By Alan Crandall, previously published at the DailyCamera.com
Leftover Salmon’s newest addition, electric banjo player Andy Thorn, has come a long way from his home in North Carolina in more ways than just distance. Thorn’s energy, good nature and fast picking have landed him firmly at the top of his field of banjo players. Not only did he write the title track instrumental to the new Leftover Salmon album, Aquatic Hitchhiker, he also co-wrote and collaborated on a couple additional tracks on the work, due to officially release May 22. This will be Leftover Salmon’s first full-length album release in over eight years. And although the official release is on the 22nd, Leftover Salmon plans an album release free concert this Sunday in the Santa Fe Arts District of Denver. This will be the band’s first block party and the first time a Leftover Salmon album has been pressed in vinyl and CD. They plan to have the both versions at the event, which runs from 1-6 p.m. Sunday, May 13.
Thorn is riding high on the bluegrass scene in many ways. Aside from his Leftover Salmon work, Thorn has been the banjo player for the Emmitt-Nershi Band for over four years now and has played with the likes of Jim Lauderdale, Larry Keel, Frank Wakefield, Tony Rice, Darol Anger, Jeff Austin, Chris Thile, Tony Trishcka, Anders Beck, Travis Book and many more. Thorn also played with the Broke Mountain Bluegrass Band, winning the RockyGrass banjo and band contests in 2003 and 2005.
Leftover Salmon’s co-founder, Vince Herman said by text message that, “Andy Thorn is a really powerful, driving banjo slinger who just happens to be the nicest guy in the world, which makes him a really good guy to have in your band!”
So how does a musician make such strides in the field of bluegrass by the age of 29? The only family picker in Thorn’s past was his great uncle, who also played the banjo and was a song catcher and who spent his time documenting folklore songs. When Thorn was a young boy, his mother played piano and his folks took him to music festivals. “Merlefest was one of the first festivals they took us to, and you see everybody there, a million bands playing in Wilkesboro, N.C., two hours from where I grew up,” said Thorn at Minglewood restaurant on Tuesday.
After that he started to play guitar and at the age of 12, Thorn picked up his first banjo from his next door
neighbor’s garage sale. “I bought it for 50 bucks and my neighbor threw in the Earl Scruggs book too,” said Thorn.
Scoring a newer and better banjo, at age 15, Thorn started his own bluegrass band that he played in all through high school. He also played jazz guitar in the school band which he continued through college at that time only giving a slight preference to the grassy sound. “I was having more fun with my bluegrass band on the side because that is what we wrote songs in and just messed around but the jazz band I loved, too.”
“My Banjo heroes were definitely Bela Fleck and Tony Trischka, I got to go to some workshops with them when I was younger. I listened to Mark Vann a ton with Leftover Salmon. My biggest influence were progressive local guys in N.C. like Rex McGee and Ryan Cavanaugh, who I got to pick with and learn a lot from when I was at UNC,” said Thorn.
It was during college at The University of North Carolina when Thorn first came out to Colorado to ski. While in Durango, he met Anders Beck of Greensky Bluegrass and Travis Book from The Infamous Stringdusters. They talked Thorn into jamming in Colorado during his summer breaks at UNC.
After college Thorn spent a couple of years on the road with Larry Keel. It was during this time that Thorn put out his album Bolin Creek. “That was really fun, I had this big empty house and we set up a recording studio there. I had so many originals I wanted to record with all of my buddies and it was a lot of fun.”
After getting a little burnt out from touring, Thorn stayed home in North Carolina playing with the Big Fat Gap, his local bluegrass band. “I had a blast doing that, it was in town, hanging out with my friends good gigs, playing stuff around town and sleeping in my own bed.”
Thorn didn’t fully move to Colorado until he started playing with the Emmitt-Nershi Band. Some friends had tipped him off that Chris Pandolfi was due to step down from Emmitt-Nershi to focus on getting the Infamous Stringdusters going. “When I heard that Drew and Billy needed a banjo player I was really into that because I love those guys. There were other gigs that came along that I was not as into,” he said. “It’s good to keep several projects going so you don’t burn anything out.”
In addition to touring and recording with Leftover Salmon, Thorn has a number of Emmitt-Nershi shows on the books including DelFest, Wakarusa and RockyGrass. “We are doing Sunday afternoon at RockyGrass, which is my favorite festival. I love it. It’s all bluegrass, really good bluegrass,” said Thorn. “They get the best of the best at (the festival) every year.”
While working hard with both Leftover Salmon and Emmitt-Nershi, Thorn lives on bluegrass time. “It’s pretty
crazy but I still don’t need a calendar because Drew keeps track and we are usually doing the same thing,” said Thorn. “They don’t even ask me if I can do a gig anymore because they know I will do anything. They just ask Drew, ‘Can you do it?’ and if he can do it, I can do it too, so I really don’t have to be in the loop. I literally don’t have a calendar.”
When not touring Thorn can mostly be found outdoors, “I love to be outside skiing, biking, camping and pickin’, that’s how I recharge the battery and stay sane after all the time on the road.” For more information on this Sunday’s free concert visit www.leftoversalmon.com.
If You Go:
Who: Leftover Salmon
When: 1-6 p.m., Sunday, May 13
Where: 700 block of Santa Fe Dr., Denver