WinterWonderGrass CO 2017
Festival Experience Archive
for The Lot Scene by Parker
Farm-to-Table Dinner & Acoustic Show with Leftover Salmon
It was a gorgeous drive from Boulder to our destination to the north and west of us in the Rocky Mountains. The snow-covered peaks were magnificent and regal in their repose standing tall alongside the roadways we traversed seeking bluegrass and community and beer and fresh powder on the slopes and myriad other marvelous times at WinterWonderGrass CO 2017. After several hours, we had arrived in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, safe, sound, and ready to get our WWG on. More than ready, in fact. After such a lovely journey to the ski resort side of this quaint mountain town, our hearts were full and our souls charged to the brim making us all the more eager to plug into the unique vibe that is WinterWonderGrass. We got settled into our accommodations in just enough time to change and head over to Gondola Square to catch our ride up to the top of the peak for an evening of music and food with Leftover Salmon. Suffice it to say, riding in a conveyance such as this to catch some tunes is not the average experience with other festivals. Certainly worth pointing out this one of many, many things that set WWG apart from your fairer weather fests to be sure. A short ride later and we were thousands of feet higher in elevation and ready to climb even further up on the wings of Salmon’s energetic music. The intimate setting was abuzz with activity and anticipation, people enjoying the opportunity to taste some beers and wines and catch up with friends amidst all the merry socializing. Suffice it to say, we enjoyed doing the same seeing lots of familiar faces in the crowd ourselves. All told, it was a simply delightful setting and proved a fantastic one for music, acoustic LoS-style. The band ended up playing two sets that evening…so, let’s get to the first one, shall we?
The boys started the whole shebang with a little Neil Young classic, “Are You Ready for the Country” taking it at a groovy pace and leaning heavily into the the acoustic nature of this gig from the get-go. Not that these fellas are strangers to the world of acoustic music, right? The sound was excellent from the start, however, gelling into a really tight jam all night long. To whit, Andy Thorn threw down some heat from that banjo of his about a minute into things that pushed any thoughts of calm right from the mind…think “strong but mellow intensity” instead. It’s really difficult to accurately describe. Vince was on lead vocals for this one, laying down the lyrics in classic Herman fashion and doing Mr. Young a service. Drew Emmitt was in fine form himself, giving quite the solo on the mando, helping to further round out this WWG version of an oldie and goodie. Certainly, a strong start for this special mountaintop show. If this was any indication of what was in store, we were all in for something really remarkable. They stepped the tempo and energy up a bit for the next one, a Drew vocal solo, “Gold Hill Line”. It’s always so nice to hear everyone in such great voice as they were that evening, Emmitt being no exception. This time of year can be tricky for singers, especially up in the mountains. But, I guess that Salmon collectively decided to come upslope and summarily nail this show instead. Lucky for us, no? Herman ripped open a big guitar solo for us a short ways into the song and fired note after note out over the dancing crowd to our delight. Drew joined him for a quick duet before Thorn led things back to the lyrics with a torrent of banjo notes. Dancing, singing, hopping over to see friends and laugh and smile with them…this was a perfect example of an excellent Leftover Salmon show. Regardless of venue, one can always rely on this band for energy, fun, joy, smiles, laughter, and camaraderie. A phenomenal place to recharge the old batteries to be certain. And, what would a night like this be without hearing “Alfalfa’s”, hmmm? One of those superb standards of the LoS catalogue, this one is always worth it. Always. If you like a good laugh and fun and things like that, that is. Assuming you do, this version was pretty funny and came a little on down the set from “Gold Hill”. Vince always does enjoy playing with lyrics to the merriment of the audience and he took a few liberties here and there for sure…laughter abounding. The song itself is just so perfectly Salmon, the subject matter, the music…everything. And, the “Andy Griffith Show Theme” ending definitely put a smile on my face, no doubt. Those guys — what jokers. A little further down the set they tied the themes of the evening together…food, music, fun…with “Home Cookin’” led, as always of course, by Vince Herman. More classic Salmon sound for all of us and, did it sound fantastic! This acoustic show felt like a home-cooked meal turned into a musical feast and this was only the first set! Erik Deutsch was a madman on the keys all night long, to include his solo here in “Home Cookin’”. That man brings so much to the musical table and here was no exception. So amazingly funky! It’s like he was born to play in this band! They finished things out before taking a set break with John Hartford’s “Steamboat Whistle Blues”. I really do love when Salmon plays Hartford. They’re just so darn good at it! Like Thorn’s banjo soloing towards the beginning (and throughout) — gold. Just gold. And Vince on the lyrics was as great a storyteller as there ever was. This proved an excellent way to wrap things up for this first set and to get the crowd ready for some tasty dinner.
After dining and sampling a libation or two, we were all ready to dance dinner off with Salmon’s second set of the evening. Now that we were all well-fed, it was time to get back into the groove with the music of LoS. Drew Emmitt started things up for us by stepping up to the mic for the lead vocals for another Neil Young opener, “Comes A Time”. This was a definite crowd pleaser as almost every voice in the place was singing the chorus alongside Mr. Emmitt. And, the best part? Dessert was being served at the same time. Sweet confections and sweet, sweet Salmon music? Does life really get much better, my friends? Drew and Andy trading off back and forth between mando and banjo was pretty dang sweet, that’s for sure. So many notes cascading from the stage and spilling out over the audience into the night air. Akin to Erik’s solo work himself, piano love emanating, adding so much to the texture of the piece, of the band. Alwyn Robinson was a machine all night long himself, and here being no different whatsoever. He embraced and embodied the perfect touch all evening, balancing his percussion with the acoustic flavor extremely well. No doubting he knows his way around his drum kit. And rather well at that, no? Not to mention a super amazing guy, too. But, then again, which of the LoS lads aren’t super amazing guys? A little down the set Andy Thorn was up for lead vocals for a song that was dedicated to all the Carolinians in the crowd that night. “Home to Carolina” is a rollicking good time full of fast-paced musicianship jumping out all over the place. Vince laid down a massive solo on guitar at one point, showing us all how it’s done in fine fashion just to hand the reigns right back to Andy for the next verse. Not to be outdone, Deutsch threw down a monster run on those ivories, going mad much to the absolute joy of the audience. A little later still in the set Vince told us that it was time to go for a ride on the bluegrass train. You know, we were all game, so the band played “Riding on the L&N” and boy did they play it! So fast, they played…seriously! The tempo was insane from the get-go with mandolin and guitar and banjo and bass and drums and keys all tying directly into that very madness. I mean, it would almost be impossible to describe all the notes from all those instruments, they came so rapidly and switched from man to man so swiftly. Drew was on fire, Andy was a blur, Erik’s fingers impossible to see. Greg Garrison, meanwhile, was keeping everything grounded and level with his bass stylings. Such a bevy of notes coming from his fingerboard as well!! It was quite the bluegrass locomotive and we were all holding on for delightful life and enjoyment! Vince’s main vocals were right on point as were all the harmonies that came in from Drew and Andy. What a rush!! Some serious thanks to the band for this bit of madcap fun. They wound things down with “Standin’ All Alone” featuring Vince on lead vocals. Erik enjoyed a bit of time on his melodica for us, showing even more skills from those magic hands of his. What an evening it had been and this song was a perfect example. If you had come to the top of the mountain in Steamboat that evening looking to have your belly and your soul filled completely up, then you chose wisely. Leftover Salmon had put on one helluva show that evening playing old and new favorites to the utter happiness of those who joined the band for an intimate evening such as this. So much applause and so many thanks to LoS and all those who had a hand in making this evening so special. Festivaaaaaaaaaaaaal, indeed!! And, just like that, WWG CO 2017 was off to a mighty fine start!!