Smile Politely

I’m thinkin’ of moving, maybe changing my point of view

When something happens by accident, it usually suggests that a factor at play has gone wrong. But the founding of Leftover Salmon was no such incident. The start of the band was an accident that gave way to the fusion of two string bands, the creation of wonderful music and the birth of an eclectic genre that the band can confidently call its very own. Formed in Boulder, Colorado in 1989, Leftover Salmon was the spontaneous combination of players and pickers from the Salmonheads and the Left Hand String Band. The synergy between members of the two bands was so apparent that joining together seemed only natural.

Leftover Salmon fuses together a number of different genres — bluegrass, country, Cajun, rock, blues and calypso — to achieve their distinctive sound. In fact, the band had so much trouble narrowing their sound to fit any one mould that they coined their own genre. The band’s members and fans describe its signature blend as Polyethnic Cajun Slamgrass. I know — it’s a mouthful. And it’s packed with references. So, let’s break it down. When Leftover Salmon play, you can expect to hear elements of progressive bluegrass combined with traditional Cajun flavor in a jam band structure. What’s more, the arsenal of instruments that this band can wield is pretty impressive. Standard guitar, bass, drums and keys are enlivened with the presence of the banjo, fiddle and mandolin.    

This current tour is particularly special for Leftover Salmon as it is their first official tour after an eight-year long hiatus. The band consistently recorded a number of albums from 1993 to 2004, but put down their instruments for a break at the end of 2004. The next couple of years saw the band playing scattered shows together at small venues and festivals, but the members were never officially reunited.

The beginning of 2012 brought buzz of new Leftover material. The band’s most recent full-length record, Aquatic Hitchhiker, was released in mid May and received with positive responses from dozens of small online jam band and bluegrass publications as well as from festival communities around the country. Following the album’s release, Leftover made appearances at numerous fests, sharing and contributing their sounds at Summer Camp Music Festival, DelFest, Telluride Bluegrass Festival and FloydFest, among others.

Aquatic Hitchhiker is the band’s first album full of strictly original tracks. The composition of the songs flows pleasantly from swinging, Cajun jams, on to lazy, bluegrass thumpers and flourishes on a couple of sentimental, bluesy ditties. On my first listen through the album one track undeniably stood out from the rest. “Walking Shoes” is a slower tune compared to the rest of the songs on the album, but it doesn’t fail to reel you in from its very first notes. Steady thumps and bumps from drums and guitar set up a slow sway that guides the whole song as a banjo parts floats atop. The slow pace of the tune lets the lyrics resonate much more than on other picking-heavy tracks. Co-founder of Leftover Salmon, Vince Herman, sings:

These are strange times, and hard times
These are good times, too
Ain’t much in my pocket
That ain’t nothin’ new
I’m thinkin’ of moving, maybe changing my point of view
Take a look at the world from my walking shoes
It’s not a straight line
Not when you’re running blind
Not knowing where you’re going to
I never did mind
Takin’ my sweet time
Followin’ my walkin’ shoes

The simplicity of these and other Leftover Salmon lyrics create a good-timey atmosphere that easily coaxes a smile. The crowd at tonight’s show is almost guaranteed to be peaceful and fun loving. I’m predicting that there will be enough room to sway without spilling too much beer or bumping too many elbows. Still, first-timers should prepare for a floor-full of bluegrass enthusiasts.

Canopy’s doors will open at 8 p.m. tonight, and Leftover Salmon will take to the stage at 9 p.m. Tickets to the show are $15 in advance and $17 at the door. As always, this is an 18+ event.

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