The Salmon are running in Salt Lake City -- Leftover Salmon, that is.
The Colorado band's Winter Mountain Run tour, a mini road trip and the band's first road trip in years, features four shows in Colorado and one night in Utah.
"It is not a very big tour, but we are experimenting with getting on a bus together again and doing this," said Drew Emmitt, one of the band's founding fathers, calling from home in Crested Butte, Colo.
"We thought we'd go ahead and include Salt Lake, because we always did good there. I anticipate a really good time for everyone."
The band describes its sound with surprising accuracy as poly-ethnic Cajun slam-grass. Indeed, the combo electric and acoustic outfit mixes a little zydeco rhythm and accordion style with a dash of bluegrass and a whole lot of rock 'n' roll jams. The band came to be in 1989 and inspired a devoted group of fans who loved to follow them show to show, A la the Dead Heads and Phish Aficionados.
Core members of Salmon were Emmitt, Vince Herman and Mark Vann, with a rotating mix of support players over the years.
The group released two albums independently before being signed to Hollywood Records, after the label took note of the band's devoted following.
"We were kind of blazing this path," said Emmitt. "We were a ragtag group on a school bus and people were like, 'What are you doing? Playing bluegrass with electric instruments? Huh? That's just weird.' It wasn't accepted right away, but once we got it out there, it was very cool."
Emmitt points to Newgrass Revival, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Little Feat as being inspirations for the hybrid sound.
"But Newgrass Revival ... limited combining bluegrass and rock to their acoustic instruments, at least when they went out and played live," said Emmitt. "We went one step further and added drums and an electric guitar.
"Then the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band were a bit more country than us, and definitely brought in rock influences and drums.
"I think one thing that set us apart was that Vince was influenced by calypso and Cajun sounds, so he added that element to the band."
The Salmon had a good run upstream until 2002, when Vann lost his battle with cancer. The band toughed it out for a while, adding Noam Pikelny, whom Emmitt said was a fine banjo player, in Vann's stead. But when Pikelny decided to move onto other project in 2004, the band decided a hiatus was in order.
"When we lost Mark, it was very difficult, never quite the same," said Emmitt. "He was a big part of what drove the band. He did the business, spearheading things in a lot of ways.
"He was a very driven, amazing player, too. That was his job, and he was phenomenal at it. He brought electric banjo to the music like no one else really had. Even BA(c)la Fleck was very impressed. Mark also had this wonderful personality, like the Pied Piper -- people gravitated to him."
The band's rebirth in 2007 was in part due to a bit of synchronicity, said Emmitt.
"I woke up one day and called our manager out of the blue and said, 'What do you think would happen if we poked around and saw what kind of opportunities are there for Salmon?'
"And not to give myself all this credit or anything, but I really did wake up and say to heck with it. Nothing to lose here. And he said, 'Funny you should call. There are offers for Salmon this summer.' "
The next morning, Emmitt got a call from the organizer of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, who had not known of his previous day's discussion.
"He just had a cancellation and wanted Vince and I to come. That this had happened like that, the day after I had called John, I was like, 'OK. Maybe we got something rolling again.' "
Herman and Emmitt put together a five-piece -- no keyboards --for Telluride, and it went well.
"We realized, 'Wow. This is working again. Maybe we should keep this going.' "
Though Vann's death left a huge hole in the band's lineup and their hearts, Emmitt said, they have been lucky enough to work with some amazing talent on the five-string since.
The second to last of the banjoists was Utah's own Matt Flinner, who played the festival circuit with Salmon on recent dates.
"Matt is a fabulous player, a great guy. He was in my first solo band when we first disbanded Salmon. But he also has many projects, and spends a good deal of time basing out of Nashville. So for this, we went with a young guy called Andy Thorn."
Andy also plays in Emmitt's project, The Emmitt-Nershi Band.
"I asked around among our picking friends, and everybody just raved about Andy. ... He is a rippin' banjo player and a great guy. One of the best I've played with since Mark. And recently, he was even given an electric banjo, which is what Mark played -- important to our sound.
"He also went and saw Salmon when he was 14, and Mark especially influenced him hugely. So we think Andy is the missing link we have been waiting for. It's good to have him on board."
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