Seven years seems like the mere blink of an eye or a small eternity.
Founding member of Leftover Salmon and banjoist for the ages, Mark Vann, passed into history in March 2002 at age 39, after a couple of decades of practically redefining the banjo along with a half-year counterpunching the indifferent cruelties of melanoma.
It was later that year when keyboardist Chad Staehly and fellow Salmoner Vince Herman first cooked up an idea to memorialize their friend — a yearly benefit show, featuring Vann’s old bandmates and assorted musical acquaintances, to raise a few dollars for local causes.
Predictably enough, and not unlike a lot of their enterprises, it started humbly, from the ground up, more or less improvised.
“It was actually an old band of mine,” Staehly says. “Vince and Bill McKay from Leftover Salmon were playing a few shows with us at the time, and we just decided, ‘Hey, let’s make this the first event, see if we can get a corps going.’ It was held at Trilogy and it went great. We raised a couple of thousand dollars, gave us a base to work off of and plan another event. And after that first time of me just offering the show to be the first event, the board just kind of decided to make me the leader of the thing.
“And ever since, some type of project that I’ve been involved with, or Vince has been involved with, has helped to host the event, as well as countless other Boulder musicians who all just came out of the woodwork to help, show up, play for nothing … well, not for nothing, to play for all these great causes that the foundation helps,” Staehly continues. “It was just one of those things, a total organic process, you know? A seed got planted, it continued to grow and change and take shape; it’s been really cool to see it all unfold.”
The Annual Mark Vann Foundation Holiday Benefit Show returns this year to the Boulder Theater, which has been its unofficial home since 2004. Staehly and Herman are musical partners now behind the Americana rambling wreck Great American Taxi, topping off a marquee that also includes Railroad Earth’s Tim Carbone (who produced Taxi’s upcoming new CD, due in the spring) and String Cheese’s Keith Moseley, the always transcendent Elephant Revival, and a host of others, with promises of more special guests and surprises.
And apart from the charitable work that the benefit helps (this year, There With Care and RSVP-Boulder County), the musical event itself has evolved into one of Boulder’s premiere calendar bookmarks, one of those rare things of the usual gig-schedule grid that underscores a healthy music scene’s vitality and, especially in this case, its artistic generosity and enduring camaraderie.
“It’s really cool, this time of year, for the community; a lot of it is this jamgrass or New Grass community. Mark influenced so many of these players,” Staehly says. “The guys in Yonder Mountain, the guys in String Cheese who were all friends … and even the guys that played in Salmon who didn’t continue through the years with the band. It’s an outstanding community and a cool way to honor a fallen brother.
“He was one of a kind,” Staehly continues. “I still meet young, innovative banjo players all over the country at jamband and bluegrass festivals, and you can’t imagine, one of the first things out of their mouth was how much Mark influenced what they feel they’re doing with the instrument and what new ground he broke on a lot of levels.”
Hey, a little holiday hyperbole never hurt anyone.
Blame it on the eggnog but Salmon changed the world. And who knew it at the time?
“Ha. Nobody, you know?” Staehly says. “Here’s these crazy hippies from Boulder playing this psychedelic Americana mishmash. It’s amazing what it all sparked. And it’s cool; they’re celebrating their 20-year anniversary this year. So I hope this event, at that level, gets recognized in that context too.”
On the Bill
The 7th Annual Mark Vann Foundation Holiday Benefit Show featuring Great American Taxi with special guests plays the Boulder Theater on Saturday, Dec. 5. Doors at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $24/VIP $125. 2032 14th St., Boulder, 303-786-7030