Thirty years is a long time to do anything, let alone tour the country playing music. Leftover Salmon, the iconic Colorado band that first formed in Crested Butte in 1989, has not only managed to stay relevant for three decades, but they’ve had a hell of a time doing it. Although only two original members remain—guitarist Vince Herman and mandolin player Drew Emmitt—the genre-bending sextet hasn’t lost its signature sound, devout fanbase, or sense of humor. If anything, all three have strengthened over time. Among the band’s many accomplishments is a biographical book (Tim Newby’s Leftover Salmon: Thirty Years of Festival!), a recurring role as host band on the television show Deadliest Catch, and now, a headlining New Year’s Eve show at Denver’s hottest new venue, the Mission Ballroom.
On December 31, Leftover Salmon will bring its blend of bluegrass, zydeco, cajun, rock, country, and jam to “30 Years Under the Big Top,” a circus-themed extravaganza featuring the incredible singer–songwriter Lindsay Lou and funky, dance-until-you-drop act Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe. There will be performances from the Denver Circus Collective, a surprise intermission set, and a no-holds-barred approach from CEO of AEG Presents Rocky Mountains, Chuck Morris. Morris, the show’s promoter and the man behind the venue, happens to be Leftover Salmon’s manager from the late ’90s (he was also the impetus for the legendary Leftover recordings, The Nashville Sessions).
Current banjo player Andy Thorn remembers the first time he saw Leftover Salmon in 1998 at 15 years old, as he was following musician Béla Fleck around MerleFest in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. One of the artists Fleck sat in with that weekend was Leftover Salmon, and Thorn says the experience was transformative. “I hadn’t seen hippies playing bluegrass before and having a really good time,” says Thorn. “And that’s what really struck me.” Ten years later, he got introduced to Emmitt and the rest is Leftover history. Greg Garrison (bass), Alwyn Robinson (drums), and Erik Deutsch (keyboards) make up the rest of the band, providing rhythm and, in Deutsch’s case, a jazzier take on jamgrass.
For folks who remember Leftover’s early days to those who are just now listening for the first time, this shindig is one you don’t want to miss. “I think Leftover Salmon is in the best spot musically that it’s ever been,” Thorn says. “The whole band feels that way.”
Tickets range from $30–$100 and can be purchased at missionballroom.com.
Where: Fillmore Auditorium
Price: $79.50 in advance, $85 day of show
Why go: A jam band that formed in the Midwest in the ’90s, the sextet is just as well known for improvisation rock and heavy metal as they are for noodly jams and crowd-pleasing covers.
Good to know: This show is the last in a four-night run.
Where: Boulder Theater
Why go: This phenomenal nine-piece funk band is known for color-coordinated outfits, male–female harmonies, and wild horn arrangements. Wear your dancing shoes.
Good to know: No bags allowed.
Where: Bluebird Theater
Price: $25.50 in advance, $29 day of show
Why go: The quartet will bring its iconic hybrid of folk-gypsy-pop to this hometown show.
Good to know: Don’t miss opener Banshee Tree, a young quartet out of Boulder that runs the gamut between string music and early jazz.
Where: The Soiled Dove Underground
Price: $55–$75 depending on the section
Why go: This intimate venue is the perfect place to enjoy David Lowery’s indie rock outfit.
Good to know: Alt-rockers Camper Van Beethoven open.
If you feel like traveling:
Circles Around the Sun
Where: Public House, Crested Butte
Price: $70 in advance, $75 day of show
Why go: The all-star band was assembled for and gained notoriety after recording intermission music for the Grateful Dead’s Fare Thee Well concerts.
Good to know: Guitarist, singer, and songwriter Neal Casal convened the band. He died by suicide earlier this year.
Where: Belly Up, Aspen
Price: This show is sold out.
Why go: Flume is 28-year-old electronic musician/producer Harley Streten, whose 2012 debut album went platinum in his native Australia.
Good to know: This will be a DJ set featuring Reo Cragun.
Yonder Mountain String Band
Where: Wheeler Opera House, Aspen
Why go: This iconic Colorado-born string band popularized the blending of traditional bluegrass with jam band sensibilities.
Good to know: Fiddle player Allie Kral and mandolinist Jacob Jolliff joined the group in 2014.
Melvin Seals & JGB
Where: 10 Mile Music Hall, Frisco
Why go: The closest thing to the Jerry Garcia Band available to music lovers today.
Good to know: This show will feature John Kadlecik, known for embodying Jerry Garcia in both his vocals and guitar playing.