Ring Leader Vince Herman Predicts Polka as the Next Big Thing

Karin McLaughlin
By Karin McLaughlin / February 6, 2020
Vince Herman & Drew Emmitt of Leftover Salmon

​A force to be wreckoned with onstage, Vince Herman can easily captivate a crowd at festivals and venues across the country.  Trying out something new, with a lot of smaller and more intimate venues on the list of stops, Vince together with bandmate Drew Smith of Leftover Salmon gave us a chance to ask questions about music, the tour and everything in between!

Karin McLaughlin: Hi Vince!  We're excited to have you guys back in the DC area playing City Winery - you and Drew.  You said you're on the way to the airport, where are you headed -somewhere fun?

Vince Herman: Actually, I came to pick up a friend, we're here in Colorado for a few days and then I head down to Jamaica with Little Feat.

KM: Oh nice – love those guys, well I won’t keep you too long but let’s jump right into a bunch of stuff. You've got the whole tour coming up with Drew and it isn't really named, it's just kind of you guys doing your thing.  I'm curious - if you were going to name the tour what would you name it?

VH: ‘30 Years of Rolling Through Your Town’ (laughs)

KM: That was another thing I wanted to say, 30 years is a long time - I saw you guys, as part of Leftover Salmon, came out with the complete vinyl set.  30 years, wow!  So say Leftover Salmon had a kid 30 years ago, what do you think the kid would be like these days?

VH: Wow! Hmmm, he’d probably be an engineer.  And would be scared to death to go anywhere near the music business.

Leftover Salmon performs at The State Theater in 2018

KM:  Likely.  I'm sure I’ve seen you guys since but the last time I think I remember seeing Leftover Salmon in the DC area was an absolutely mind blowing show at the State Theater in Falls Church and you guys really killed it.  That's a smaller venue, but it's great. What's your favorite type of venue to play?  I know you guys are doing a lot of the City Winery locations on this leg of tour, but what kind of venues you really like to play at?

Leftover Salmon performs at The State Theater in 2018

VH: We just played up a place called Green Hall in Austin, Texas. It's the oldest dance hall in Texas, built in 1878 and it was unbelievable.

KM: Did you do some Texas style dancing out there?

VH: Yes, I sure did - I love swing dancing and, you know, that was the place to do it.  We just did a run with a guy named Jason Bowen, he’s a singer-songwriter guy down there and we did a nice Texas run with him.  It was fun. You know, we're trying to branch out a little bit more into the Country world. I've always thought that Country fans would like what we do because it's deeply rooted in that stuff, it's hippie country (laughs)​.  We can entertain Country audiences and we started thinking about, how do we not just ride this thing as long as we can, but how do we grow this thing?   I'm always thinking like that.

KM: Speaking of growing, Virginia's got the Appalachia region where it’s obviously moonshining ​territory - is there anything like that in the country parts of Texas? Do they have their own flavor of shine out there?

VH: I did not become aware of any down there this time, but I'm sure they do. You can't beat Appalachia for that kind of stuff.  That's as big a part of the culture there just as pot is in Colorado.

KM: Touching on a little bit of that too - since you guys are doing a lot of City Winery venues, are you a wine drinker by any chance?

VH: I am. I just recently moved back from Oregon to Colorado. I was in the wine country up there and got to know vineyard owners and I definitely developed my palate.

KM: Your palate matured, huh?

VH:  It definitely did.

KM: What kind of wines are you into?

VH: I really like a hearty Cab Sav or those kind of things.  Tempranillo is real nice.

KM:  So you and Drew getting together and going out - I know Leftover Salmon as a group is always busy and you do a lot of other projects - are you just not able to sit still, is that where this comes from? Or was there another reason behind this venture?

VH: Well, keeping yourself fresh is important in the music world.  I do a little family band with my kids and I've actually got a gig later today with my son - my two sons.  I do a lot of playing with folks whenever I can. Andy Thorne from Leftover, ​Bridget Law from Elephant Revival​ and me, we're playing coming up in Boulder.  We’ve got a Grateful Dead kind of thing on Friday night before heading to Jamaica to go play.

KM: Let’s talk collaborations - I know everybody loves getting together and that's what's so great about this music scene as far I’ve seen.  I'm somewhat new to the jam band and bluegrass scenes, relatively speaking just since a few years ago. I grew up mainly on hip hop where collaborations in that respect, were only really done in the studio. One thing that has drawn me more to this scene is the impromptu jams and surprise get togethers. What's one or two that you personally have seen or taken part in that maybe it was an unexpected, spur of the moment thing that's really held a place in your heart or in your memory?

VH: One of the most amazing things I ever saw was, I got to sit in the hotel lobby after a festival one night here and see John Hartford and Vassar Clements trade fiddle tunes for about three hours, just them the two of them and that was one of the things I'll treasure most forever. 

We’ve had some great jams at Telluride, kind of where the band started in some sense. I mean I love havin pickin parties at my house even.  We had a great one on Christmas.  Music, to me, has a very social element to it, you know? That’s its role.  Of course there's the artistic expression of it and pushing your art form and all that, but the real point is is humans having fun together.

KM: I think one of the biggest collaborations that stands out in my memory that I was so honored to be able to attend, was the Jeff Austin tribute back in November.  I know that had a big impact on everybody in the music industry. What thoughts do you have now, reflecting back on that event?

VH: I mean, talking about the social role of music, that was one of the primest examples of it ever.  To digest the loss of a friend through celebrating his music is just one of the most healing things that you could ever possibly want to do. It was really good for all of us, as his friends to be able to come together at that moment to share the love. It was powerful.

KM: Yeah, the photo at the very end with everybody on stage together still gives me chills when I see it. It's crazy how many people were able to come together and collaborate on that, and I'm sure it was an honor for every single person, ​to be a part of it. The songs and music that came out of it, with the collaborations and the people that you saw get on stage together, it was just mind blowing.

Nick Forrester performs with Hot Rize at The Barns at Wolf Trap

Nick Forster performs with Hot Rize

VH: Yeah, Nick Forster did a really great job of putting that all together too.

KM: Yeah. He's kind of an idol of mine. I got to interview him back when Hot Rize came to DC and not only as a musician, but also interviewer and host, is kind of what I set my goal to be one day.  I don't know if anyone else could ever get there, but I’ll keep trying!

VH: Yeah, he’s the total king of the universe man.  Hot Rize is pretty much the reason I've moved to Colorado.   He's a pretty big figure in my world as well.

Nick Forrester performs with Hot Rize at The Barns at Wolf Trap

Nick Forster performs with Hot Rize

KM: So what are you most excited about with this tour that you're heading out on?

VH: Doing something totally new and driving around with Drew - laughing a whole lot during the day and pickin a lot at  night. It's a pretty good combo and it's just another of the many different kind of music forms I get to take on. This one is pretty darn rooted in my brain.

KM: How long have you guys been collaborating on this in order to get this thing going? Other than, obviously, what you've been doing as a band?

VH: Well, we've done two shows so far and we did absolutely no planning for it at all other than the playing together for 30 years (laughs)

KM: That's the way it should be, right?

VH: Absolutely.  

KM: Well, I'm glad to hear that.  That's when all the exciting stuff comes out, everybody kind of wings it and you're making each show really unique for the attendees.

VH: Well, you know, hopefully the shows won’t become routine as time goes on.  We got a lot to draw from and we will dig deep every night.

KM: I usually like to do some rapid fire questions and then they usually lead to others - so if you're up for it?

VH: Uh oh is this a psychology test?  Are you about to expose me for the true freak I am?

KM: (laughs) Maybe, maybe not, we’ll find out.

VH: Ok.

Leftover Salmon - 30 Years Under The Big Top - NYE 2019 Poster

Leftover Salmon's 2019 NYE Event was billed as "30 Years Under the Big Top"

Leftover Salmon - 30 Years Under The Big Top - NYE 2019 Poster

Leftover Salmon's 2019 NYE Event was billed as "30 Years Under the Big Top"

KM: So the complete vinyl release of Leftover Salmon is called 30 Years Under the Big Top. When you think of Big Top, obviously you think of circus - if you were a performer in the circus, what would your act be?

VH: Oh, man, I'd be the ringleader! 

KM: Good one!

VH: Yeah you know, I don’t know how to juggle, I can’t fly through the air, but I do know how to talk loud, “HERE YE HERE YE!” (laughs).

KM: You moved to Colorado, what is your favorite slang term for marijuana?

VH: My favorite term for marijuana?  Medicine.  As a former grower, I’ve been indoctrinated into the, ‘It’s not pot, it’s medicine’ school.

KM: Right - it's not a bong, it's a water pipe.

VH: (laughs)

KM: Sunrise or sunset. What's your favorite to watch?

VH: Oh, you know, I probably see more sunsets than sunrises these days. But generally speaking, if you're seeing a sunrise it's pretty special occasion. 

KM: So what are you more likely to see on a Saturday? Are you more likely to see the sunrise or the sunset?

VH: Well, you know soundcheck is around sunset so there you go.

KM: At a festival or a show, when you're on stage, what is your favorite thing to see when you look out into the crowd? Obviously, you want to see the audience having a great time and having fun, but what's something you see that people often either wear to shows or do at your shows that just makes you giggle and makes you really appreciate what you're looking at when you're performing?

VH: I like to see multiple generations.  I like to see my buddy Matt Blum from Bloomington, Indiana dance because it’s most expressive thing you've ever seen in your life (laughs). He responds to every note.  It’s amazing how music affects that guy.  I like to see people having a good time. I like to see people really surprised at what they're hearing.

KM: So, on this tour when you and Drew are riding around going from city to city, what would people be surprised to hear that you guys are listening to?

VH: Polka.

KM: Polka?

VH: Yup.  It’s gonna be the next big musical wave.  Three years from now, it'll be bigger than disco.

KM: Really? That's your prediction?

VH: There's gonna be a whole new genre of polka jam. Jamka.

KM: (laughs) Well, I can't wait to see how that makes people's bodies move at shows.

What about if you guys were listening to a book on tape? What book or what kind of book would it be rather?

VH: This Wheel’s On Fire by Levon Helm.  Biography.

KM: Awesome. Everybody's making such a big deal about 2020 and the new decade and all these things.  They say everything changes, but what's something that you hope doesn't change in 2020 and that continues on and keeps going forward?

VH: Well, I think it's more like it used to be now than it ever has been. I think it's gonna get more like it used to be in the future. And if that continues before long, we’ll be nostalgic for the future in just a few years.

KM: That's an interesting way to put it.

VH: (laughs) I think what’s not gonna change is the fact that we're a strong country that's going to get through all this madness around us with a newly reinforced set of values.

KM: Good God. Let's hope so.

VH: By seeing the effects of having no guidance right now and no morals and no dignity.

KM: I have the feeling you're talking about someone in particular.

VH: Exactly, well you live there.

KM: Speaking of DC, is there anything that you guys hold near and dear in the DC area that you guys are going to make sure you hit up while you're here?

VH: I always like to hit the National Portrait Gallery and I love the Corcoran. I'm a big freak on 19th century American landscape painters.

KM: Okay, that's very specific.  I  just actually went to the national Portrait Gallery the other day Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  I don't know what section it is, but I had come upon a portrait painting of Pocahontas, who was dressed up in Americanized garb and did not look one bit like the Pocahontas I would have thought. I posted something about on Instagram and my friend responded who is a teacher and she was like, ‘Yeah, you didn't know that she when she married John Smith or whoever she married, they renamed her Rebecca?’  I had no idea. It's crazy. You can learn a lot in this city, that's for sure.

VH: Oh yeah!

KM: I don't want to take any more of your time. Thank you very much, this was a very entertaining discussion. I'm looking forward to what you guys have to offer at City Winery on February 11th.

VH: Yeah, definitely enjoy the rest of your week. Thanks!


Photo Gallery

Photo Gallery

Photo Gallery

Performance Details

Performance Details




Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Doors: 6:00 PM

Show: 7:00 PM


$25 - 35 (Check Link For Details)

About the author
Karin McLaughlin

Karin McLaughlin

Karin has been a live music junkie all her life, however is a fairly new fan in the world of jam bands and bluegrass. She grew up on hip hop, classic soul, motown and classic rock but has found a new home in the festival world and that is what, in part, had brought her to DC Music Review. Karin produces and hosts a weekly radio show in the area called Karin's Calendar, where she talks all about 'Where to be in the DMV'. She is very excited to be starting down a semi-new road with us and hopes to use her interview skills and write ups of shows to contribute even more to DC Music Review.