Drew Emmit led Leftover Salmon through a tricky pair of shows in the band’s beloved Colorado birthplace with a little help from Keller Williams and a lot of love from the crowd. When word got out that co-founder Vince Herman couldn’t make the weekend’s shows due to doctor’s orders as he recovers from medical procedures it looked like another tragic lost weekend for eager fans. Luckily, the only acceptable substitute for Vince was already on hand in the form of the jam scene’s own musical court jester, Keller.

While this certainly violates some sort of jam band OSHA ordinance that mandates all sick day shifts must first be offered to Warren Haynes, an exemption was obviously issued due to Williams’ proximity, familiarity with the band, region, and material. After night one at the Mission Ballroom was a roaring success for the ad hoc Leftover it was on to Steamboat Springs and its gorgeous Music Pavilion for night two.

For those unfamiliar with Leftover Salmon’s history, the band was founded not far from Steamboat in nearby Boulder under vaguely similar conditions as two bands, the Salmon Heads and Left Hand String Band, joined forces to play a New Year’s Eve show. Just a few years later Keller moved to the region and had a remarkable run in the area as well so it’s safe to say the echoes of time were ringing loudly in sole remaining founder Drew Emmitt’s ears.

Thanks to longtime partner-in-crime Herman’s boisterous personality, Emmitt can sometimes be overshadowed when it comes to working a crowd but he takes a back seat to no one when it comes to his multi-instrumentalist skills. That said, Drew has all the stage presence you would expect of a 30-year veteran and more and the weekend saw this in spades. Welcoming Keller to the show, Emmitt proceeded to lead his friends in a two-hour mix of Leftover tunes, covers, a few Keller classics, and banjo impresario Andy Thorn‘s latest contribution to the mix, a song about a fox that doubles as an examination of a problem our nation surely needs to face.

It should be mentioned that this review itself was only possible thanks to another near pitch-perfect concert stream from our friends over at Mandolin.com. They, and the bands that they’ve partnered with, have brought some much-needed musical medicine to a community desperately in need of regular live music injections just to stay sane.

Thorn, who has taken to posting short videos of himself playing to the mountains in his own effort to spread some live music love, has gained worldwide notoriety for a particularly musically curious red fox Andy has dubbed Foxy. Not one to miss an opportunity, Thorn’s ode to and inspired by his furry friend tackles the touchy subject of firearm proliferation in America and was one of the hits of the first set of the evening.

Other first set highlights weren’t as sensitive but certainly just as entertaining including a “Down In The Hollow” that saw newest LOS member Jay Starling truly impress with his dobro work and the sweet counterpoint it offered to Thorn’s precise finger rolls. Starling further demonstrated his own Swiss Army musical skills with some excellent work on the keys during one of the many Keller-helmed first set highlights including Salmon’s tongue-firmly-in-cheek reworking of a Grateful Dead classic into “Pasta On The Mountain”. Emmitt’s vocals on the first set-closing “Highway Song” managed to walk the fine line between weary and wistful, and the cheers as he finished up and excused the band for a much-needed break showed the crowd was clearly digging the temporary configuration.

The second set saw lots more of these dynamics fans clearly went for in the first half of the evening. Bassist Glen Garrison impressed with his ability to go from simply keeping time and helping create a pocket to the funky reggae tinges of “River’s Rising” and the more straight-ahead barrelhouse jams of The Doors‘ classic “Roadhouse Blues” with equal dexterity. Drummer Alwyn Robinson was clearly enjoying himself during the Keller-fronted selections, particularly a countrified, slimmed-down version of the Butthole Surfers‘ sing-song paced “Pepper”.

As Emmitt came back out for the encore he thanked the Steamboat Springs audience for their patience and once again for a little healing light and love to be sent the way of his recuperating friend Vince. It’s not everyday the one, absolutely perfect pinch hitter happened to already be hanging around the dugout. While it’s possible to cover for Vince Herman there is simply no replacing him and I don’t think there’s anyone who wants to try, including Keller. That said, with the latest addition of Jay Starling breathing fresh, new life into Leftover it’s easy to foresee a version of the band touring a thousand years into the future, with a digitized AI version of Herman and Emmitt leading a crew of super-sophisticated ploy-ethnic-slamgrass playing aliens backing them. Not to mention an immortal Warren Haynes, always waiting by the holo-phone for the call to action.