to follow our example and how much they appreciated that. And for Leftover’s part we have always loved those guys as well.

Then there are the Railroad Earth guys, Yonder Mountain String Band and those Greensky Bluegrass guys. Those guys all know we were out there slogging around the country really trying to do this, make this music a thing. But no matter what we did, in a way, you don’t want to take credit for it when they thank you.

We were just out there having fun. We weren’t out there trying to build a jamgrass scene, we had bands following us in our slip stream, but we were just following bands like New Grass Revival, Hot Rize, Flying Burrito Brothers and even some aspects of the Dead and The Band. In a lot of ways we are just a link in that chain.

We were there as the jam band scene was being born, and we created our own way of being part of that scene. And others have found that way works for them to and have definitely thanked us. So I guess, in a really long way to answer your question, people have definitely thanked us for what we do and yes, it has been really cool to hear. A lot of bands have said “Yeah, we wouldn’t have gotten to do this if you hadn’t decided to ride around on a school bus for a lot of years.”

It’s nice to see these bands doing well, and for so long that they have found their way, and influenced others. It’s not just the sincerest form of flattery but it is wonderful to know the music is gonna go on.

L4LM: You’re heading back to the Spirit Of The Suwannee Music Park in Florida alongside your partner-in-crime Vince Herman next week for the “ClusterPluck.” How’d you get roped into that?

DE: Music promoter Paul Levine, who lives there in the park itself, has been a long time friend of Leftover Salmon. We’ve done many shows with him and he is always looking to get us down there to play. He got Andy Thorn and I down there last year for Hulaween.

Levine is just a really good dude that loves to put together good combinations of artists and musicians and see what happens. He’s got Vince and I, The Keels, The Jon Stickley Trio…some other cool folks…Jeff Mosier…all of us are comin’ in to have a party for the people.

L4LM: At Clusterpluck, you and Vince are billed as a duo. I know we can expect Vince to drag anyone and everyone out to play with you two, but will there be some solo stuff first?

DE: I dunno how that will work. My thought is that is just gonna be a Clusterpluck the whole time. We have a couple straight duo shows booked for later this year though.


L4LM: Sounds like this would be a good opportunity to practice.

DE: Absolutely. But, between the two of us we DO already know a few songs.

L4LM: How many times do you think you’ve played in the park?

DE: Hmmm…good question. Between the Spring and Mag fests and all the other things…I mean…I think the first time was opening for Panic a long time back…like ten or twelve times? That is a moderately educated guess.

L4LM: You’re known for your late night pickin’ parties in the park…any chance you will keep the party going after the show stops around a camp fire somewhere?

DE: I would…Yes…most certainly. We’re actually staying there. We have accommodations IN the park. We will be out and about in the night.

L4LM: You have a pretty busy July on the books, with shows in the mid-west at the start and at Red Rocks at the end of the month. Do you just like working the hardest in the hottest months or something?

DE: July is busy but we have actually been taking it pretty easy this summer. We’re playing in Michigan this weekend, but thanks to some stuff like weddings and such we’re not going as heavy as in the last couple summers. We have been wall to wall, every fest imaginable all the time. We have a little lighter schedule, but it’s great. And we have some great stuff scheduled we are looking forward to. And obviously Red Rocks.

But we are enjoying taking it easy from the road. It let us take time to record what will be our new record last month too. We’ve been knee deep in that, the recording and all. I’m pretty sure we are all enjoying the break. But July will be back to crazy.

L4LM: What is the ETA on this new record? Soon we hope?

DE: Not til next year. We are gonna really spend some time on it, then next year go big with it, build some tours around it. We’re gonna finish this year and then come back crazy strong next year?

L4LM: We will be hitting the beach at Suwannee Saturday during the day. You thinking of grabbing your flip flops and joining the party on the sand?

DE: I would imagine so. I’ve been to that beach, it’s nice. I know it has been very hot, so I think the thing to do is spend a lot of time in the water.

L4LM: Well, thanks for taking some time to talk to us about all things Leftover. Sounds like there is a lot of cool stuff on the way!

DE: You’re totally welcome. See you out there!

“Reefer Man-Because I Got High”