Railroad Earth: Pickin’ Up A Storm (Relix Revisited)
If the group wasn’t exactly a band then, it was quickly becoming one, especially after the inclusion of bassist Dave Von Dollen. And if Harmon was feeling hijacked then, the entire group would relate a few months later, as things began snowballing. In May 2001, some 200 people turned out for Railroad Earth’s first official (kind of) gig at the Fountain House in nearby Newton, a few tapers among them.
From the start, the sound of Sheaffer’s sometimes introspective, sometimes whimsical stories strewn across a bedrock of Appalachia and American Beauty clicked. “For me,” says Skehan, “between the acoustic instruments, and the people playing them, it sounded like what I wanted to listen to if I went home and pushed play on the stereo.”
Based on universally positive reaction to a few demos and word of mouth, the group made its first official tour stop at the crucial Telluride Bluegrass Festival, gigging in front of some 3,000 people, and triggering a cavalcade of interest. ‘Grass freaks and Deadheads raved on the Web, thus hyping the band’s ensuing dates. “We got a standing ovation in Telluride, and then we jump in a club, and there were already 200 people there,” says Goessling. “In the old days, that would have taken years.”
By hitting the road at a breakneck pace, the six players turned into a band, says Skehan. “By just getting out there and playing, playing and playing, it became that.” Save breaks here and there, the group has averaged more than 120 shows per year since, blanketing the states and the bluegrass festival circuit. “For a while there, I felt like we were the local band in every town in America,” laughs Sheaffer.
“I know every single square foot of Interstate 80, and I missed the first two years,” cracks bassist Johnny Grubb, who was washing dishes and rolling burritos before he replaced Von Dollen in 2003, who left to finish a music degree. “I’ve been to California and back at least ten or 12 times.”
It was the band’s many trips out of California that inspired the road tale from which Elko takes its name. One of the group’s preferred stops on its way home from High Sierra—Elko, California—is a funky little slice of Americana, a Nevada-California bordertown that’s home to the annual cowboy poetry convention and a vaquero-themed casino where a weary Railroad Earth can score hotel rooms for 25 bucks and drink and gamble all night. “Poor boys and gamblers/Road dogs and ramblers/Shutting it down for the night,” Sheaffer sings on his tribute to the town.
It’s an appropriately cinematic title for the road-tested band’s fourth release, a rousing, warm collection of songs recorded in California, Jersey and Albuquerque and shot through with dramatic, electric jams and smart, smile-spreading pickin’.
“It’s a document of where the band is,” says Sheaffer, noting that fans have been requesting a proper live album for some time. “We’ve developed a body of material that warrants being documented, and we’ve developed into a live act that goes well beyond what we’ve done on our studio releases. A lot of these songs have changed arrangements, and we’ve sort of gotten comfortable taking them into new directions.”
For the band, and especially Carbone and Skehan, the freedom to embark on such explorations has been the never-ending reward of logging all these miles, playing all these sets. “If I was an artist,” Carbone says, “I would say I have a full case of oil paints here, and that I’m not missing any colors. And that’s what I find attractive about the band.”
Without question, it’s also what attracted the likes of bluegrass great Vassar Clements, String Cheese and Phil Lesh to the group: All the above have welcomed Railroad Earth onstage in recent years (see sidebar), while the band itself has brought out pickin’ pillars Sam Bush and Peter Rowan themselves.
When you consider that Sheaffer, Carbone and Goessling are all in their 40s, the triumphant Elko, in its dramatic climaxes and smooth, seamless transitions, sounds a lot like a second chance at something a bit bigger. Indeed, from a player’s perspective, the proverbial good life Sheaffer sings of each night seems to be in hand, attained both on the road and in the Jersey woods. Nevertheless, the road continues…
“Every night is an opportunity to try something new,” says Skehan. “It’s always an exploration, every night. Regardless of what’s happening, it’s a chance for us to say, ‘Hey, let’s try and find a different side of something.’”
In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
Dame shares a song from her new EP Preventions of Heartbreak.
Golden Bloom stopped by Relix to perform a tune from their latest EP No Day Like Today.
The Chapin Sisters share an tune from their new album A Date With the Everly Brothers.
Minneapolis-based Night Moves share a song from their record, Colored Emotions, live at Relix.
Cloud Cult share a song from their latest album live at Relix.
The Giving Tree Band enjoy a spring day on the Relix rooftop, while performing a classic Grateful Dead tune.
Canadian singer-songwriter Hayden performs a duet with his sister-in-law Lou Canon. The song appears on Us Alone his first record on Broken Social Scene’s Arts & Crafts Productions.
The Milk Carton Kids share the first song from their new album, The Ash & Clay.
Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
- Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger "The Pequod"
- Trey Anastasio with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center
- More Visions of the Hangout Music Festival 2013 (A Gallery)
- A Blowout for the So So Glos
- Portugal. The Man "Atomic Man" (Official Video)
- Prince "Fixurlifeup" (Official Video)
- Alex Bleeker & The Freaks: How Far Away
- Interlocken Festival to Feature Neil Young, Furthur, String Cheese Incident, Black Crowes, Zac Brown and More
- Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers "Friend of The Devil" at the Beacon
- The Salvation of Page McConnell (Relix Revisited)
- Interlocken Adds Widespread Panic and John Fogerty, Furthur to Play Workingman’s Dead
- Warren Haynes and Joe Bonamassa "If Heartaches Were Nickels"
- The Final Ingredient in Dogfish Head’s Grateful Dead Tribute Ale Is…
- Stone Gossard Readies His Moonlander
- Trey Anastasio Band at The Hangout (Video Stream)
- Doctor’s Orders: So what should we call the Super Ball IX Newspaper?
- John Kadlecik Posts Statement on Bob Weir’s Collapse
- "I Wanne Be In moe.": The Latest Volunteers
- Bob Weir Escorted Off Stage During Furthur Show
- Furthur Cancels BottleRock Show as Bob Weir Is Out Of Commision
- Vote for Your Favorite "I Wanne Be In moe." Contestant
- Doctor’s Orders: What’s Your Favorite Furthur Song? (Win Copy of Relix Signed by Phil and Bobby)
- On The Verge Poll