Full Disclosure: As you can tell from the headline, I am not a bluegrass fan.
Keep your pitchforks and torches down, angry mob of the village, and let me explain. I don’t hate Bluegrass. It’s just not my thing.
I hate Brussels sprouts. I have never tried Brussels sprouts. But they look gross. So I hate them. Because my tastebuds and eating habits resemble those of a cranky 7 year-old and I do not apologize for it.
However, for better or worse, having well rounded musical interests and experiences is more important to me than eating healthy. So, even though I have, from the beginning, been inclined to disregard Bluegrass, I have given it a shot. Unlike Brussels sprouts.
I go to plenty of festivals that feature Bluegrass bands and I have made a point on a handful of occasions to check them out. Every time I go, my experience resembles that of Lewis Black and candy corn. I think, maybe this will be the band that does it for me. Maybe, after this band, I’ll get it.
And it never happens. I often (prepare for gross generalization) find myself ten minutes into a Bluegrass set thinking, “Yep, that’s what a banjo sounds like,” or “Yep… fiddles. I get it.”
Then I saw Leftover Salmon Thugrsday night.
Now, I know the Bluegrass purists have yet to disregard their pitchforks and torches and, in fact, are likely raising them higher than ever, so let me also say that I totally understand that with the band’s inclusion of drums, (not to mention Bill Payne on keys last night) Leftover Salmon is not a pure Bluegrass band.
Slamgrass is a pretty bad ass name for a genre so I have no qualms about going with it.
It had been years since Leftover Salmon and their unique “slamgrass” sound had graced the Philadelphia area, so the long wait combined with Ardmore having the perfect venue for the long awaited stop, we were ready to get weird. And weird we got.
Celebrating their 25 year anniversary, Leftover Salmon is not exactly that new up and coming band you really have to check out. They’re not even really a novelty act. But having establish such a long reign, they have acquired, as Ardmore showed on Thrusday night, one of the most interesting mixes of fans I’ve ever seen in one room. Hippies. Hipsters. Yuppies. Oldheads. Hillbillies. They were all there. They were all in sync. And it was beautiful.
I cannot believe that I’ve gone this far without really mentioning what Bill Payne (I swear he smiled at me right after taking the above picture. I’m pretty sure we’re cool.) brought to the table. I wasn’t quite sure how the co-founder and keys player of the band Little Feat would fit into the Leftover Salmon experience. I have no problem saying I was even a bit skeptical. It didn’t take long before all my doubts were completely blown away.
The intimate setting of Ardmore allowed for fans to share in moments like when Payne first walked onto the stage and found his setlist sitting on his chair. He picked it up, looked at it, looked at the crowd a mere couple feet from him, and said, “I don’t know any of these songs!” and pretended to tear up the list. We were in for a great night. His charisma and ivory tickling really seemed bring the entire band along for a ride at times.
The set (list featured below) wandered around beautifully between your more traditional bluegrass tunes, some cajun style beats, and of course your more funky jams (often driven by Payne) that built to rousing ovations for an appreciative suburban Philadelphia crowd.
Do I like Bluegrass now? Eh. Hard to say. Like I mentioned, there were many aspects of the Leftover Salmon show that I understand veer far from traditional Bluegrass music. But it’s a start. And you bet your ass I’d see another Leftover Salmon show any day and twice on Sundays.
Photos and words by Mike Mauger