Leftover Salmon had a difficult year in 2002 with the March death of band co-founder and banjo player Mark Vann.
More than 14 months later, the 13-year-old Colorado six-piece, self-described "Polyethnic Cajun Slamgrass" band is just happy to be playing at its favorite time of the year: the festival season.
The group added a new banjo player, 21-year-old Noam Pickelny, in October. And it released a collaborative record May 6, "O Cracker, Where Art Thou," with mid-'90s alternative-rock stars Cracker.
Leftover Salmon concludes the 17th Annual Juneau Jazz & Classics festival at 8 p.m., Saturday, May 24, at Centennial Hall. Minors under 21 must be accompanied by a legal guardian.
"I don't know what it's like in Alaska, but down here people are learning that festivals are an essential part of human survival," said singer, guitarist and co-founder Vince Herman. "The gathering of the tribe is important. The only way we're going to save the world is to have a lot of festivals, bring people together, dance, sing and not watch television."
Leftover Salmon has never played in Juneau. Herman hasn't been in town since 1982, but his brother lives here.
"When I came up there with him in 1982, I got on a fishing boat and did that for a few months," Herman said. "I'm going to stay a couple of days. Last summer I caught a 35-pound king on the Kasilof River by Homer. I wouldn't mind repeating that."
"O' Cracker Where Art Thou," the band's sixth album, could end up as its highest-selling recording so far. Record stores have ordered so many that the band doesn't have any copies to bring on tour. The two bands recorded the album in Richmond, Va., in the summer of 2002.
"We didn't have any intention of releasing it or doing anything with it," Herman said. "We just messed around in a very focused way for two days."
Because Cracker singer and guitarist David Lowery's voice is unique, Herman said he decided not to sing any of his songs on this tour.
"A lot of bands tour based on a record. That's never been our thing," he said. "We just go out and play all the time."
Leftover Salmon has been often called a "jam band," and its songs do have a lot of improvisational tangents.
The sound is a combination of bluegrass, Southern rock, jazz, Caribbean, funk and a number of other genres. As with Phish or the Grateful Dead, it is one of the most-bootlegged bands on the Internet.
"It's frightening," Herman said. "People are keeping track of what we play, and it makes you want to keep it fresh. But we do a lot of improvising in the set. I make up things lyrically that keeps people on their toes, as far as not knowing what to expect.
"You can be worn out and not feel like you have much to put out, but when people stand there looking at you, waiting to be entertained, it always works for me," he said. "It really is a kind of circular energy. You put a little out, and it comes back with interest.
Pickelny joined Leftover Salmon a few days before Halloween and has given the band some stability. The group spent most of 2002 touring with rotating banjo players.
"He definitely has his own voice on the banjo and has great ideas as far as arrangements go," Herman said. "He's definitely left his mark stylistically and compositionally. Everybody's refreshed by it."
Korry Keeker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.