Leftover Salmon says goodbye after 15 years

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What: Leftover Salmon When: 10 p.m. Monday Where: Levelz in Ski Time Square Tickets: $25; available at All That Jazz, Wired and Lupo's Call: 870-9090

There are rumors going around that the band Leftover Salmon is breaking up. Those rumors are true, band co-founder Drew Emmitt said.

There is no animosity, and the band isn't against playing together again someday, but for now, 15 years to the day of their first show, the musicians have scheduled six Colorado dates that they plan to be their last.

Leftover Salmon included a stop in Steamboat Springs because the stages of this town were some of its first.

"Steamboat has been a big part of our history," Emmitt said. "I remember when we got six nights at the Inferno, playing aprÃs ski, and we thought, 'Wow, we're really making it.'"

Leftover Salmon was formed in 1989 at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Emmitt said.

The magic happened when members of the Chicken Spankers, the Left Handed String Band and the Salmon Heads united on stage for the band contest and called themselves the Left Handed Salmon Spankers.

The musicians kept in touch until the Salmon Heads got a gig that was too far away for certain members of the band, and they asked a few members of the Left Handed String Band to fill in. In the car on the way to the gig, they decided to call themselves Leftover Salmon. The name stuck, and the first incarnation of the band was born.

"We didn't get popular right away," Emmitt said. "But there was really no one else doing this at the time. We were blazing a trail. We were the only electric bluegrass rock band out there."

After a couple of tours, band members looked around and saw that the rooms were full and that record labels were waiting in the wings.

"We started selling out bigger places and opening for Widespread Panic and Blues Traveler," Emmitt said. "It really freaked us out.

"It was going so well, but it was bittersweet. We had to be away from home so much."

They kept a heavy touring schedule, kept releasing records and gathered a large following. But things changed in 2001, when banjo player Mark Vann was diagnosed with melanoma.

"It was right after Sept. 11," Emmitt said. "Mark had been having a hard time breathing. They found some masses in his lungs. Not only was the country in turmoil, but our whole world was in turmoil.

"(When he died) we weren't sure how we were going to continue. He told us that he wanted us to keep going, and it's been two years without him. I think that's part of the reason why we're stopping. We never had a chance to grieve."

Leftover Salmon will play Monday in Steamboat, followed by four shows at the Fox Theatre in Boulder. The band's final show will be New Year's Eve.

In 15 years, members of Leftover Salmon have watched the music scene change around them.

"There wasn't this huge saturation of the (jam band) market when we were just getting started," Emmitt said. "I like to think that we formed the blueprint for smaller bands to make it by touring. Get a school bus or a van and get out there and do it. You don't need a record deal."

Now, there are so many bands touring, that it's hard to make a good living, he said. "Even bands at the top are feeling the squeeze. It's a small room, and it's gotten crowded."

Leftover Salmon doesn't have anything special planned for the farewell shows.

"We're just trying to have fun," Emmitt said. "This is a very emotional time, especially among the fans. Everyone is kind of in disbelief."

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