In 1990, two average groups from the Boulder, Colo., area joined forces, and ended up creating one of the most popular jam bands to fill the void left by the decomposition of the Grateful Dead. That band, Leftover Salmon, last year gave six shows at Boulder’s Fox Theatre, then went on hiatus — perhaps permanently.
During the heady years of touring, Leftover Salmon played many of the nation’s biggest festivals and best venues (they were at Sangamon Auditorium in November 2000) and worked with some of music’s most storied acts — their third album, The Nashville Sessions, features a veritable who’s-who of guests, including Taj Mahal, Waylon Jennings, Sam Bush, Lucinda Williams, and Earl Scruggs.
Today, the band’s Web site, www.leftoversalmon.com, is mostly a marker of the group’s past glory. Even though the band’s members no longer play together, no one in this bunch has retired from the business. Multi-instrumentalist and lead vocalist Drew Emmitt has visited Springfield twice in support of his solo record while traveling all over the country on a nonstop tour, and keyboardist Bill McKay came to town as a member of brother John McKay’s band and continues to work with an assortment of musicians and bands.
Now former Springfield resident Nate Parienti is set to bring lead vocalist and frontman Vince Herman to the capital city.
“I used to live in Fort Collins, Colo., and a friend of mine ended up being tour manager for Leftover,” Parienti says. “We got to know Vince, and he said he’d do some shows with us.”
Alabaster Brown, Parienti’s St. Louis-based group, has been together for about two years, doing Americana classics and original music. They played the Underground City Tavern in April with the McKay Brothers and are elated at getting a chance to do some shows with Herman.
“He definitely has this larger-than-life presence and is one of my personal music heroes,” Parienti says. “It’s a very special thing for all of us.”
A local singer/songwriter and childhood friend of Parienti’s, John Brillhart, is also on the bill. “We go way back. Nate’s dad was my soccer coach, and I went to his bar mitzvah,” Brillhart says. “We both started playing guitar around the same time, learning Grateful Dead songs, mostly.” Brillhart dabbles in the Americana classics as well, but his forte lies in crafting portraits of everyday life into brilliant songs. He’s equally sharp in explaining a lover’s ability to touch his heart and creating a tribute to his sweetheart’s fascination with thrift-store shopping.
In his life after Leftover Salmon, Herman is employing the freedom of movement offered to a musical icon unencumbered by a hectic touring schedule. “I’m enjoying connecting with all the people we met while on the road,” he says. “I’ve been emceeing festivals, playing solo shows, doing duos with Rob [Wasserman] — he’s so melodic, it’s like playing with a human voice.” He spends time at his home in Nederland, Colo., hanging out as much as possible with his family.
“My 11-year-old is in a band with the neighbor’s kid,” he says. “We heard ’em practicing and were high-fiving each other: ‘Yeah, our kids are in a band!’ ”
Last weekend, the boisterous singer was celebrating the life and music of Woody Guthrie at Guthrie Fest in Okemah, Okla., hometown of the legendary folksinger. It’s only fitting, considering that Herman’s first project away from Leftover Salmon was called the Spirit of Guthrie Tour with bassist Wasserman, singer/songwriter Jim Page, and sometime member New Orleans fiddler/songwriter Theresa Andersson.
“I just got the CDs back from the recording we did at the Tree House in Atlanta,” Herman says. “We did it in one day in the studio — half a day with the band alone and half with a crowd.”
The record contains songs written by the group and some penned by Guthrie, plus never-before-published lyrics from the Guthrie Foundation set to music by Herman and friends. “They’re all done in the spirit of Woody Guthrie,” Herman says. “You know, songs that make you strong.” The CD will be available at Herman’s live shows and through his Web site (www.vinceherman.com). “It seemed an appropriate way to market a Woody Guthrie record rather than through a record company,” he says.
His other current band in progress started out as a favor for a fan in Boulder. “A friend asked me to do a benefit, and I put together a dream band for it,” he says. “We had a ball and just wanted it to keep going.” The group, which became Great American Taxi, includes members of other bands on the Colorado jam-band scene, including Reed Foehl of Acoustic Junction and Chad Staehly. It’s just a small piece of the Herman puzzle.
“We start a Shanti Groove [a string band Herman sits in with] tour in the fall. We’ll be at the CaveFest in Carbondale at the end of September — bringing out Great American Taxi for that,” Herman says. “We just keep up with whatever keeps coming.”
Vince Herman performs at 9 p.m. Thursday, July 21, at the Underground City Tavern with Alabaster Brown and John Brillhart.