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Thursday, July 9, 2009 04:32 am

Hail the Great American Taxi

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Great American Taxi

Back in March of 2005, Vince Herman and Chris Staehly needed a band to play for a Rainforest Action Group benefit concert in Boulder, Colo. The two musicians put together Great American Taxi and have been riding in the cab with the meter running ever since.

Herman, best known for his work as frontman for Leftover Salmon, a groundbreaking, acoustic-based, jamband of the 1990s and early 2000s (they still get together a couple times a year), sings and picks acoustic guitar while retaining his out front position in Taxi. Keyboardist Staehly writes many of the “Americana without borders” songs that make GAT a favorite at festivals such as Summercamp, High Sierra, Hookahville, 10,000 Lakes and other gatherings and adds a distinctive flavor to the mix with his rock and folk stylings on piano and organ.

Over the years Springfield developed into a good draw for Leftover Salmon and since the slow dissolution of the band, continues to support LOS alumni, including Herman and Drew Emmitt, another Salmonfella who frequents the capital city. About four or five years ago Herman did a show at the now-defunct Underground City Tavern where he demonstrated his uncanny ability to improvise lyrics and just go off on fun tangents, much to the delight of the audience.

“Springfield is a good spot for us,” says Herman. “We played here 4 or 5 times as Taxi and opened for Little Feat (at the Sangamon Auditorium with Leftover Salmon) and always had a good time.”

For most of December 2008 GAT concentrated on making their second record. With Tim Carbone of Railroad Earth handling the production duties and Grammy award-winning engineer Phil Nicolo taking care of the mixing and mastering, the project was in very good hands. Featuring the talents of Herman and Staehly along with GAT guitarist Jim Lewin, the rhythm team of Chris Sheldon on drums and Edwin Hurwitz on bass, and special guests including Barry Sless on pedal steel, the music on Unpromised Land (a free Web site download of a song off the recording) sounded wonderful. Before implementing the planned 2009 release, the group decided to “swing for the fences” and not go it alone in getting the music out to the masses.

“We’ve had some major label interest so right now we’re getting everything in place and delaying the release until late fall, early winter,” said Herman. “We’re feeling good about this record, made some new moves, and kind of remodeled the whole thing.”

Herman, who is known for generously espousing his political beliefs, feels confident about the future of not just his band, but the whole idea of making this world a better place. Even though it seems the mindset of the progressive 1960s has faded and the culture of the Grateful Dead looks not quite as promising as it did back in the day, he’s a believer in the possibilities of the future.

“They’ve beat the counterculture back into the corner,” he said, “But we’ve got a lot of hippies in training coming up. It’s all out there.”

Great American Taxi spends a lot of time traveling, playing festivals and clubs, criss-crossing the country from their home base in Nederland, Colo., just outside of Boulder, through Ohio, California, Montana, Utah, Illinois, Iowa and Michigan, then back again.

“We’ve been doing around 150 shows a year with Taxi,” Herman said. “I guess we’ll keep at it. The road is where I do my thing.”

Take a ride on the Great American Taxi featuring Vince Herman of Leftover Salmon, at City Nights Theater, 3149 South Dirksen, Saturday, July 11, with special guests Family Groove Band.

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