Leftover Salmon, Boz Scaggs headline Flood City Music Fest

Asked to describe his band’s eclectic mix of styles, Leftover Salmon co-founder Drew Emmitt laughed before answering.

“We like to call it ‘polyethnic Cajun slamgrass,'” he explained in a phone interview with the Mirror from his Colorado home. “It’s something one of the guys in the band came up with. We have a lot of influences in the band, from bluegrass to rock to cajun to calypso.”

Leftover Salmon is one of the headliners of the AmeriServ Flood City Music Festival, being held Friday through Sunday at Peoples Natural Gas Park in Johnstown. Leftover Salmon, with Bill Payne of the band Little Feat, will headline Friday’s events with a concert at 9:30 p.m. Singer-songwriter Boz Scaggs will headline Saturday with a 9:30 p.m. concert, while soul group Lee Fields & The Expressions wrap up the festival at 8:30 p.m. Sunday.

This year’s festival will feature 35 artists playing on four stages.

“I think the buzz is really strong,” said Shelley Johansson, the festival’s director of communications and marketing. “A lot of people are very excited – I know we are. It is a very big year for us in a lot of ways. Boz Scaggs holds a lot of appeal, as does Leftover Salmon.”

Leftover Salmon is a jam band from Boulder, Colo., that formed in 1989 behind local music veterans Emmitt, Vince Herman and Mark Vann. The group’s mix of styles proved popular and they became a staple of the then-rising jam band scene which included Phish and groups like the Dave Matthews Band.

“I think we’re very lucky and grateful to be included in the jam band world,” Emmitt said. “It’s a younger audience and it’s a very broad demographic as far as taste and styles. The jam band world has gotten very eclectic.”

In 2002, Vann lost a long battle with cancer. The band released one more album, in 2004, then went on hiatus. Herman and Emmitt both formed and toured with solo groups during the hiatus, but Leftover Salmon reunited in 2007. With that reunion came a new producer – Bill Payne, the legendary keyboard player of influential rock band Little Feat.

“We’re extremely lucky to have Bill playing with us,” Emmitt said. “In the last year, he’s become a fixture. With Little Feat basically pulling back and not doing much, we’re really, really happy and honored that he landed in the Leftover Salmon camp. … He’s one of the best keyboard players ever.”

Payne will produce Leftover Salmon’s next record, just as he produced the band’s 2012 effort, “Aquatic Hitchhiker.” The group’s next album, however, will be a larger project.

“We actually started working on this record about a year ago,” Emmitt said. “It’s all new stuff, all originals. We’ve decided to include a live portion – if I’m not mistaken, we have enough to put out a double live album.”

Leftover Salmon is also planning a 15th anniversary tribute show for its 1999 album “The Nashville Sessions,” which featured collaborations with legends like Waylon Jennings, Lucinda Williams and Bela Fleck. That show will be held Sept. 15 at Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tenn.

At this point, 25 years into the band’s career, they’ve reduced their workload down to mostly weekend performances and summer festivals, with longer tours in the spring and fall. But that doesn’t mean the group is resting on its laurels. With Payne on keyboards, banjo prodigy Andy Thorn (joined in 2010), drummer Alwyn Robinson (joined in 2013) and long-time guitarist Greg Garrison joining founders Emmitt and Herman, the band has been going strong.

“In my opinion, this is the best version of Leftover Salmon that we’ve ever had,” Emmitt said. “After 25 years, this band feels better than ever, and more exciting and more fun than it’s ever been.”

This year marks the 25th year of a major music festival in the city by the Johnstown Area Heritage Association – the Flood City Music Festival began in 2009 and was preceeded by the National Folk Festival. The event averages 8,000 to 10,000 attendees each year and creates a buzz throughout the mid-Atlantic region, Johansson said.

“It is very much a regional event,” she said. “Really, Johnstown is an easy drive for a pretty significant portion of the mid-Atlantic. … People find this to be an exciting lineup and an affordable ticket.”

Mirror Staff Writer Keith Frederick is at 946-7466.