What Does the Fox Say?
By Robyn Griggs Lawrence
If you scrolled through social media during the pandemic (and who didn’t at some point?), you likely were among the more than 3.6 million viewers who caught the video of Leftover Salmon banjoist Andy Thorn picking out a gently rhythmic tune for a resident fox in the backyard of his Boulder Heights home at sunrise.
The video captured the hearts of people struggling through lockdowns around the world, landing Thorn his first-ever national TV appearance on NBC’s “The Kelly Clarkson Show” and a spot in A&E’s “Neighborhood Wars.” A New York Times writer called the video “a moment plucked from Aesop.”
“A lot of people said, ‘Oh, this is my favorite thing on the internet,’ or, ‘This is so wholesome. I love to start my day with these videos,’” says Thorn, who hadn’t done a lot of social media before the pandemic. “I think it sort of took them out of their city or wherever they were and put them up here, in the hills, and that’s what they loved about it, I guess. It was neat to give them a taste of this Colorado hillside.”
Since Thorn and his wife, Cecelia, moved to Boulder Heights seven years ago, they’ve gotten used to sharing their land with foxes as well as turkeys, bobcats, mountain lions and bears. Their mountain home was a pretty great place to ride out the pandemic, says Thorn, who often joined with local musicians from The String Cheese Incident and Yonder Mountain String Band to perform impromptu outdoor concerts for lucky neighbors.
As part of his lockdown routine, Thorn started strumming on his deck every morning at sunrise and posting videos on his YouTube channel, ThornHub. The now-famous fox, which the Thorns named Foxy, swung by regularly to listen.
“I usually play faster and louder banjo stylings that you would do with a rowdy bluegrass band, but maybe that would scare off a wild animal, you know?” Thorn says. “When I was relaxing up here on the hillside and playing the simpler clawhammer style, that’s when the fox would actually sit and listen.”
When people kept asking about the song Thorn was improvising in the video, he realized it needed to be recorded. He expanded it and added parts for bass guitar and piano, named it “Aesop Mountain,” and laid it down as the first track of a new album, “Songs of the Sunrise Fox.” The album features 15 banjo instrumentals with Black Crowes pianist Erik Deutsch, Leftover Salmon bassist Greg Garrison and guitar virtuoso Tyler Grant.
Thorn based the other tracks on peaceful tunes he’d made up to greet the sunrise from his backyard, whether the fox came to visit or not. “It’s a relaxing album,” he says. “It was really fun and different to make.”
Foxy is now part of the family, chewing up the Thorns’ Crocs when they leave them outside (they’ve had to relinquish a few as vulpine chew toys) and sometimes leaving scat on the deck to remind other animals who’s boss.
The Thorns had a son in 2021, about the same time Foxy and his mate had a litter of six cubs. Their toddler is not at all afraid of the fox, Thorn says. “He chases him down.”
“Songs of the Sunrise Fox” is available on vinyl and CD at andythornmusic.com.