Leftover Salmon’s iconic Mayor McCheese has been missing since the new millennium went double digits: The 40-pound, three-foot-tall plastic figure disappeared on New Year’s Eve 2009/10 when Colorado’s self-described “Polyethnic Cajun Slamgrass” musicians played at The Ogden in Denver.
Since the early 1990s, LOS toured with the McDonald’s playground figure, originally liberated from a Denver chain in the 1980s and granted custodial care to Leftover Salmon when a friend moved from Crested Butte. Audiences would work the cheeseburger head up to orbital warp speeds as its sesame-seed bun surfed mountain crowds far and wide.
Leftover Salmon fans regularly “stole” the Mayor, then returned it once they had their way with it — and the band had its way with the pranksters.
After one woman posed with the head — riding it naked — the musicians photocopied her picture with the caption, “Have you seen this cheeseburger?” and hung it on every telephone poll within a half-mile radius of their gig. (Luckily, she had the good sense to put a bag over her own head before straddling the infamous noggin).
Another gig gag in Washington led to a ransom note demanding 500 pounds of feed corn for the wide-grinning mascot. The corn worshippers ceremoniously returned the Mayor in full splendor, with a 30-piece marching band ushering him in. Little did the bar owner know that Leftover Salmon members made good on their end by passing out plentiful corn feed to the crowd, who expected the Mayor’s return that night. As the marching band came in, corn began a flyin’.
“It looked like a beehive for the next half hour in the room,” said Leftover Salmon front man Vince Herman. “We never played that venue again. They were a little pissed.”
The Mayor’s latest disappearance is perhaps symbolic of the changes Herman sees in mountain towns altogether: the vanishing of true ski-bum traditions.
“The early 1990s made a festering ski culture in Crested Butte,” Herman says as he recalls a 1990 boisterous gig at the Eldorado. “People were psyched to be on the mountain, the town was fun and cheap, and people slam danced. The faster the bluegrass, people went nuts because of what the ski towns were in the 1990s … they were really connected to each other; club owners were really tight, as the locals were. If we were starting the band today, I don’t think we could have that strong physical response. Now the mountains are populated by a different kind of ski bum. They have to have more jobs, they can’t buy a house — ski corporations are mainstream and not allowing the delicious divergence that once was … there’s a little less personality being brewed out there. We’re all becoming a little more white bread.”
And though Leftover Salmon hasn’t received ransom or any communication from the Mayor McCheese kidnappers, and the musicians “fear the worst” for their cheesy friend, Herman still maintains hope, for both the Mayor and ski town culture.
“I think the rowdiness of ski towns is ready to happen again because of the fall of the real estate market,” he said. “Mountain towns are where young people went to retire, and I think they can be again.”
River rats and ski bums alike can catch Leftover Salmon, most likely sans McCheese, June 12 at State Bridge near Bond, Colo. The band is playing at the Grand Re-opening party of the New State Bridge Amphitheatre (which officially opens May 28), after a fire destroyed the property in 2007.
Kimberly Nicoletti is the entertainment editor for the Summit Daily News. She lives in Silverthorne, CO.