One of the many appealing aspects of Johnstown’s annual AmeriServ Flood City Music Festival is its organizers’ care in keeping the lineup fresh and varied, while maintaining a focus simpatico to Americana and roots music.
Still, it’s a wonder Leftover Salmon hasn’t gigged Flood City until now.
Headlining the Bud Light Main Stage on Aug. 1, the Colorado group’s pension for improvisational jamming, high energy and humor is guaranteed to be a crowd-pleaser.
The band members are self-styled practitioners of “Poly-ethnic Cajun Slamgrass,” a kind of progressive bluegrass with Cajun influences, though their musical tangents touch upon a whole spectrum of genres.
“Rock, calypso, anything really,” banjo player Andy Thorn said.
Joining Leftover Salmon for the band’s set will be Little Feat keyboardist Bill Payne. Payne is no stranger to the Leftover Salmon minutia. He produced the band’s 2004 eponymous album and sat in with the group on several dates through the years.
“Bill fits in well to anything we’re doing,” Thorn said. “He’s able to keep pace during our faster bluegrass numbers. Meanwhile, Little Feat’s songs and that swampy southern groove they’re known for is a natural place for us to explore musically.”
Leftover Salmon will celebrate its 25th anniversary next year. Thorn said fans can expect a new studio release and a live album culled from dates with Payne.
Also playing Flood City for the first time, and capably representing the State College music scene, is the blues/soul quartet Miss Melanie and The Valley Rats.
If the timbre of Melanie Morrison’s voice — smoky, sultry and belying her appearance and years — doesn’t cause your ears to immediately perk up, the way she commands each song and accentuates each musical phrase certainly will.
“I have never had formal training,” Morrison said. “When I was younger, I would listen to songs, dissect them and focus on different vocal components. I was always fascinated by the way a voice could evoke a texture and how those textures would blend to stir a feeling in the listener.”
Guitarist Mark Ross, keyboardist Rev. James Harton, and drummer Matt Zelenz back Morrison with a rapport, discipline and tonal color not unlike a classic organ trio from Blue Note or Verve Records’ mid-’60s heyday.
The group’s second album, “You’re All I Got,” was released earlier this year, and has been well-received.
“Each record we make is a snapshot of the group at that time. Each record should show growth,” said Ross. “We’re very pleased with ‘You’re All I Got,’ and we’re already looking forward to how the next one will sound.”
Still, Morrison maintained, the Valley Rats’ essence is best captured live in concert.
“The beauty of performing live, is the ‘dance.’ It’s never the same,” she said. “Everybody’s attitude, emotions and overall vibe come together in a unique way. It is ... simultaneously intimate and individual.”