Closing out a three-week August tour that began in Alaska, Railroad Earth brought its intricate, good-time music home to the Delaware River region Friday night in Mt. Pocono, Pa.
Performing a stellar set just across the river from its home base in Northwest New Jersey, the sextet had its fans dancing and singing along — particularly during the encore with jam-band brethren Greensky Bluegrass.
(The tour finale was to be Saturday night in Atlantic City, but that gig was cancelled due to co-headliner moe. going on hiatus because of a health issue for bassist Rob Derhak.)
After playing for about 90 minutes toward the end of an afternoon and evening of music at the Sherman Summer Stage festival, Railroad Earth came back for a half-hour with Greensky Bluegrass in tow. Lengthy jams ensued — no surprise there. But such collaborations in the hands of lesser musicians can become cluttered and disjointed. With 11 players onstage, this one came off like it was played by a well-oiled machine of an orchestra that has been at it for years. The highlight was “Head,” a song that RRE bandleader Todd Sheaffer wrote for his previous group (From Good Homes, of Sparta).
During some 20 minutes of this song, each of the nine instrumentalists took a turn soloing and playing off one another. This included: Tim Carbone (violin) of Railroad Earth trading licks with Greensky’s Anders Beck (dobro); RRE’s Andy Goessling and Michael Arlen Bont of Greensky Bluegrass engaging in a banjo duel; and Carbone and bandmate John Skehan (mandolin) ripping it up in one of their customary cross-stage interplays.
Other highlights of the Railroad Earth set:
• Former RRE bassist Johnny Grubb sitting in for the encore’s first song — on the night before his wedding anniversary.
• Sheaffer, who does not ordinarily introduce the band, making a point to acknowledge multi-instrumentalist Goessling. The latter, who has been playing in bands with Carbone since the roads were paved in Sussex County, has missed some shows this year due to a health issue.
• During “Head,” Paul Hoffman (mandolin) of Greensky Bluegrass often led the way as that band offered its vocal twist on the singalong part of the song.
It all was part of a two-hour set by RRE, with Sheaffer (guitar, vocals) guiding the band through his well-crafted songs. They had a way of leading to smiles and happy feet in the audience of an estimated 1,500. The Sparta native hit all the right notes in strong voice, as he customarily handled all the vocal duties for his band. Still, it’s always a nice break and a shifting of gears when he hands off a song to Carbone, a quite capable vocalist in addition to his energetic, animated work on violin.
Jam-band veteran Matt Slocum, who had played with RRE this year to help make up for Goessling’s absences, was a welcome addition on keyboards. This is especially true when he gave the Hammond B-3 a workout.
Railroad Earth, which has been called a “jamgrass” band for its updating the bluegrass genre with rock flavoring and drums (Carey Harmon), does not fit neatly into any label. This is especially true since the band has been rocking harder in recent years, with Andrew Altman using an electric bass at times and Carbone and Goessling playing electric guitars.
No matter the instrumentation or song, Railroad Earth left the enthusiastic crowd happily drained, on a chilly night in the Poconos.
Greensky Bluegrass is a five-piece outfit from Michigan that Railroad Earth enlisted for several shows after moe. could not make the August tour. Along with Beck, Arlen Bont and Hoffman, Dave Bruzza (guitar) and Mike Devol (upright bass) complete a lineup that goes without a drummer.
The quintet showed during its 90-minute set before RRE’s that it is a force to be reckoned with, and that it has earned a place among the nation’s leading roots/Americana bands.
Here is Railroad Earth’s setlist:
“Walk Beside Me”
“When the Sun Gets in Your Blood”
“Addin’ My Voice”
“Farewell to Isinglass” ->
“Chasin’ a Rainbow”
“Face with a Hole” ->
“Seven Story Mountain”
“Everything Comes Together”
“Leap Year” ->
“Leap Year” ->
“Leap Year” ->
Tom Skevin is an award-winning journalist and music publicist who resides in Sussex County. He can be emailed at email@example.com.
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