Leftover Salmon co-founder Vince Herman and banjo player Andy Thorn have spent the pandemic tending to their cannabis plants.
The beatific, gray-bearded Herman hand-watered 52 plants on an Oregon farm in 100-degree heat. Thorn, whose wife Cecelia was one of the first licensed pot brokers in Colorado, connecting growers and dispensaries in the earliest days of legalization, harvested several crops growing in the foothills where they live.
“Cannabis is definitely essential,” says banjo player Thorn, who joined the band in 2010 after co-founder Mark Vann passed away in 2002. “We grew more than ever this year. We even made our own infused indica coconut oil, which helps me sleep. It’s fun to go out there and play music to your pot plants.”
Shortly after celebrating their 30th anniversary as a band in 2019, Leftover Salmon was forced to hunker down, taking the time to work on their 11th album, Brand New Good Old Days (available May 7). The themes of living in the moment, making the best out of a bad situation and the melancholia of loss make it the perfect Covid antidote. Songs like the hopeful title track and the playful Flatts & Scruggs interplay of “We’ll Get By” and its stony refrain, “It’s insane down there below me/So I’m keeping myself high,” are juxtaposed by the reggae-inflected, Greg Garrison-penned “Left Unsung,” a tribute to Yonder Mountain String Band’s Jeff Austin, who committed suicide in June, 2019, as well as the Garcia-esque “Sunday” and “Waterfront.” There’s also a mournful cover of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” alongside more playful versions of John Hartford’s “Category Stomp” and Conway Twitty’s “Boogie Grass Band.”
Vince Herman: “Some of the most satisfying times in my life have been spent tending to my garden and these beautiful 15-foot-high plants.”
“There is sorrow on the album, but that’s why it’s important to focus on the present even stronger, that ‘be here now’ sort of thing,” acknowledges Herman, who co-founded the Colorado band in 1989 with Drew Emmitt and Vann. “With all the tragedy around us, it’s important to remember to do all those good things that make us human.”
Brand New Good Old Days prefers to look on the bright side for the most part, even as songs like Thorn’s “Red Fox Run” take on assault weapons in the wake of mass shootings in Parkland, FL and, more recently, his hometown of Boulder.
Salmon’s banjo-laden rendition of “Black Hole Sun” pays tribute to the late Chris Cornell. “He’s one of my favorite singers,” notes Herman. “That song was out of left field compared to the normal Salmon repertoire, and that’s what we were looking for, a real surprise.”
Adds Thorn: "Drew brought that one in. He’d been thinking of doing it for a long time.”
The band’s distinctive “jamgrass” sound – with elements of country, rock and even Cajun/Zydeco – has made them a favorite on the festival circuit, performing more than 100 shows annually in recent years.
“Personally, I was ready for a little break,” says Thorn. “The lockdown came at the right time for me. I have plenty of space, so it’s not like we were quarantined in a tiny apartment. We actually have a stage in the backyard where we put on some live shows at Tiny Deck Concerts for our neighbors, socially distanced of course. It was super-fun and no one got sick.”
Herman performed there with one of his side projects, The Herman Clan (“THC for short”) with his sons, while also moonlighting with the High Hawks, a band he formed with Horseshoes & Hand Grenades’ Adam Greuel and DeadPhish Orchestra’s Brian Adams, among others.
“Cannabis is really good for contemplation,” Vince says about his time in isolation. “It was definitely time for a little navel-gazing. I looked at myself, my relationships with my kids and exes and the band.”
Andy Thorn: “Cannabis is definitely essential. We grew more than ever this year."
Herman, whose beatific countenance and grey beard give him a look of Jerry Garcia-like wisdom, is currently isolating in a Boulder hotel room with a mild case of Covid. He’d rather be performing live or growing
“Some of the most satisfying times in my life have been spent tending to my garden and these beautiful 15-foot-high plants,” he says wistfully. “Colorado is ground zero for legal weed, and it's been great for the state.”
Herman and Thorn hope to launch a Leftover Salmon canna-brand soon, like their short-lived Something Higher infused truffles and stash tin released in partnership with 7Sacred and sold at Colorado pot shops for 4/20 in 2018.
Leftover Salmon will be performing live on April 22. Purchase tickets for the livestream here.