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Columns > Annabel Lukins - Both Sides of the Rail

Published: 2007/08/02
by Annabel Lukins

The Life Cycle of Salmon

When Vince Herman jumped up and down, shouting to a packed Red Rocks crowd Saturday night, I just keep looking out there and seeing people from so many years, thats why Im freaking out, I too jumped up and down because lucky for me, I am one of those people.
Leftover Salmon brightened the lives of so many that evening, leaving me with tears in my eyes and goose bumps on my arms. Getting back together for a run of shows was a REALLY big deal for everyone. Soemotions, memories, and a sense of relief for many swept over those magical rocks. Was the band relieved to play again? I cant even imagine what was going through their head, but Vinces shout out definitely showed some deep excitement and pride. I know that backstage, murmurs of did you ever think wed play Red Rocks again were audible.
Since my very first show in 1995 on Fanny Hill of Snowmass, Colorado, I fell in love with that band. I went all over the country to see them, I befriended the members, I listened to bootlegs, bought all their studio releases, and just danced and sang constantly.
Drew Emmitt is simply one of the most angelic musicians, from the elegant resonance of his voice to the perfected playing of his numerous instruments. Vince Hermans infectious enthusiasm and off the wall songs add pure joy and happiness for all.
And then theres Mark Vann, my dear old friend who is resting in peace. Mark Vann was the banjo player of Leftover Salmon. He died of cancer in 2002. My heart broke and I struggled with the loss for a very long time. And I know that all were affected, but I cant imagine what it was like for Drew, Vince & Johnny Pfarr, their long-time friend and tour manager.
Mark and I were very close. In fact, Mark Vann was the person whom I drank my last beer with. Yes, this is something I have left out of my columns thus far, but I am proud of my sobriety. In October 1998, Salmon played a 2-night run at Wetlands and October 7 was the very last time I drank or used any substances. I was in pretty bad shape at the time so with the help of my family, I made a lifelong decision to become healthy. Nine years later, I havent turned back since.
Marks dying wish was that the band stayed on the road. As much as I know how hard it was for them to play again, and I wasnt ready to be a part of it. They had various banjo players step in, never coming close to what Mark had brought. I have to give props to Noam Pikelny, an egoless master on the banjo, who didnt replace Mark, but accepted an honored position as the newest banjo player. Eventually, I went to see them with Noam. He was wonderful. He was immensely talented, but almost an introverted man, so as I said, he had no ego. He just played.
When I moved to Colorado to help run Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Leftover Salmon was playing. I was thrilled to see all of them. I immediately asked Drew to play my favorite song, Breakin Thru. This song had helped carry me through times in my life when I needed a song to guide me. They opened their set with it. I rant to the front of the pit and proceeded to have a complete spiritual experience. The rest of the set was memorable, but that was my moment.
After that job ended, I knew that the band was looking for someone to help them. I presented a marketing plan to their manager and my friend John Joy, and basically begged him to hire me. I loved them so much that I wanted to help them. They were re-inspired and I thought I was the one to take them to a new level. Well, I didnt realize how hard it would be for me, and I left after 6 months. I needed to keep a separation between my friendship with them and my career.
They knew that they werent letting Mark down when they decided to take a break in 2004. It was time.
Three years later, the life cycle of Salmon rose once more.
I ate dinner backstage with moe.s lighting guy, my friend Jeff Waful. The Salmon boys were at the table next to ours, and I watched the interaction between them, going over the setlist, preparing for a real reunion on that stage. I gave them all hugs and told them how happy I was to be there.
Under a gorgeous sunset, Leftover Salmon illuminated Red Rocks. Song after song, the powerful energy continued to rise. They came out for an encore, Drew picked up his mandolin and I turned to my friends, Im calling my Breakin Thru encore.
They went right into itboy did it sound good.
When the set was over, I ran backstage to go give Drew a hug and remind him how much he meant to me. Vince was sitting down so I knelt next to him, he put his hand on my head and said, thanks, Annabel.
Its funny, I wanted more, so much more. Drew couldnt give it to me, no one could. It was sorta like wanting to work for them and not being satisfied.
The more I thought about it, I got exactly what I needed. A little love, some incredible music from a band that deserved to play that well, and the very faint feeling that Mark Vanns spirit was breakin thru.
Somewhere in the darkness, I can see a guided light. From a place deep down inside, a vision came to me. Burning like the sunrise over a deep blue sea. You only get one chance to make it happen in this life. Theres a whole lot more than just trying to survive. And it seems like were finally breaking through now, all these dreams are really coming true somehow.

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