Good ol’ Colorado bluegrass |

Good ol’ Colorado bluegrass

Geoff Mintz
Daily Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the DailyThe Emmitt-Nershi Band returns to Vail Thursday to kick off Street Beat in Vail Village. The show starts at 6:30 p.m.

VAIL, Colorado – As linchpins of two of the most popular jam bands of modern times, Drew Emmitt of Leftover Salmon and Bill Nershi of The String Cheese Incident have been tearing up the Colorado music scene for more than two decades.

Thursday should be no different as they join forces for a good ol’ Colorado bluegrass party at the Street Beat season opener in Vail Village.

Leftover Salmon and String Cheese formed in Colorado between Crested Butte, Telluride and Boulder. While both groups continue to sell out major venues all over the country, their touring schedules have been significantly reduced so that band members can pursue a variety of side projects, such as the Emmitt-Nershi Band.

“We’ve all known each other for many years,” Drew Emmitt said. “Even way before Billy was with String Cheese, he used to come see Salmon shows. Then, when String Cheese got going, the two bands used to play shows together back in the day.”

Emmitt said he and Nershi have a lot in common in terms of their roots in Colorado and “the whole bluegrass thing.” He was invited to go on the String Cheese bus for a few shows just before the band went on their most recent hiatus (which ended this summer at Red Rocks).

“Billy and I were pickin’ in the back of the bus with the rest of the band and we kind of started talking about putting together a band,” Emmitt said.

There are definitely some similarities between this project with Nershi and the legendary collaboration of Jerry Garcia and David Grisman, a mandolinist who is a generation or so Emmitt’s senior. Garcia and Grisman recorded popular bluegrass albums such as The Pizza Tapes and Shady Grove.

“Grisman is one of my earliest influences, as well as Garcia and The Dead, and I’m sure for Billy also,” Emmitt said. “I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to become friends with David [Grisman] and play on stage with him a number of times. Unfortunately, I never got to play with Jerry. But, yeah, there are definitely some similarities. Billy is sort of a modern-day Jerry in the jam band world.”

Growing up in Nashville, Tenn., Emmitt never actually got into bluegrass until he moved to Colorado and attended the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in the early 1980s. He picked up the bluegrass banjo for a while as a teenager and went on to discover the mandolin, with some encouragement from his mother, realizing that it was better suited for singing.

For their album, “New Country Blues,” the two pickers wrote the music over a long weekend in Estes Park. “We wrote the songs in three days,” Emmitt said. “We holed up in this house and we just sat and came up with these tunes. It was a really smooth process. We bring out a lot of good things in each other musically, and we do well playing off each other.”

“We always have a great time in playing in Vail. We did our Salmon show (in 2008) at Dobson and it was really fun,” Emmitt said. “It’s always a great vibe. We love the folks in Vail.”

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