30 Years Under The Big Top: Leftover Salmon Returns To Houston

Leftover Salmon is celebrating 30 years together and will make their long awaited return to Houston Wednesday January 15 at White Oak Music Hall.
Leftover Salmon is celebrating 30 years together and will make their long awaited return to Houston Wednesday January 15 at White Oak Music Hall. Photo By John Ryan Lockman
Doing anything for 30 years is no small feat, especially something like maintaining a band together and staying relevant. Leftover Salmon recently celebrated their 30-year anniversary with a New Years extravaganza, a book titled 30 Years of Festival! and a vinyl box set of all their albums titled 30 years under the Big Top!.

“We’ve done our share of touring that’s for sure,” says founding member Drew Emmitt. “We have definitely been everywhere and that’s kind of what built our band so it’s definitely part of our legacy.” The band has scaled back from touring and hasn’t been to the Houston area for a few years now but they will make a visit to White Oak Music Hall on September 15 with Jason Boland.

“I think that when you’re building a band you’ve got to tour all the time to get things going and to really build your following. We’ve been around for 30 years now and I think when you’re a band that’s been around for 30 years, you definitely need to not tour quite as much and maybe have people miss you a little more.”

Leftover Salmon rang in the new decade and celebrated their official 30th anniversary in style with a special evening at the Mission Ballroom. The night featured a circus theme with aerial acrobatics, people on stilts and special guests Karl Denson and Lindsay Lou.

“It was great, one of the greatest nights that we’ve ever had as a band. It couldn’t have been more perfect to have our 30th in Colorado where we started out and where we live.”

In 30 years Leftover Salmon has traveled the world and seen the birth and growth of what is now the jam band scene, a scene which has a strong foothold in music communities all over the globe.  Thirty years ago there was no jam band scene as we know it now. 

“When we started there were really only Widespread Panic and Phish and it wasn’t called “jam bands”. I think that what happened was everybody was trying to figure out how to do this without having a major record deal, backing or a lot of money behind them.”

The band has joked in the past that they would have picked a better name if only they had known they would be around so long. “We didn’t think we would last this long. We really had no idea that it would even be something that would go beyond a handful of years, it was just something we did that we thought would be fun.”

Leftover Salmon has had their share of fun on the festival circuit, their trademark calling card is screams of “festival!”, but they have also experienced serious ups and downs such as the loss of key band member Mark Vann.

The two remaining members of the original lineup from that New Years show so many years ago, Emmitt and Vince Herman, continue to create music and share stages throughout the year. Their band is currently a reflection of the diversity in the group with members coming from different musical backgrounds and age ranges. “I feel like it’s the best band we’ve ever had and I hope we can hang onto it.”

When asked if they actively reflect on the past three decades Emmitt says, “Yeah we do sometimes but its kind of also left unsaid a little bit because we’ve been there together and we understand. It feels like 30 years in a lot of ways, we’ve had so many great times, so many struggles, met so many great people, played with so many great musicians and played so many great places.”

Leftover Salmon paved the way for many by buying a school bus and taking their eclectic sound on the road, building their fan base first with the reputation of their live shows and then releasing studio albums. “We just got out there and worked our asses off. We were a part of a movement that created a model.”

Though they know they are pioneers in the scene, they also recognize where it all really began.  “I think it’s more about going to shows, that’s what this whole culture has been about. Really who started it was the Grateful Dead, they are the ones that really created the template for this kind of scene and we all just kind of followed in their wake.”

Though their roots are in bluegrass, their music melts more influences than you can shake a stick at. “Bluegrass has always been a pretty wide open kind of music, even though there are people that stick very close to the original way of playing bluegrass, but there is always room in bluegrass for interpretation,” says Emmitt about the perceived purism that comes along with the genre.

“We have always been able to play whatever it is we wanted, which is why we call it Polyethnic Cajun Slamgrass. People can call Leftover Salmon a bluegrass band, but if they come see us they are going to be really amazed that it’s not actually a bluegrass band.”

"People can call Leftover Salmon a bluegrass band, but if they come see us they are going to be really amazed that it’s not actually a bluegrass band.”

tweet this

Jamband fans of some of the most rabid fans out there. They often travel great distances to experience their favorite bands live. Songs often go on and on allowing the band and the audience to coexist for that moment feeding off of each other. It’s a crowd known for loving a good time and all genres of music with their free loving, hippy connotations.

With their latest release, Something Higher, Leftover Salmon took the good times into more serious territory. “I think that that was a breakout album for us in so many ways,” says Emmitt. The album points to spotlight on the state of this divided nation with songs like “House of Cards” and the title track “Show me something Higher.”

“Unless you’re not paying attention or live under a rock, it’s impossible to ignore what’s going on in our country, regardless of what side you’re on. It’s a very crazy and dangerous time we’re living in, if you think that this is just like any other time you are sadly mistaken. This is a critical point in our history and I hope that we can get back to having a country that is a little more united.”

Letfover Salmon will perform with Jason Boland Wednesday January 15 at White Oak Music Hall, 2915 N. Main, Doors at 7 p.m, $25.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Gladys Fuentes is a first generation Houstonian whose obsession with music began with being glued to KLDE oldies on the radio as a young girl. She is a freelance music writer for the Houston Press, contributing articles since early 2017.
Contact: Gladys Fuentes