February 8, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 45°F


Folk rock sextet gets a leg up tonight at the Haunt

Since it was formed in 2001 in Jamestown, N.Y., Big Leg Emma has worked to combine a range of musical genres, including folk, rock and even a little hip-hop. The group’s latest album, “Big Emma LIVE,” was released in July. Accent Editor Jamie Saine spoke with vocalist/guitarist Steve Johnson about his favorite venue, the group’s constant expansion and about coming to play in Ithaca.

Jamie Saine: Where did the name “Big Leg Emma” come from?

Steve Johnson: We wanted to stay a little less serious so we were looking for names, and our old drummer was a huge Frank Zappa [fan]. Frank Zappa used it, I think, back in the mid–’60s, real early Frank Zappa days; it was a Frank Zappa song, based on an old blues woman or something like that.

JS: You describe your music as mixing “rock, bluegrass, jam and alt-country.” How do people respond to that?

SJ: Every time people see us, they always ask … ‘what kind of music are you?’ and we never know. We’re original, you know, we like to keep it original. That’s the best way we can always say because we cross bluegrass and funk and rock and folk. People respond to it pretty [well].

JS: Have you ever played in Ithaca before?

SJ: Oh yeah, many times.

JS: What do you think of Ithaca crowds?

SJ: Oh, I love the Ithaca crowd. We played at the Finger Lakes Grassroots a couple years, we played Castaways and we played the Chapter House. We have some good fans out there, and they’re beautiful people.

JS: You play many festivals. How do festivals differ from club shows?

SJ: Festivals are just more down to earth — they’re outside usually [and] it’s more organic. Most festivals are more of a rock scene. So with festivals you get to express yourself a little bit more I think. With clubs it’s more of the sweaty, grinding, beer-drinking type.

JS: Where’s the best place you’ve played
so far?

SJ: I have to say either our hometown at the Great Blue Heron music festival, or there’s this beautiful place that we go every year up in upper Michigan called the Bliss Fest which is a beautiful place.

JS: Any crazy stories from the road?

SJ: Well we had a sad story that just recently happened to us. We were driving in Richmond, Va., on our tour bus and our good, longtime friend and driver had a heart attack behind the wheel and passed away while driving down the road. I actually had to get up into the driver’s seat and stop the bus from crashing into anything. We’ve gone through a lot of trials and tribulations, but we’ve made it through.

JS: You guys seem to still be going strong.

SJ: Oh yeah, we’re going stronger than ever. We just hired our newest member, Steve Davis, who plays the Hammond organ. Everything is just falling in place. We’re playing more than ever.

JS: What’s your favorite song to play?

SJ: Every time I write a new song [it’s] always my favorite to perform because it’s so fresh. There’s this new one I wrote called “Dripping Daisies.” I like it. And I still like playing the song I wrote called “Fireflies,” which I dedicated to Keith Flanders, who was our driver on the road. … We dedicate that song at
every show.

JS: You’re based in Jamestown. Have you ever been to the Lucille Ball Museum?

SJ: Actually I haven’t [but] I walk by it every single day. I was just walking by it the other day and I was like, maybe I should go in there just to check it out. She’s one of the biggest meccas out of this area and I don’t really pay too much attention to it.

JS: If Big Leg Emma were ice cream, what flavor would it be?

SJ: I’d have to say rainbow sherbet, just because of the mixture. It’s a mixture of all kinds of flavors.

Big Leg Emma will perform at 10 p.m. today at The Haunt, 702 Willow Ave. Tickets cost $7.