Show Me Something Higher: Vince Herman of Leftover Salmon
It’s 2:54 a.m. in the rural backwoods of Virginia and Vince Herman hands me a shot of high-end tequila. With his trademark Cheshire Cat grin, Herman then pours himself a shot, soon raising it high into the air in honor of another incendiary performance.
Herman had just exited the Devil’s Backbone Throwdown Tent at FloydFest. Singer/guitarist for jam-grass legends Leftover Salmon, Herman & Co. tore up the late-night stage, tucked in the middle of the rollicking, sprawling festival grounds.
A beloved music gathering just off the Blue Ridge Parkway and down the road from the small mountain town of Floyd, the annual event attracts thousands from every corner of the country, all in search of mesmerizing Americana, bluegrass, funk and rock acts — FloydFest seemingly the “gold standard” for such a lineup.
With Leftover Salmon as one of the headliners at the festival, the band is in jovial spirits backstage, hearty laughter and bear hugs all around. And not just because of its string of raucous shows that weekend, but also in celebration of Leftover Salmon’s recent 30th anniversary.
And in the middle of this whirlwind circus is Herman, holding court like he always has, this force of nature persona that seems larger than life, more so when you’re in his presence — a singer-songwriter who always followed his melodic heart, onstage and off.
Smoky Mountain News: What does that number of years, 30, mean to you when you put it in the context of not only you as a person now, but also the fact the band is cranking along just like a fine machine at this point?
Vince Herman: Well, I [recently] finished my third marriage, but the band is still going. [Laughs]. It’s been over half of my life. I’m psyched because when I started this band called the Salmonheads, it was this Cajun jug band kind of thing, you know? There ain’t been jug bands around since the 1970s, so I knew it wasn’t creating a mainstream thing.
But, it was something that I’d be able to find this little niche and hopefully be able to do it for a long time — like some of my role models in the bluegrass and folk worlds, [where] you don’t need a hit. You don’t need to be a big mainstream success because it’s building the culture — festival by festival, show by show, keep digging. As John Hartford said, “If bluegrass music was any more popular, we’d have to play for people we don’t even know.”
SMN: Well, you must have had a conversation with yourself years ago that, come hell or high water, this is what you love doing.
VH: We knew about three or four years in this that it was a totally ridiculous idea to keep doing this. [Laughs]. But, it’s one of those things, you know? It’s in our scene — in bluegrass, Americana and jam music — where the people doing it are doing it because, no matter what, they love it. So, what it comes down to is that at some point it circles back to the crowd because you’ve kept doing it and they’re still there, still showing up, and still wanting to hear what we have to say.
SMN: What’s it like to look over onstage and still see singer/guitarist Drew Emmitt there?
VH: It’s such a blessing to still have Drew over there. He and I are the only ones left from the original incarnation [of Leftover Salmon]. When I moved from West Virginia to Colorado [in 1985], I was searching for the mythical bluegrass scene in Colorado, centered around the Telluride Bluegrass Festival and Hot Rize being out there.
I pulled into [Boulder] and there was a sign out in front of this bar: “Bluegrass Tonight.” My buddy and I walked inside. And as soon as we literally got out of the car — after driving from West Virginia to Colorado straight through — Drew’s band, the Left Hand String Band, was playing that night when I walked through the door.
SMN: Why is this music still your calling?
VH: I’ve had a lot of jobs, man. I’ve been a roofer, cook, fisherman, painter. I’ve done everything, and this is by far the most fun thing I’ve ever been allowed to do. And I know that I get away with it, too. I’m luckier than hell because every night I get to play onstage with these cats. If I had to audition for this band, I’d never get in. [Laughs]. Lucky as hell, and hopefully we’re able to do this a lot longer — you never want to quit when you get to do this.
Want to go?
Legendary Americana/jam-grass act Leftover Salmon will hit the stage Dec. 30-31 at the Salvage Station in Asheville.
For Dec. 30, special guests will be Rob Ickes & Trey Hensley. Andrew Marlin (of Watchhouse), Jon Stickley Trio, and more will appear on Dec. 31
For more information and/or to purchase tickets, go to salvagestation.com.
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Nice article Garret.....sounds like quite the fella & has done it all....