Interview by Scott Preston
Photo Credits: Robert Massie
Drew Emmitt, the dynamic lead singer and mandolin player with the popular jamband Leftover Salmon, is a true renaissance man on musical instruments. Playing mandolin, acoustic and electric guitar, he’s a string man to be reckoned with. He excels in unique energy driven mandolin licks and his influences include a pantheon of musical heroes including Lowell George, Steve Morse, Duane Allman, John Cowan, Bill Monroe, Sam Bush, Hot Rize and New Grass Revival.
Emmitt’s dedication and love for music have helped him become one of our nation’s top mandolin players. Beyond his own success, Emmitt has remained a fan as well. On joining his biggest influences on stage he said, “It’s amazing. It’s like walking in a dream. For years I had this dream of standing on stage next to them and having a good time. And it’s happened. Standing on stage next to Sam Bush is pretty indescribable. And David Grisman as well. When Neil Young walked on stage, that was outrageous. I turned around, and there he was standing 6 inches away from me. I looked right at his eyes. Then having him actually sing on a song that I wrote? Pretty amazing.”
Cincy Groove: So how did you and Bill Nershi end up playing together?
Drew Emmitt: I have known Billy for 20 years. He had a duo in Telluride, with this woman Eliza Oxnard. Billy used to come see us when we played there with Leftover Salmon. He would sit in with us and this was all before String Cheese Incident existed. Leftover Salmon has toured with String Cheese and we have played festivals together over the years. Billy and I always had more of the bluegrass roots out of both bands. String Cheese had me come on board to do a couple shows with them a few years ago. Billy and I ended up playing together a lot and talking about maybe putting together a bluegrass band, just for fun. At that point String Cheese Incident was still going.
We went out and did a little tour Colorado, Texas, and California and it went really, really well. Then when String Cheese was thinking about taking a break, Billy called me and said that tour we did was really fun, lets do it again. So thats how it came about and now its a full blown project.
Cincy Groove: So does the Emmitt Nershi Band have a cd out yet?
Drew Emmitt: Emmitt Nershi band doesn’t have one yet, but we plan on it in the coming year. I just made a cd with my solo project this past December that should be coming out this summer that I’m really excited about. Billy is on a couple cuts.
Cincy Groove: Who did you have playing with you on your latest solo cd?
Drew Emmitt: A whole bunch of great people. I had the guys that have been playing with me Eric Thorin on bass, Jeff Sipe on drums, Tyler Grant on guitar who also plays with Billy. He plays bass when Billy and I go out to tour. Chris Pandolfi from The Stringdusters on banjo, Andy Hall on the dobro from The Stringdusters, Stuart Duncan on fiddle. There is also John Cowan, Tim O’Brian, Daryl Scott on vocals, Alisson Brown plays some banjo. I actually cut back from the last couple records (laughing).
Cincy Groove: So what are all the groups you are playing with right now?
Drew Emmitt: Well there’s my solo thing, Emmitt Nershi Band. There’s Leftover Salmon which is back in action. Leftover is playing the Wakarusa festival, Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Mile High Festival in Denver with a bunch of stars like Dave Matthews, Tom Petty. Then there’s the 10,000 Lakes Festival up in Minnesota. We aren’t touring but we will go out and do some big shows.
Cincy Groove: How does it feel to have Leftover Salmon back playing?
Drew Emmitt: Its great the way we are doing it now. Leftover Salmon did 5 shows last summer and 2 shows over New Years. Its great because it doesn’t entail getting a bus and touring for weeks on end and keeping this big machine going. Its just the six of us and our manager. We go out and do these shows, we set up our own equipment and tear it down and I’m happy with it. It makes the profit margin bigger, which of course isn’t the only reason we are doing it this way.
Its like when you are in a band with all these people working for you, you also have a tour bus. When all that is going on you really aren’t putting that much money in your pocket. Its great to come back all striped down and just having a good time.
Cincy Groove: How did Leftover Salmon first get together?
Drew Emmitt: Vince Herman and I met while I was playing in the Lefthand String Band. He came and saw us and we started picking together. Vince started a band called the Salmon Heads. There were two acoustic bands and neither one had electric guitars or drums. We both thought, lets combine these forces and get a drummer. At first it was mainly to play at ski areas, just to get out and about during the winter. Then it just snowballed from there.
Cincy Groove: Do you remember the name of the first band you were ever in?
Drew Emmitt: I had a band called Polaris in Boulder, CO. We were teenagers and we played at a high school prom in Boulder for Fairview High School. When I started out I really was a singer songwriter, which I still am just with a band.
Upcoming Drew Emmitt tour dates:
Drew with Leftover Salmon
June 7, 2008 Wakarusa Music Festival – Lawrence, KS
June 8, 2008 Wakarusa Music Festival – Lawrence, KS
June 20, 2008 Telluride Bluegrass Festival – Telluride, CO
July 20, 2008 Mile High Music Festival Commerce City, CO
July 26, 2008 – July 29, 2008 10K Lakes Festival – Detroit Lakes, MN
Drew with The Emmitt Nershi Band
Drew with The Drew Emmitt Band