Meet Leftover Salmon’s Drew Emmitt
March 8, 2019
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Drew Emmitt takes the stage Saturday for the Bud Light Rocks the Boat free concert in Gondola Square. Emmitt is the mandolinist and lead singer of jamgrass band Leftover Salmon and is widely regarded as one of the early creators of the musical genre.
Emmitt is based in Crested Butte and often tours across the state and country. On Saturday, he'll be playing with The Drew Emmitt Band, featuring Greg Garrison on bass, Andy Thorn on banjo and Tyler Grant on guitar.
Explore Steamboat: Leftover Salmon got its start touring around ski towns 30 years ago. How does it feel to come back to play?
Drew Emmitt: It's always my favorite. We started in Crested Butte; I ended up moving there 20 years ago. For me personally, ski towns are my favorite places to play. People have such a great time, and crowds are really receptive.
ES: Have you seen changes in the Steamboat Springs or Colorado mountain town music scene in the past three decades?
DE: We don't play in Steamboat as much as I'd like anymore — we used to play there a whole lot. WinterWonderGrass has been a really great thing for Steamboat. Overall, lots of new, great venues are being built. The music scene in Colorado mountain towns has gotten better and better over the years.
If you go
What: Bud Light Rocks The Boat with Drew Emmitt
When: 3:30 to 5 p.m. Saturday, March 9
Where: Gondola Square, 2305 Mount Werner Circle
ES: Music historian Tim Newby recently released the book "Leftover Salmon: Thirty Years of Festival." What did your and the band's involvement in creating the book look like?
DE: Quite a lot. I personally did several lengthy interviews and supplied dates and details. I think he did a fantastic job putting it all together.
ES: Around the time the book was released, Leftover Salmon went on the "Stories from the Living Room" tour, during which you'd all sit down in comfy living room furniture on stage, with a grand piano and paintings, play acoustic and tell stories about the band's history between songs. How does this setting affect the way you guys play together?
DE: It went great; it's really different for us to do a sit-down acoustic show. A lot of the songs get a completely different treatment. The audience for the Living Room shows is a much more diverse crowd, with people of all ages. It definitely changes how we present ourselves. It's very relaxed and very cool. It shows another side of this band that most people don't usually get to see.
ES: Where do the supplies for the Living Room shows come from?
DE: It's mostly from thrift stores. Everything is very random. Some parts are extremely tacky, which is fun. There's a picture of Bill Monroe and a picture of an old woman — everyone thinks it's a picture of one of our grandmothers, but it's not.
ES: Are you ready to be playing shows that are more jammy and energetic again?
DE: Yeah, I definitely enjoy the acoustic side of the band. I think that's something unique to our band — to break it down and be just acoustic bluegrass. But I'm definitely excited to play rowdy shows and do the electric thing again.
ES: When you're playing live and decide to take the song in an unpredictable direction or take a risk and try something new — elements of progressive bluegrass that Leftover Salmon is famous for — what does that feel like?
DE: It's fun. We're a very adventurous band; we've never been pigeonholed as being one kind of band. There's a lot of freedom. From night to night, the songs can be very different; that's what I love about it.
ES: Leftover Salmon has been releasing some songs with some pretty clear political messages; why is it important to play music like that?
DE: We're very political people in our band. We really care about our country and aren't happy about where it's going, for obvious reasons. We've been on the road for 30 years, and we've seen a lot change in that time. We're very much hoping that things will change, and I think they are. There's hope on the horizon. I think the time of this administration having their way is over. We're excited for that; we're excited for the possibilities of the future.
ES: Will you be skiing before the Bud Light Rocks the Boat show?
DE: I think with the timing of the show and driving to Steamboat, I'm just going to ski my butt off at home (in Crested Butte). But I do love skiing Steamboat.
ES: How do you pass time in the band bus?
DE: I like to watch cable news — it's so interesting and intriguing these days. Every day, there's so much going on. And I like to read when I can, or I sit in the back and play my mandolin. We all listen to music, hang out, shoot the breeze and watch the scenery go by.
ES: What's the best hidden gem you and the band have found while touring?
DE: I love Northern California. The Northern California coast is probably my favorite place we've found in the bus.
ES: If someone is thinking about starting a band, what's your advice to them?
DE: Be patient, it takes awhile. Overnight successes generally take about 10 years, unless you get really lucky.
ES: What's coming up for you and the band in the near future that you're excited about?
DE: I'm really excited about going to Alaska (for shows at Alyeska Resort in Girdwood, Alaska) and for the Boogie at the Broadmoor (for three shows in Colorado Springs). The Broadmoor shows have a great lineup, and Sam Bush is coming to guest with us. I think it's going to be stellar. I'm excited for WinterWonderGrass Tahoe and for playing at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival as the acoustic Living Room show.
ES: You and your kids sometimes play shows together. How does that affect the music on stage?
DE: It's wonderful. Anytime we get to do that is the biggest, most wonderful thing I can imagine on stage. My son plays guitar, and my daughter sings incredibly well. There's nothing better, as a parent.
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