Notes From The Road: This is my “Pete’s-eye view” feature on this site, with reports on interesting people and events I encounter in my travels. A fellow banjo player’s plight brings together some very special events.
As many of you know, Mark, who plays banjo with Leftover Salmon, has been diagnosed with melanoma and is fighting for his life. Bad as this adversary is, Mark is a very positive and determined guy, and he has an amazing support system in the band, its organization, and fans. I was asked to be part of a series of benefit concerts at three different Colorado venues, and I was glad for the chance to contribute.
Last year’s intermediate/advanced banjo campers will remember a visit from Mark, along with his two main banjos (including the one made out of a stump, and called the Stump). He showed his approach to marrying his bluegrass background to the needs of a “polyethnic Cajun slamgrass” band that has enough equipment to travel with a semi and roadies. A very talented musician and a good, solid guy to boot. To contribute to Mark’s fund, check the web site www.leftoversalmon.com.
The concerts themselves were an interesting change of pace for old Pete. This is not the first time I’ve jammed with a rock band in a large concert venue, but I have to admit, it’s a little strange every time. The high volume of everything is the first thing you notice, and it’s a skill just to communicate with people onstage and right offstage. Leftover uses ear monitors, little headphones worn inside the ear. That gives you some ability to hear while you’re playing, though with 10 or so people up there jamming, sorting everything out is a challenge.
Another thing is the size and energy of rock music crowds. Of course it’s a pretty uniformly young audience compared with typical bluegrass audiences, and they are really ready to pour out enthusiasm. At Denver’s Fillmore Auditorium, over 4000 fans stood and boogied straight through the over-four hour concert. No, not your typical bluegrass crowd– but fun to play to.
The guest artists that came in from all over were an impressive lot. Along with Peter Rowan, Sam Bush, John Cowan, Bela Fleck, Sally Van Meter, and Tony Furtado from the bluegrass world, were rock luminaries like Paul Barriere and Billy Payne from Little Feat, Billy Nershi and Michael Travis from String Cheese Incident, and (Big Head) Todd Mohr. Playing and mixing with this diverse bunch was exciting. We did Bela’s tune Big Country, and were wowed by a virtuoso solo piece from his new classical music record. Bela, Tony and I teamed up for a three-banjos-only jam to start the second set, where we combined several different tunes and played in unisons and harmony. Definitely fun. Pete Rowan did some old favorites and some tunes from his new “reggabilly” (bluegrass/reggae) songbag. Before the show we listened in his car to a number of cuts from the forthcoming record. Very cool new stuff from a guy who just keeps creating.
It was great being up there once again at the Fox Theater in Boulder with Sam, the tireless newgrass pioneer. Can it really be 30 years since Newgrass Revival started, and is Sam really going to be 50 next year? From the positive energy he puts out, years just don’t seem relevant. The way he rallied the musicians and the audience together that night will stay with me for a long time. What a guy.
Drew and Vince, my old buddies from Leftover Salmon, powered on through the whole week, elated by the support and the music, and still pensive and sad at times about their comrade and what he’s going through. The concerts I was part of, we started with the Hot Rize song, Hard Pressed, written by Tim O’Brien. The words go “Hard pressed, we can find a way,” and I know that’s true.