Vince Herman and Drew Emmitt have been playing together for 30 years in Leftover Salmon, but when the two get together for duo shows — as they’ll do Wednesday at City Winery in Philadelphia and Thursday for two shows at NYC’s City Vineyard — the longtime partners can even surprise themselves.
“For people who have seen the band a lot, they have to fill in the missing colors in the paint-by-numbers,” Emmitt says from the band’s home base in Colorado. “We’re the two main songwriters in the band. It gives the sounds a whole different feel, and it’s so much sparser than the band. It kind of brings the songs to a different light, in a way.”
LS, with a book and career-inclusive vinyl box set, is taking some time to honor its 30 years together, and the group has also completed a new album. We caught up with Emmitt about his duo with Herman, the band’s early days and the explosion of the jamgrass genre.
Do you use a setlist for Vince and Drew shows?
Well, we write a setlist, but we’re not that married to it, as with the band. There’s always room for calling an audible, and definitely more so with the duo. We can definitely turn on a dime. Not having a bass player frees things up considerably.
How have fans responded to this format?
Great so far. We did a show in Knoxville, Tenn., and a show in Asheville. N.C. Right before, we went up to the Capitol Theatre and did Del McCoury’s 80th birthday party. So it’s only been two shows, and both shows were packed. We were pretty amazed that people came out and supported it.
Who are some of your favorite duos?
Oh my goodness, I have to think about that. David Lindley and Hani Naser. Del McCoury and David Grisman. Del McCoury and Sam Bush did a really cool tour together. Peter Rowan and Tony Rice. Page and Plant, they had a few more musicians with them.
When Leftover Salmon was starting out, was there a lot of crossover between bluegrass and rock or were you kind of on your own?
We were pretty much completely on our own, and this was back in ’89 when Phish and Widespread Panic were getting going. There were few bands in this genre, it wasn’t even called the jam band movement at all. We were all kind of coming off the Grateful Dead run and trying to keep that going. Newgrass Revival had been doing that, but they stopped right when we started. Nitty Gritty Dirt Band was a country-bluegrass kind of fusion. There really wasn’t anyone else doing it.
Now that the scene has grown, have you picked up new fans?
Maybe. We’ve had a steady crowd for 30 years, and I think that we have a lot of our own fans. But I think maybe younger fans are getting turned onto us through these other bands like Greensky and Stringdusters and Punch Brothers. It definitely helps, and those bands like Greensky especially and Billy Strings are driving the movement right now, whereas back in the day we were driving the movement. It’s like each band gets their turn sitting in the control room. Right now we’re not sitting in the front of the train, we’re just kind of riding on it. It’s grown amazingly.
Is the band working on new material?
We just recorded a new album this fall. We’re finishing it up. We made it as Echo Mountain in Asheville. We’re going to release one track a month the rest of the year then put it all out of a record.
“Bands like Greensky especially and Billy Strings are driving the movement right now, whereas back in the day we were driving the movement. It’s like each band gets their turn sitting in the control room.”
Have you been playing any of the new songs live?
A couple of them we’ve done live a little bit. One of the tunes we played at Strings and Sol this past January. We’re kind of saving it.
While the band is committed to creating new material, you’ve also taken some time to celebrate your past with the book and the box set.
It’s kind of hard to believe it’s been 30 years. I guess time flies when you’re having fun. This has been a really cool thing. It’s amazing we’ve gotten to be on this ride. We’re not big stars of the next big thing, but we’re having a great career, and it’s been a great 30 years so far.
Photo credit: Schott Shrader Photography