Launch Event a Success for The Mark Vann Foundation

by Dean Barnett

On March 4, 2002, banjoist Mark Vann co-founder of Leftover Salmon, lost his, valiant struggle with cancer. On December 14, 2003, band mates Vince Herman and Bill McKay brought together musicians, friends and admirers to launch the Mark Vann Foundation; a not-for-profit 501©(3) charity established “to serve community non-profit organizations bringing light, love and laughter into lives of those in need…”

The inaugural fundraiser held at Boulder’s Trilogy Winebar was quickly organized with a minimum of fuss, Organizer Bob Hollis explained, “It all just fell together. The guys had these shows booked and (Canine Unit keyboardist) Chad Staehly said, “Why don’t we make a benefit out of the last night?” The nights entertainment reflected that by-happy-chance style, including appearances by old timey music stalwarts Pete and Joan Wernick, guitarist and singer John McKay (Bill’s brother), Single Malt Band’s bass player Will Downes, Salmon banjoist Noam Pickelny, and journeyman rock quintet The Canine Unit.

Pete Wernick, Noam Pickelny, Joan Wernick, and Vince Herman — photo: Adam Sokolic

Leftover front man Vince Herman described the Foundation’s mission. “It’s to keep the energy of Mark Vann alive. Part of that is to raise a little money and send kids to banjo camp.” The MVF has already selected the first four recipients of its support. “One of the things we’re supporting tonight is an organization in Lawrence, Kansas called, ironically, Van Go. It’s an organization that gets at-risk kids to become involved in the arts.”

Another beneficiary is The Music Maker Relief Foundation, a group supporting “forgotten heroes of Southern musical traditions.” Local Boulder area charity The Community Foodshare benefited from the canned foods donated by the benefit’s attendees.

The MVF’s fourth beneficiary, the Steam Powered Preservation Society, is a brand new not-for-profit created to preserve the homemade tape recordings of Tut Taylor, pioneer Dobro player and a fixture on the Nashville music scene for decades, Taylor amassed over 500 reel and cassette tapes of performances by Taylor with dozens of acoustic music icons, including John Hartford and Norman Blake. Herman’s enthusiasm for this project has deep roots. “The first time that bluegrass really popped into my head was at a friends house in 1976 or 77,” he related, “I heard Tut Taylor’s “The Old Post office’.” The SPPS plans to purchase the collection from Taylor and make recordings available to the public at no cost.

Vann’s “Go Big” philosophy is reflected in Vince Herman’s hopes for the Mark Vann Foundation. “Every person on the planet can benefit from this thing. Is just Tut Taylor going to benefit? No, we all are because that music will be made available. And by sending a kid to banjo camp I hope to listen to them for the next 20 years, doing some of the groundbreaking things that mark did with whatever they have in their ears and heads.”

The Mark Vann Foundation is planning more events for the springs. Future event announcements and additional information on the MVF can be found