Andy Thorn is a busy man. The Boulder, Colorado based banjoist lived by an eventful schedule, playing in his band, jamgrass pioneers, Leftover Salmon, and touring with various musician friends nationwide before the pandemic. While Covid may have halted Andy’s travel schedule, he used quarantine life to foster his creativity in other ways. The bluegrass musician churned out twelve-plus months of prolific output including last summer’s “Tiny Deck Concerts,” a quarantine album with wife Cecelia titled “Fox Songs and Other Tales from the Pandemic,” a new podcast called “Holy Shit, I’m a Dad,” and, his most proud creation, a new baby, his son, Barry.
Andy and I spoke a few days after Leftover Salmon played two nights at Red Rocks, celebrating the release of their new album “Brand New Good Old Days.” Night one featured three sets of Leftover Salmon while night two was a bluegrass throwdown featuring four bands comprised of local Colorado bluegrass musicians.
The new dad kindly gave some time out of a busy Thursday afternoon to talk about those first shows back at Red Rocks, what it means to be a Colorado musician, and the plethora of projects he created while riding out the Covid 19 pandemic.
Tour Stories: These Red Rocks shows were announced, tickets went on sale, and then it was show time. It all seemed to happen so quickly. Did it happen that quickly for you and the rest of the band, or were these shows being clandestinely planned for months?
Andy Thorn: They were being planned for months but no one was sure if they would happen or what the new requirements would be. That’s why they waited a long time to announce. We were just glad we were able to do it and the Covid restrictions worked out for everybody. So that was our album release show, and we were looking to do a local show. It was awesome we were able to do Red Rocks.
Tour Stories: I can’t imagine what it was like for all of you backstage, getting together with all these amazing local Colorado bluegrass musicians together? What was the energy and vibe like for all of you?
Andy Thorn: The energy from the crowd was absolutely incredible. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people so happy to be at a show. For a lot of people, it was their first show back. Friday night the weather was completely perfect. It was just us (Leftover Salmon) and we did something really fun. We surprised the crowd by bringing back our piano player. He left (Leftover Salmon) to play for the Dixie Chicks, who are now The Chicks, right before the pandemic hit. We actually decided last minute to bring him out and luckily, he was free. The crowd was so surprised and happy, and, combined with their first show, it was incredible.
And then on Saturday we had some of our best friends in the music industry playing with us too. I did a bunch of those deck shows last summer and one of our neighbors came to the show and was like “wow, those were all the guys that played on your deck last summer.” I think all of them, except for Kyle Tuttle, had played (on my deck). It was just special with lots of friends.
Tour Stories: So, something I really want to ask you about after Saturday’s show is that Black Peter (Grateful Dead cover). Had you played that with the band before Saturday?
Andy Thorn: We just started playing that. I think that’s just the second time we’ve tried it. I was just messing around with it on guitar with my finger picking and I somehow thought of doing it faster, double time and then you add all the band with it, it’s incredible.
Tour Stories: It was just such a different take. I’ve had the original stuck in my head for days now. It’s so somber and slow and you turned it upside down. I look at it in a new way now.
Andy Thorn: Yeah, my friend actually said “Wow, Peter has never been so alive!”
Tour Stories: Laughter. Was there any inspiration behind that?
Andy Thorn: It was more really how the chords flowed. I’m always looking for neat cover and it happened naturally on the guitar. When we played it with the band it’s got a lot of power behind the chord progression. It has a million chords in it. I’m happy the guys learned it because it goes all over the chord map.
Tour Stories: This may be a silly question, but it’s something I’ve always been so curious about. The scene here (in Colorado) is absolutely packed with well-known musicians and local artists. What’s your take on that? How are we so flush with all this amazing music?
Andy Thorn: It’s crazy the amount of musicians who have been moving here lately. At first it seemed like it was more the bluegrass and jamgrass musicians that were starting to move, and that didn’t surprise me. They’re more acoustic players that probably love camping, the outdoors, skiing, and all that stuff. That’s what really brought me here, all the outdoor recreation one can do. Not to mention the weed is legal and you don’t have to worry about all that stuff.
But now we have all these amazing funk guys and guys from New York City moving in. The local shows at Cervantes have all sorts of stuff going on. Andy Frasco just moved here, which is super fun.
The other big thing about it is the fans here. You can do these side shows on a weeknight and have a good turnout, make some good money. I don’t think you could do that in bigger cities because there’s so much going on. The music fans here just come out support the music, which is just incredible. I think people come here to play a show on tour and they see the energy from the crowd and that’s also a huge reason they decide to move here. I know that was a big reason for me. I was like “wow, people love music here. They really appreciate what I do.” So why wouldn’t you want to move somewhere that people appreciate your stuff.
Tour Stories: You’ve been here thirteen years, right?
Andy Thorn: Yeah, but came here a lot before moving here full time. When we played Planet Bluegrass the other night, I remembered that I won the banjo that I still play there when I was nineteen in the banjo contest.
Moving here full time was the best decision I ever made.
Tour Stories: You’ve had such a prolific quarantine. You had Barry, your tiny Deck Concerts, you and Cecelia (his wife) came up with the Quarantine Album, you started a podcast. It’s crazy!
Andy Thorn: I keep saying we’ve been at home doing nothing. But I guess we’ve at home been doing stuff. Barry is the best part of our prolific quarantine! Luckily, my wife was smart enough to be like “we’re having a baby right now.” And it all worked out because it doesn’t always happen like that. I can’t imagine having her pregnant and having a baby in a normal touring year when I’m gone all the time. That would have been so stressful.
Barry was actually born on March 4, which the anniversary of Mark Vann’s passing, who was the band’s old banjo player. It’s all very cosmic. It was pretty wild.
Tour Stories: How were you able to just create and stay motivated throughout the pandemic, when at time just getting through the day-to-day was difficult?
Andy Thorn: I We were always looking for ways to stay involved in the world without leaving our little mountain corner. We always have a lot of ideas that we don’t really have a lot of time to do. But this year we had the time to do them all. For the (Quarantine) album, we had already written all the songs during the early parts of the pandemic and it came together fast. Once we decided to do it, I made a little studio upstairs and we recorded it over a few weeks.
Everything we’ve done is pretty easy, it’s more the idea and thinking of it that gives you something to be excited for.
Tour Stories: I listened to the podcast you did with Ross James (“Holy Shit I’m a Dad”). You have one episode out now. Do you have plans for more?
Any Thorn: We do have plans to keep this going. We’ll probably have one every other week. I think we’ll probably have one this weekend. A lot of rockstar dads saw that we did it and want to be on the podcast. It is therapeutic for us to be able to talk about it with other dads.
(Shortly after this interview was done, a new episode with Vince Herman as special guest became available).
Tour Stories: How has life changed for you since becoming a Dad and what kind of changes as a rock star do you anticipate coming as you get back to touring and being on the road.
Andy Thorn: It’s a different life now. You are tending to a baby’s needs instead of your own. You have to make sure you find time to do things, like playing banjo for five minutes before your big gig. Barry is doing great and giving us more and more time to look after ourselves.
Tour Stories: Memorial Day will be your first time (spending the night) away from your family. With all the festivals and shows coming up, what is your plan for managing all these things?
Andy Thorn: We have a friend who is going to help when I am out of town. We have great neighbors, family, and friends. They are really going to help us get through the early days of me leaving and as we figure out how that’s going to go.
Tour Stories: As either a musician or as a fan of music, is there a show that changed your life?
Andy Thorn: I can think of a few. One of the moments was seeing the band that I am in now, which is why it is so cool to be with them now. My parents were bluegrass fans, so they took me to Merlefest. I think it was in the late 90s when I saw Leftover Salmon with Bela Fleck and Sam Bush on stage. Compared to the other bands I was seeing at Merlefest, these guys were having way more fun and they were playing great music. This really stood out to me, “Wow, you can have this much fun and play really cool bluegrass jams.” Even back then, it put this seed in my head that I wanted to be a “Colorado jam guy” because it seemed so fun. And now I am in the band.
Tour Stories: Talk about cosmic destiny!