QUINCY, CALIFORNIA — The members of Leftover Salmon are elder statesmen here at High Sierra Music Festival. With this being their 13th appearance since 1994, they’ve seen the festival and fan-base grow right along with the jamgrass genre they pioneered. And the Vince Herman-led six piece shows no sign of taking it easy, playing three sets on Thursday alone — including an acoustic performance at the Sierra Nevada tent near the Grandstand stage and a rousing set at the Vaudeville stage to close the day’s festivities.
“When I think about all the people that we’ve lost over the years it just… makes you realize how lucky you are to be at another High Sierra,” he said at the Sierra Nevada tent to a rapt audience of about 35 before kicking it into a high gear with a winding bluegrass jam that evolved and built until it broke into an enthralling snare solo for drummer Alwyn Robinson. The solo climaxed with bassist Greg Garrison and Herman pouring a bucket of bottle caps onto the drum head, sending them flying off the drum head at the other members, much to the delight of the crowd.
The band members stuck around after their set to talk with fans and friends about past High Sierras and who they’re excited to see at this one. The conversations didn’t feel like they were occurring between a genre-creating band and its fans, but more a friendly chat among fellow festival-goers and music enthusiasts. That down-to-earth attitude is key to the band’s captivating stage presence and obvious in the subject matter of their songs. Songs such as “Finish Your Beer” and “Whiskey For Breakfast” are working-man anthems for the kind of people that flock to festivals for a release they can’t find elsewhere.
When we met up to chat at in one of the fairgrounds’ horse stalls where he’s camping, Herman spoke of his excitement of being able to play a festival with his son, Silas Herman of Gipsy Moon. For the elder Herman, the festival circuit is turning into a real family affair.
Highlights of the packed late night Vaudeville set included fan favorites “All Night Ride” and “Two Highways,” with the former featuring a blazing banjo solo from longtime member Andy Thorn. The joy in the air was palpable and it’s incredible to think that after 28 years the band still feels so fresh. When asked what’s next, Herman didn’t hesitate: “We’re gonna make a Colorado record next, a real bluegrassy thing. Then just weekend trips around the U.S., Nashville, Telluride… I’m just happy to be playing tunes at all.” After a day like yesterday, it’s apparent that there are people around the world who are happy he’s playing tunes as well.
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