THIS WEEKEND: Leftover Salmon returning for SolShine Festival
Vince Herman is a lifetime musician. As the front man for Leftover Salmon he’s been touring for almost 30 years, released 10 albums and become legendary in the Colorado high country. He may not be a household name, but he’s just fine with that.
Herman grew up in Pittsburgh, where he started playing music as a young child. The youngest of seven kids in a large family, He seemed to spend most of his childhood at weddings taking in bands playing polka music.
Perhaps his most formative moment in his musical education came in eighth grade, when Herman attended the Smoky City Folk Festival in Pittsburgh and heard bluegrass music for the first time.
“It was like finding some long-lost connection,” said Herman. “I saw a bunch of people who were kind of strangers getting together and having this huge amount of fun. And I thought wow, this is really inclusive, it brings people together and it could be a lot of fun to be playing. I’ve been trying to chase that ever since.”
From Pittsburgh, Herman moved to West Virginia where he attended West Virginia University, but in the back of his head music was always the end game.
“I had always headed the voices from all kinds of folks in my head, saying you aren’t really going to do this for a living, or you’d better have a backup,” said Herman. “I finally quieted those voiced and said I’m jumping in.”
Herman moved to Boulder, and immediately began his musical career. On his first day in Colorado he met his future band mate Drew Emmitt, who was playing for a bluegrass group called the Left Hand String Band.
The two became fast friends, and Herman signed on to join the Left Hand String Band, but was later let go.
“I guess I wasn’t a good guitar player,” he indicated slyly.
So Herman started his own band, the Salmon Heads, and continued to play. But his time playing with Emmitt wasn’t over.
On Christmas Eve in 1989, the Salmon Heads were supposed to play a show in Crested Butte. Some of the members of his band couldn’t make it, so members of the Left Hand String Band filled in, and Leftover Salmon was born.
“Whenever we launched into a really traditional bluegrass tune the dance floor just started going crazy and slam dancing,” said Herman. “And that first experience playing with a band hopped up with drums and bluegrass stuff really struck a cord.
“It was the right time and the right place for that to happen. Colorado ski towns are more than willing to get rowdy, and it’s some rowdy music.”
The next day the band was on it’s way to Telluride for a last minute gig, then to the Boulder Theater a week later. Almost 30 years later, Leftover Salmon has made a name for themselves, combining a myriad of influences from bluegrass, Cajun, blues and rock and roll.
Herman and Emmitt have run the band since 1989, and are the only original members still playing. But the band has been able to cycle through more than a dozen members since it began, providing the group with a dynamic nature of ever-evolving music.
“I guess it says that Drew and I are the only ones stupid enough to keep at it,” said Herman. “We’ve retired some people. But we’ve been really lucky to be able to keep encountering great musicians who want to join this circus. Alwyn Robinson and Erik Deutsch have really brought a whole new power to the band. I’m as happy with the music now as I’ve ever been.”
Leftover Salmon is once again set to headline the seventh annual SolShine Festival in Winter Park on Saturday at 7 p.m. His son, Silas Herman, and his band, Gypsi Moon, will also be playing the festival. Leftover Salmon completed a new album earlier this year, and plans to release it in March.
There is no end in sight for Herman or the band.
“It’s been an amazing journey,” he said. “When I started on this path of folk music Tim O’Brien was my guiding light. He was a phenomenal player, touring guy that was never going to write that number one Taylor Swift hit. But he’s going to be able to do it for a long time and grow with his audience, and make a living out of it. That’s the model I have.”
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