I woke up this morning with Leftover Salmon’s song Troubled Times in my head. “Blow wind blow, blow away these troubled times…” Eighteen years ago Leftover Salmon could have become another statistic in the music world. They could have suffered an enormous loss and called it quits. Losing Mark Vann, the banjo player and the group’s leg work guy could have devastated Leftover Salmon and the new sound that they birthed, but it didn’t. 30 years ago when Leftover Salmon began playing Polyethnic Cajun Slamgrass, they came together as a sum greater than its parts.
For a brief run of about 10 shows, Drew Emmitt and Vince Herman took the stage as singer-songwriters and did these intimate shows that refreshed my love of Leftover Salmon all over again. It was February 29th, 2020, a leap year in Chicago. The venue, has a hushed atmosphere with fancy small plates and charcuterie options to pair nicely with their house blend wine selections. It’s a sit-down place with nice table cloths and candlelight. They played 2 shows that night and in between shows, the crowd huddled in the lobby for hangs and catching up sessions. One neighbor said to me, “Man if not for Drew & Vince there would be no Leftover Salmon. These are the guys.” It got me to missing Andy, Greg, Alwin, & Eric. What he said was not false, but it hit me in a way that if there hadn’t been Mark Vann… Well, I am grateful that Drew & Vince are here and this is our show to see. It was the kind of show so special you see it twice. So we slipped back into the music hall of City Winery and did it again. 7 pm show and whoop! 9 pm show too. Just like they did after Mark passed. He would have wanted it that way.
Vince had a small silver airplane pin on his fedora hat. Drew was rocking the button-up short-sleeved shirt, relaxed and casual as ever. There were bottles of wine for sale with their faces on em, but that didn’t mean it was a formal affair. It was similar to the living room sessions but even more stripped down and simple. I hope this run of shows reminds them of simple easy love from player to audience. What were their simple tunes have only grown bigger and louder over the years so the gift was in the simple presentation of classic shindig songs. From simple songs to dressed up Festival parade anthems and now growing into this winged high hawk of a song, this City Winery show was witnessing a butterfly in action, dancing with joy and beauty.
They played Highway Song and while they were just two guys on barstools on stage, Vince couldn’t quite keep himself seated. Drawing focus on just these two players you see the symmetry and harmony of two players with so many miles on their collective engines driven together. Sometimes it seems like Vince’s hands can’t keep up with his spirit but Drew’s chops can more than amply suffice. Drew Emmitt’s headbanging mandolin licks can keep up with just such a showman’s soul as Vince Herman and that is what balances this dynamic duo out so nicely. Drew is the superior string noodles of spaghetti and Vince is the meatballs. It all paired quite nicely with City Winery’s West Loop Red Blend if I do say so myself.
It was all so casually significant. Hot Corn Cold Corn, Pasta on the Mountain, Nobody’s Fault But My Own, they blasted off through old songs, new songs, and favorite covers. Considering they didn’t rehearse much these two can utilize breaks as if they had worked on the timing night and day. Cajun Girl, Squeezebox, requests were being shouted from all ends of the dining room. Drew has sucked the poison from a snake out of both his parents' legs. He can suck the poison out of any situation. At one point Drew’s ears perked up as he asked, “What was your request?” pointed, smiled, and went right into Mama Boulet. Vince hit it with his scatting, shut yo mouth boo boo day and we got someone to denounce the power of her seat. We had a dancer at City Winery!
It was part opera, part Opryland but I don’t think anyone realized that Vince had no problem yodeling in this upscale fancy downtown eatery. It was one step short of watching Del & Dawg perform here a few years ago. Drew & Vince have fewer circles around the sun, but they shine just as bright. After years of watching these songs grow and change, it’s what makes the live performances the best because it’s the best it will ever be, right now. Looking back on this evening, my love cup is filled to the brim. Now knowing that it may be a while before I can see live music again, I’m glad my last show was with Drew & Vince.
“Hey, Woody Guthrie where are you? We could sure use you once more. Big dogs are back at the door. Blowing the cold winds of war…”