The Emmitt-Nershi Band is what happens when you get two of the biggest names to ever come out of jam-rock in Colorado and bring them back to their rootsy home. Comprising Drew Emmitt of Leftover Salmon and Bill Nershi of String Cheese Incident, the fittingly titled Emmitt-Nershi Band plays the sort of newgrass for which this state is so well-known, taking the rock-and-roll elements out and leaving the foundation that built both SCI and Leftover Salmon into such popular groups.
But before Emmitt-Nershi rocked the stage at the Bluebird, Spring Creek warmed up the crowd with a rousing set of their own Colorado-style newgrass. Spring Creek came out shortly after 9 p.m. to say hello to the crowd and went right into their first song, "Who's That Knocking at My Door." Right away, the band grabbed our attention with tightly sung harmonies laid over hot guitar licks played by Taylor Sims.
The Lyons-based group played original material as well as several older country songs played with a bluegrass flair, including such pieces as Merle Haggard's "California Cottonfields," the Latin/jazz-influenced "Cuba Vera Swing," Robert Earl Keen's "(My Home Ain't In The) Hall of Fame" and "It's Alright My Darlin'.
Guests Zebulon Bowles on fiddle and Eric Thorin on the stand-up bass melded well with Spring Creek's three central members -- Sims, banjoist Christ Elliott and mandolinist Alex Johnstone. Sims even invited his wife, Bonnie Sims, of Bonnie & the Clydes, on stage to harmonize for "High Up In the Mountains," which Sims classified as "our hit song, if we've ever had one."
This was one of the highlights of the set, with the flat-picking and clear harmonizing between Bonnie and Taylor. The song ended a capella in six-person harmony, and Sims stayed on stage to perform a rousing rendition of "Tear My Stillhouse Down."
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Spring Creek wrapped up its set as the room began to fill in earnest, finishing with the traditional bluegrass tune, "I'll Still Write Your Name in the Sand," featuring fast, tight banjo ringing with a tone as clear as a bell, passing the melody back and forth between mandolin, fiddle and guitar.
The Emmitt-Nershi Band came out to a roaring crowd and jammed into "I Ain't Going to Work Tomorrow," a Carter Family song, and wasted no time showing off their years of experience and skills honed on stage. Immediately noticeable was the skill of banjo player Andy Thorn, who would continue to impress all night long. Drew Emmitt took the lead on this song, and his voice really pulled the tune along.
The outfit played from all over their various catalogs, including songs from New Country Blues, Leftover Salmon songs, SCI songs and a handful of country and bluegrass songs from the past. We heard "Road of Destruction" and "These Days from New Country Blues; Drew Emmitt's "Gold Hill Line"; Leftover Salmon's "Midnight Blues"; "Johnny Cash and "Black Clouds" from the String Cheese catalog; Ricky Skagg's "Think Of What You've Done"; and "Colorado Bluebird Sky," a song Nershi wrote with his wife, Jillian.
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The guys pulled out all the stops and really showed that they are one of the best newgrass bands on the road today. Their jams are tight and hard, and they play traditional bluegrass just as well as their heavily jazz- and Latin-influenced bluegrass songs. The back-and-forth between the mandolin guitar and banjo were mind-blowing. These guys are experts at balancing melody, handing jams back and forth and keeping jams tight and on-point. Nershi promised to "get the turkey out of our systems," and the band delivered on that promise.
One of the highlights was "Surfing the Red Sea" which really showcased the skills of each instrumentalist and their ability to play jazzy "flex-grass." This song was wonderful -- waves of jazz-influenced bluegrass that had smoking hot licks that swept over the dancing crowd, which was hanging on every note.
Another highlight was. "Tangled Up in Blue," which had the whole crowd yelling out the chorus and stomping their feet. The band had something for everyone, and if fans of Leftover and SCI only came to see their beloved frontmen, they most likely left thirsty for more bluegrass and with a newfound respect for the roots music that shot both Emmitt and Nershi to the top of the jam world.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: I love bluegrass, and SCI has broken my heart with their trance-y rock that's been moving away from the bluegrass influences. Needless to say, the Emmitt-Nershi Band is like a breath of fresh air. Random detail: While the Emmitt-Nershi Band played its introductory song, some random guy in the crowd yelled, "We want your babies." By the way: During "Gold Hill Line," the band gave a lucky audience member a golden stick pony, which made appearances throughout the theater all night long.