Interview with Drew Emmitt
Wednesday • February 6, 2013
A Colorado local, mandolin prodigy, Telluride idol and an overall bluegrass God... Drew Emmitt has been jamming and doing what he loves for over 25 years. I grew to love his music back in the early 90's with the sweet, unmistakable, self-acclaimed "Poly-ethnic Cajun Slamgrass" sound of Leftover Salmon's 'Bridges to Bert' album. Its bluegrass mixed with an island, Cajun, funk, boogie carnival sound that makes you want to dance and drink a handful of ice cold beers... or sip some 'shine? Yes please. I still have his 'Nashville Sessions' album on tape cassette in my 1977 Toyota Land Cruiser... it plays on repeat, never gets old. Needless to say, Drew Emmitt is one of my all-time favorite musicians.
I think Telluride would feel the same way. From pickin' in the Town Park campgrounds during the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, to playing on Main Stage and the historic Sheridan Opera House, to touring with his own band, the Emmitt-Nershi Band and Leftover Salmon... Telluride holds a special place in his heart as a magical spot where his career was launched and Leftover's cult-like followers grew by the thousands. We had the unique opportunity to chat with Drew Emmitt this morning, one of the founding members of Leftover Salmon, about his upcoming winter tour and Telluride shows, new album "Aquatic Hitchhiker" and the reuniting of Leftover Salmon. Hope you enjoy!
T.com: Good morning, Drew. I’d like to start by thanking you for taking the time to chat with me and Telluride.com this morning. Leftover Salmon’s music has been a huge influence on a lot of people’s lives, not to mention, an enormous impact on other bluegrass musicians, the festival circuit, and the Colorado & Telluride music scenes.
Drew: It's my pleasure! Thanks for chatting with me.
T.com: You guys are fresh off a brand new album and just about to head on a Winter Tour throughout the West, Southern California and numerous ski towns. You excited to hit the road again with all the boys after 8 years?
Drew: Can't wait. I’ve been in Hawaii with family and in Crested Butte skiing a bunch of powder… it’s been a good little break... but, we’re ecstatic to get back on tour and hit the road again. Leftover's back.
T.com: Let's go back for a minute... who were your major influences/musical heroes in your early years when you first picked up the banjo & mandolin?
Drew: Just to name a few... Sam Bush, New Grass Revival, Hot Rize, Flecktones were a huge influence on me and my style... I also had a handful of rock n' roll influences such as Led Zeppelin, Yes, The Who... the list goes on.
T.com: How did you meet Vince Herman back in the 80’s and how did Leftover Salmon come together?
Drew: Vince came from West Virginia out to Boulder and the first night he was in town… he saw a sign outside the Walrus Saloon that said “Bluegrass Tonight”. Turned out that my band, Left Hand String Band, was playing that night. The rest is history. He was just a fun, crazy guy to hang out with and play music with... he started playing with his band the Salmon Heads and whenever they needed a player to fill in, I'd step in and jam with the guys.
T.com: Sounds like you’re finishing up a few shows with Bill Nershi and the Emmitt-Nershi Band this weekend… describe how it’s been touring with your buddy, Bill.
Drew: Awesome. We always have a fun, fun, fun time playing together. We’re going to finish up in Big Sky, Montana this weekend. Big Sky Big Grass is a great festival... we'll be playing along with Del McCoury and the Sam Bush Band... we love playing in ski towns - we try to ski as often as we can when there's time. With Leftover Salmon picking up and Bill wanting to spend more time with his family and playing with String Cheese, it’s been a great run playing with him and the band.
T.com: Do you have a memorable collaboration over the years?
Drew: Our 'Nashville Sessions' album was amazing to record. Playing and recording with the greats like Jeff Coffin, Taj Mahal, Waylon Jennings... it was extremely special and exciting. If I had to chose one though, I'd have to say Waylon Jennings... when he walked in the studio, I was like WHOA that's Waylon Jennings! (laughs)
T.com: Leftover Salmon’s unique hybrid of basically every type of American music has set you guys apart for years; you name it, you guys can play it…How would YOU describe Leftover’s current sound/genre?
Drew: We're back to a 5-piece band and with the addition of Andy Thorn on banjo... we're going back to our roots - old school Salmon Cajun jamgrass.
T.com: You guys just released your first album in 8 years, 'Aquatic Hitchhiker'… which sounds awesome by the way. How did it get its name and elaborate on some of the songs you wrote, like “Gulf of Mexico”?
Drew: I noticed a sign once in our travels that said, "Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers". And I was like what is that?! It's a warning to boaters to not pick up little "hitchhikers" or little mussels attached to the bottom of your boat. I always thought that would be a cool song title... so, I kept it in the back of my head. And I guess that's what Leftover Salmon is. Aquatic Hitchhikers. Traveling around, playing music, leaving little pieces wherever we go. I started writing 'Gulf of Mexico' when we were down on the Gulf with the Emmitt-Nershi Band after the BP spill… I would hum & sing the tune “Way down in Mississippi by the Gulf of Mexico…” and then we all collaborated and it came together perfectly.
T.com: Where did you meet Andy Thorn and how has his addition to the band helped Leftover?
Drew: Andy started in the Emmitt Nershi Band and he’s just a solid guy and seemed to fit with Leftover Salmon. Chris Pandolfi recommended him when he left to go play with the Infamous Stringdusters… so, I called Andy up, chatted with him and hired him over the phone. He's just the right fit. We’re really excited to have him on board.
T.com: We’re gearing up for a two-night run at the historic Sheridan Opera House on Tuesday, February 26th and Wednesday, February 27th…How’s it like stepping out onto that stage?
Drew: Oh, it’s awesome. So much history… one of the smaller shows we play but the energy is amazing. We always enjoy playing the historic Opera House. It should be a good time, for sure.
T.com: You going to get some skiing in while you’re in town? Wanna take some turns?
Drew: I love to ski... that would be awesome!
T.com: With the 40th annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival coming up in June over the Summer Solstice... Leftover Salmon has been called one of the most quintessential Telluride Bluegrass Festival bands of them all… can you just describe what the Bluegrass Fest means to you personally?
Drew: It's amazing. We started in the campgrounds… pickin' and playing as the Left Hand Salmon Spankers. That's what Bluegrass Festival is all about. This will actually be my 20th year playing at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival… so, to be able to celebrate my 20th at the 40th is extremely special to me.
T.com: What are some of your favorite venues/festivals to play around the country?
Drew: We enjoy playing High Sierra, Spring Fest, Fillmore in San Francisco and Denver, Red Rocks whenever you get the privilege to play there, Crystal Ballroom and the Boulder and Fox theaters... just to name a few.
T.com: What type of mandolin are you playing right now? San Juan?
Drew: I play my San Juan mandolin a good amount... love it. For Sam Bush's 60th birthday, I surprised him with the gift of a San Juan mandolin before our show at Bluegrass Fest. Bobby Wintringham and those guys in Dolores really know how to make an axe. I also play with my 1996 Nugget F5.
T.com: Drew Emmitt, I really appreciate you chattin’ with us this morning… You’re a Telluride legend and we can’t wait to see you at the Sheridan Opera House in a few weeks.
Drew: Can't wait! Thanks for the talk. See you later this month!
Look out for Leftover Salmon coming to a town near you this Winter and Spring... and of course, we’ll see you at the 40th annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival.