'Jamgrass' includes stories, acoustic music
Leftover Salmon is a bluegrass band at heart, but in practice the band also embraces influences that range from folk and rock 'n' roll to Cajun, soul, zydeco, jazz and blues.
That category-defying music is what the band will perform when it hits the Sheldon Theatre stage at 7 p.m. April 28.
The Red Wing concert is the final event on the band's current tour commemorating the February release of writer Tim Newby's book "Leftover Salmon: Thirty Years of Festival."
To celebrate their history, the band put together a show — "Stories from the Living Room" — that features mostly acoustic music, chatter and stories about the past three decades.
"It's really fun," commented banjo player Andy Thorn. "We sit, play, talk about the songs. ... It's the perfect show" for a historic, intimate space like the Sheldon.
"I love playing in places like that," he said. Bluegrass is fun when it's plugged in and loud, he added, "but I like the purity of the music. It takes the music where it should be."
Thorn has only been with the band since 2011, but he's spent most of his life as a musician — and Leftover Salmon was one of the groups that inspired him as a teenager.
He acquired his first banjo as a 12-year-old at a garage sale, Thorn said. He played other instruments and actually got his degree in jazz guitar, but he was always drawn to the banjo.
"It's a fun instrument to play," he said. "There's something about it. It's the sound of North Carolina, where I'm from."
Thorn played with a variety of bands before being drafted into Leftover Salmon, a Colorado band that continues under the guiding spirit of founding members Drew Emmitt, a mandolin player and singer, and Vince Herman, guitarist and singer. The third founder was the late Mark Vann, a banjo player.
The band has become one of the biggest bands on the roots music circuit today, according to Sheldon publicists, as its music continues to evolve.
"The addition of new band members over the years has nurtured an unmistakable evolution and freshness in Leftover Salmon's sound, and has added an edge to the long-lasting power of the band's music," according to the group's Website.
Expanding on that thought, Thorn explained that for the first 20 years, Emmitt and Herman were the main songwriters. Then longtime bassist Greg Garrison started to contribute songs.
"Then I started to contribute more," Thorn said. "My stuff is a little different, more bluegrassy," and drummer Alwyn Robinson added music reflecting his jazz and rhythm & blues background. Erik Deutsch complements all those influences on keyboards.
During this creative renaissance, the group is "continually challenged and pushed in new directions as the band collectively searches for new spaces and sounds within their extensive catalog of songs," spokesmen said.
As a result, Leftover Salmon musicians have been called "architects" of what has become known as "jamgrass."
Thorn explained that "traditional bluegrass is slightly restricted. With 'jamgrass,' more improvising happens. I find that very freeing."
There's yet a third term sometimes applied to their music, he added: "slamgrass," which is a "really fast, hard-driving bluegrass with drums, like slamming." It's more common at summer festivals, Thorn noted, and is not the style Red Wing will see next week.
He's confident that "Stories from the Living Room" will appear to all kinds of fans. "This is my favorite thing we do," Thorn said. "It's acoustic, pure, with stories that are absolutely hilarious."
Thorn's contribution to story time goes back to bluegrass concerts he enjoyed when he was in high school. "I was a big fan of Leftover Salmon — and now I'm in it."
Thorn and the other band members perform and record independently in addition to the albums they release as Leftover Salmon.
The band's albums and other merchandise will be available at the Sheldon following the April 28 concert. If any are left, Thorn said, there should be copies of a limited edition vinyl, "Best of the Living Room Tour," and copies of the book that sparked the tour.
If you go …
Who: Leftover Salmon
What: “Stories from the Living Room”
When: 7 p.m. April 28
Where: Sheldon Theatre
How much: $30-$35
More info: 651-388-8700, www.sheldontheatre.org