Colorado at times can seem like a parade of yearly musical traditions. Denver, being a massive music hub, is a place where many performers pass through around the same time each year. One nascent tradition is the Keller and His Compadres shows in Keystone, Colorado. Last year’s shows originally marked the end of the world according to the Mayan Calendar. Well fortunately for K-Dub the world continued and so do these concerts. It’s a chance for the normally solo performer Keller Williams to grab a few friends and just jam. This year he got a chance to playe with Michael Kang and Michael Travis from String Cheese Incident on Friday and Vince Herman and Drew Emmitt of Leftover Salmon on Saturday. I opted to catch Saturday’s show, which turned out to be a wise decision.
I found out that Friday included a very young crowd and they pushed it to the limit. Saturday was a fairly casual affair with a slightly older audience. The show was completely sold out, meaning more than a few fans were turned away at the door. Unless the gig is billed as one of Keller’s official band projects, the format is always one set solo and one set with the guests. This night was no different. K-Dub’s first set started just after 9 PM. In his true entertainer style he began strumming his guitar backstage before emerging from the darkness. The Warren Station Center For The Arts was a square room with a bar in the back. It was cozy and by the time Keller actually started playing it was most definitely full. Classics from Keller like “Cadillac” and “Freaker By The Speaker” were sprinkled throughout the first set. Perhaps the most oddly satisfying song of the first set was an extended jam into the custom built version of Lorde’s “Royals.” Covers like this again reiterate Keller’s addiction to pop music. He rounded his solo set with a sing-along on “Gate Crashers.”
The main event could have easily been dubbed Keller Salmon or Leftover Williams. The inclusion of Vince and Drew meant there would be no shortage of bluegrass or extended musical interplay. I for one am a fan of Keller’s solo work, but for some reason I find his style so much more rewarding when juxtaposed against other musicians. They opened the set with an instrumental before going into a bouncy “Portpapotty.” Keller was playing the electric bass, with Drew on mandolin and Vince on guitar. We were treated to an incredible Drew-sung version of Dylan’s “Tangled Up And Blue.” The additional strings did a lot to fill out “What The World Needs Now,” before they went into a stellar version of Salmon’s “Troubled Times.” Keller was sure to keep it balanced with the occasional original, insert “Broken Convertible” here. The rendition of “Dixie Chicken” was the highlight of the entire night. It came in reference to their recent performances with Little Feat’s Bill Payne. Again I reiterate the need for Mr. Payne to join Leftover Salmon full time. The moment is now Bill. Vince got a chance to sing his rowdy but timeless “Fuzzy Little Hippie Girl.” The trio went into a bluegrass-tinged duo from Tom Petty with “You Got Lucky” into a set-closing “You Don’t Know How It Feels.” The crowd kind of went off the chain at this point. Keller Williams and his Compadres came out for a quick “Up On The Hill Where They Do The Boogie” to encore before the lights came on and it was all over.
The show just seemed to speed on by. Keller is many things, but he is always fun. His shows display a vibrancy and passion for music in all its forms. His performances become random drive through his musical consciousness. His concerts with other musicians push back his urge to just unleash whatever comes into his head, which at times gives us the more interesting outcome. Instead in these sets he plays his part, which is interesting to see from a man who built his career on going it alone.
As we left I said to my wife, “Keller Williams must be a huge Tom Petty fan,” to which she replied, “Who isn’t?”
Additional Video by Steve Wilner
Leftover Salmon once again treated the Front Range to a pair of post-Thanksgiving shows. This run has become a yearly tradition from Salmonheads across the country. This time around they delighted their fans with the inclusion of Little Feat’s Bill Payne on keys. This was a wise choice. Throughout their storied career Salmon has played with a number of keyboardists including Pete Sears and Bill McKay. However the addition of Mr. Payne brought something utterly special to the table. McKay supplied a bluesy rowdiness that instantly transformed the group into a bar band on steroids. Payne’s performance throughout both nights was pure class. With his whirling piano solos and delicate keystrokes Payne contributed a versatility and range that raised the bar for all future Salmon shows. I for one would like to start a petition here and now to make Payne a permanent member of the band, but I digress.
Leftover Salmon with Bill Payne – Nov 29, 2013
The cool evening was the perfect backdrop for familiar jaunt to Boulder. The sun was long gone by the time I reached my destination. After a short walk I found myself in front of the historic Boulder Theater. This venue is one of the best the Front Range has to offer and the sound is always top notch. The doors opened promptly at 8:30 PM and the eclectic crowd made their way inside. The band took the stage just after 9:30 PM and it was time. Vince introduced the Little Feat Alumnus and we were quickly underway with a raucous “Voodoo Queen Marie.”
Set 1: Voodoo Queen Marie, Gulf of Mexico, Little Liza, Two Highways, Rag Mama Rag, High Country, The Other Side, Home Cookin’, Whispering Waters
Set 2: Fat Man In The Bathtub, Sometimes A River, Midnight Blues, Morning Sun, Mama Boulet> Drums> Mama Boulet, Get ‘Er Rollin’, The Bird Call, Tu Na Pas Aller, Doin’ My Time
Encore: Alflafa’s, Better
Recording on Archive.org – Audio by Gerry Gladu
The first set featured several tracks off of Aquatic Hitchhiker including the Thorn infused title track as well as a stellar Drew-led “Gulf of Mexico.” Drew again got to demonstrate the power of his evocative vocals on “Two Highways.” The jovial atmosphere that Leftover Salmon strives to create with each live performance is absolutely contagious. Old Heads danced with young students as Leftover Salmon threw down the gauntlet. Payne’s keys were again the center of attention on the as he added a Stride piano element to “Rag Mama Rag.” Payne alternated between the ivories and the organ throughout the night. The traditional styling’s on “High Country” was a nice breather before the musical explosion that was “The Other Side.” “Home Cookin” took on a boisterous feel, but the massive set closing “Whispering Waters” was the real highlight. This somewhat rare track stretched well past the 15-minute mark.
“After midnight tonight it’s going to be Greg Garrison’s Birthday… You’ all feel like singing one?” – Vince Herman
Did I forget to mention that Vince had already announced that it was their newest member Alwyn Robinson’s birthday during the first set? In all my years of seeing this band it’s been someone in the groups birthday about 90% of the time. Robinson has now permanently replaced long time drummer Jose Martinez. Martinez is sticking to his roots in Seattle and taking a new direction in his musical journey. What Alwyn lacks in flashy fills he more than makes up for with absolute precision. He adds his jazz experience to the percussion and is quickly becoming a focal point for this talented group.
Set two was quickly underway after a brief break. They opened up with the only Little Feat song of the evening, “Fat Man In The Tub.” We were treated to a pair of crowd-pleasers in the form of “Sometimes A River” (not to be confused with the SCI song of the same name) and a smoking “Midnight Blues.” “Morning Sun” featured a fantastic reggae breakdown with Payne going gonzo on the B3. The “Mama Boulet” sandwich gave us a chance to really see Robinson groove with an extended drum solo. Again he really is gelling nicely with the band and he has a new take on percussion that we haven’t seen with Salmon before now. Leftover Salmon just seems much more content all around. They are going with the flow and not letting things like cross country moves and changes in their lineup slow them down. They persist in writing new material and expanding their catalog while continuing to bring a fresh feel to their classic tracks. “Get ‘Er Rollin’” was all rockabilly while “The Bird Call” saw some ridiculous jamming from the entire band. We got our dose of Zydeco with “Tu Na Pas Aller” before they closed with a beautiful “Doin’ My Time.”
Leftover Salmon encored with their homage to Boulder hippie grocer, “Alfalfas.” This silly song featured the crowd-singing meow to the melody of the song, which can only be blamed on Mr. Herman.
“If I don’t see you at church, I guess I’ll see you at the liquor store.” –Vince
They finished the night with a high-speed jam on “Better.” This was an excellent show, and the addition of Bill Payne was historic. Payne performs with an elegance that is just rare these days. Leftover Salmon is quite simply one of the most enjoyable live experiences touring today. They continue to push the envelope of bluegrass, rock, and improvisation. This band is having fun, and that in turn spills onto the audience. Night one was absolutely solid, but Saturday night at the Boulder Theater would prove to be one for the books. Stay tuned.
Leftover Salmon with Bill Payne – Nov 30, 2013
After a solid night in Boulder the fans returned to the historic venue for one more night of Leftover Salmon. This post-Thanksgiving run had already given fans plenty to be thankful for, and there was still one more show to go. Friday had been a 21+ show meaning the crowd was a bit older. When the doors opened on Saturday again around 8:30 PM the younger fans got their chance to hit the rail. About thirty minutes before show time a large ear of corn made it’s way to the microphone. However it didn’t say anything, prompting some fans to accost the poor vegetable. Finally, at the appointed time the spry corn man sprung to life and introduced the band.
“Let’s hear it for corn.” -Vince
Salmon took the stage again just after 9:30 PM and there was a distinct electricity in the air. The show that would follow is the type of event that makes people lifelong fans. This one was one for the books. They opened with a massive Drew soaked “Down In A Hollow.”
Set 1: Down In A Hollow, Mountaintop, Steam Powered Aeroplane, Who Put the Pepper In The Vaseline, Breaking Through, Squirrel Heads and Gravy, Last Days of Autumn, Thompipe, Ophelia, Dixie Chicken
Set 2: Rueben’s Train, Here Comes The Night*, Keep Driving*, Walk And Don’t Look Back, Up On The Hill Where They Do The Boogie, Light Behind The Rain, River’s Rising, Willin’, Don’t Think Hank Done This Way> Walk On The Wild Side> Can’t Always Get What You Want> Don’t Think Hank Done It This Way
Encore: Hotcorn Coldcorn, Rock and Roll
Recording on Archive.org – Audio by Eric Wilkens
“Mountaintop” was a little lull to make sure everyone was inside, before they kicked it into high gear with John Hartford’s “Steam Powered Aeroplane.” Fans were treated to another rare track in the form of the Cajun frolic, “Who Put the Pepper In The Vaseline” which featured a nice breakdown from Robinson on the kit. Drew Emmitt has one of the best voices in bluegrass and to hear him sing is to be impressed. Bill Payne’s Hammond beautifully accented Drew’s vocals on “Breaking Through,” which went well over ten minutes. The traditional “Squirrel Heads and Gravy” became an all out hoedown before the intricately stunning “Last Days of Autumn.” The packed room swelled as the fans danced feverishly. The short “Thompipe” featured some amazing banjo action from Mr. Andy Thorn. They broke into a mind-blowing version of The Band’s “Ophelia” where the band took full advantage of Payne’s piano with multiple extensive solos. They closed the first set with the only Payne-sung lyrics of the night on the first verse of “Dixie Chicken.” Drew took over vocals for the rest of the tune. Vince coaxed the audience to bellow out the well-known melody of the refrain, which they eventually did. The band walked off stage to that sound before the room exploded in applause.
Kyle Hollingsworth had been spotted around the Boulder Theater; so, many fans including myself were expecting a sit in. After the traditional “Rueben’s Train” opener we got just that. Vince invited the long time local to join them onstage. I speculate that Kyle came down simply for the opportunity to play with one of his heroes. Who wouldn’t? It took them a minute to find their groove on “Here Comes The Night,” but with Kyle at the organ and Payne on the keys, they eventually found synchronicity. Hollingsworth stuck around for another go around on “Keep Driving” before he disappeared backstage. The remainder of the set was an absolute “Best Of” run from Leftover Salmon. Vince took the reigns on Peter Tosh’s “Walk and Don’t Look Back” which was a bit like tossing reggae and bluegrass into a centrifuge. “Up On The Hill” featured an incredible solo from Thorn on banjo before he wowed the audience with the brilliantly dramatic “Light Behind The Rain.” With all the recent flooding we’ve had in Colorado, “River’s Rising” took on a new relevance. The Vince sung Little Feat classic “Willin’” was yet another highlight in a show with far too many. The massive set closing “Don’t Think Hank Done It This Way” sandwich took a stellar show and absolutely launched it over the top. Featuring a huge shout out to Lou Reed in the form of “Take A Walk On The Wild Side” as well as a tight rendition of the Rolling Stones’ “Can’t Always Get What You Want.” They went back into “Hank” to wrap it all up neatly.
As the band left I literally had to reach down and pick my jaw up off of the floor. They of course returned with a large ear of corn in tow. The punch line came in the form of a “Hotcorn Coldcorn” encore complete with a dancing grain plant. As if that wasn’t enough Salmon finished the night with a rockabilly version of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll.” The people filtered out into the Boulder streets with wide smiles and stories to tell. Bill Payne was an absolute delight throughout both of his nights with LoS. Payne’s experience and style meshed incredibly well with the entire band, and it’s time for a keyboardist of his caliber to be touring with them full time. It seems that recently Leftover Salmon has been on fire. They are a new band with a new energy, but above all they are having fun. They aren’t afraid to be inventive and continue to hone their craft instead of stagnating. I for one am thankful for Leftover Salmon.
Leftover Salmon has reestablished themselves at the top of the jamgrass heap. This last minute show demonstrates they are paying attention and willing to play a show strictly for the fans. The show was scheduled to start around 1 AM well after Phish’s last note. It was billed as Leftover Salmon & Friends, and rumors swirled around as who would be sitting in. Because of the Snowy Range Festival where Salmon was playing on Sunday names like Sam Bush and Keller Williams were dropped frequently. This would not be the case in Denver, however Bush did sit in at Snowy Range for what it’s worth.
The drive down was smooth and we arrived just before show time. Although the concert sold out immediately, it honestly wasn’t super packed. The room was definitely full, but manageable. Next-door The Pimps Of Joytime also played for those willing to venture out after Dick’s. Salmon took the stage around 1:30 AM and straight away set the pace with a ripping “Mama Boulet.”
Set 1: Mama Boulet, Little Maggie, Ask The Fish*, Two Highways, Head Over Heels Over You**, Bird Call*, Home Cookin’, Morning Sun, High Country, Doing My Time, Dance On Your Head*, Aquatic Hitchhiker#, Midnight Rider**,#
Encore: Pasta On The Mountain#, Wake and Bake**,#
Andy Hall from The Infamous Stringduster’s on Dobro for the entire show
*w/ DJ Logic on Turntables
**Andy Hall on Vocals
#Zeb Bowles on Fiddle
They chose to perform one long set rather that push it to daylight with a setbreak. Andy Hall sat in on dobro for the entire show, and he was a solid addition to the lineup. Musically Salmon is a new band open to new dynamics in their performances. Hence the pair of “& Friends” shows. DJ Logic joined the boys on a spacey and deep “Ask The Fish.” “Two Highways” featured some incredible picking by Drew Emmitt, before Andy Hall took the vocals on “Head Over Heels.” Logic came back on “Bird Call” with more of what I call subtle scratching. I call it that because despite the fact that Logic can rip it up he always seems very low over the PA and at times is inaudible in the mix. Vince gave us a driving rock tune accentuated by Hall’s dobro on “Home Cookin’.” Thorn’s banjo was the focal point on “Morning Sun” before the band went traditional on “High Country.” Logic rejoined the band for Leftover’s now classic “Dance On Your Head.” Zeb Bowles from Coral Creek appeared onstage for the insane instrumental “Aquatic Hitchhiker.” This really felt like a family affair with lots of sit ins and great musical interplay with everyone involved. They all filled a niche in the sound and created a fantastic show for all of the late night fans. Zebulon stayed on for the Hall sung version of the Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider.” This is a fun cover that I’ve seen executed poorly in the past. This take was spot on and a great close to the almost two hour set.
Leftover Salmon returned with Zeb for a chunky rendition of “Pasta On The Mountain” that went for nearly fifteen minutes. Hall sang on the show closing “Wake and Bake,” which seemed appropriate given the late or early hour depending on your perspective. Leftover Salmon has reemerged from uncertainty to a pinnacle concert experience. Thorn has truly reinvigorated this band, and musical additions like Andy Hall and Zeb Bowles deepen their sound and push their compositions further. As I left the venue and headed back to the campsite at Dick’s I was only left with two questions. Who was that drummer and where is Jose Martinez?
Save for a few puppy pulling wookies dogs are rarely allowed at concerts. At Summer Camp you see the occasional service dog, but for the most part festivals have a strict no dogs allowed policy. This is most definitely not the case at the Bark and Bluegrass Festival in Fort Collins. In fact the dogs are the honored guests with pools and volunteers passing out treats, it is obvious that dogs are most definitely welcome. This is my second year in attendance and of course my dog’s second show. Set in the Civic Center Park in Fort Collins, this is their third year putting on the show to benefit the Larimer Humane Society. This year was a step back from last year’s two-day event with one night of music and a more centralized lineup. Headlined by Emmitt-Nershi Band there was plenty of music and fun to fill up an entire day. All of the members of Emmitt-Nershi have performed at Summer Camp save for bassists Johnny Grubb. Billy with Honky Tonk Homeslice in 2006, Drew Emmitt and Andy Thorn this year with Leftover Salmon have taken the stage in Chillicothe.
I was flying in from Vermont for work, so I raced up to town to catch Bluegrass Delta Force at 4 PM. The Bluegrass Delta Force are a traditional string group that really impressed. Former WhiteWater Ramble fiddle player Adam Galblum was prominent in their mix, which was nice. As a group they are incorporating great talent and awesome song selection. They were given a hour and a half slot to play meaning they really got to stretch their musical legs in the show and really show the crowd whey they were all about. The highlight of their set was a version of Roger Miller’s “King of the Road” sung by bassist Andrew Bonnis.
For anyone who has been to Hodi’s Half Note in Fort Collins it’s likely that you saw a stout beardo behind the soundboard, what many including myself did not know is that Jeremy Grant fronts the band Turn 4. This Greely based act was a blend of rockabilly, alt country, and bluegrass. They have an intense style to their playing while maintaining solid musicianship. Taking influence from Dylan, Tom Waits, Rolling Stones, and Waylon Jennings, it’s obvious to anyone watching that they are a personified tapestry of all of their heroes. Along with a slew of originals they also busted out their version of the Rolling Stones’ “Dead Flowers” and Pink Floyd’s “Have A Cigar.”
As the sun set over the park it was time for the Leftover Salmon, String Cheese Incident intermingle Emmitt-Nershi Band. The raw talent of this group is enough get any fan excited, not to mention the fact that the group also includes banjo master Andy Thorn as well as John Grubb on bass. This was my first time seeing them with Grubb and he held down the beat incredibly well. Save for one or two ENB songs, the setlist was mainly comprised of Salmon and Cheese tunes which really seemed to delight the crowd. They opened with “Gold Hill Line” Additional highlights of their almost two hour set included a massive “Restless Wind”, a beautifully Emmitt sung “Down In The Hollow”, and a popping version of “Johnny Cash”. This was by far the best show I’ve seen from EMB and I was incredibly happy they were chosen to headline this fest. Bark and Bluegrass is such a unusual premise for a festival. Sitting beside my pup and listening to some incredible bluegrass is a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon in Fort Collins. They encored with a fun and relaxed “Barstools.” I would highly recommend to any pet or music lover to make the trek to Bark and Bluegrass. It is truly a unique event in Northern Colorado.