Railroad Earth played Dec 10 at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, and enthusiasm by loyal fans for the band was high; seemed like everybody was swaying, many singing along. The sound of the six virtuoso musicians was constant and full, almost symphonic at times.
A roots and Americana-based jam band from Stillwater, New Jersey, their name derives from the Jack Kerouac 1957 short story “October in the Railroad Earth.”
The band whose music combines elements of bluegrass, rock and roll, jazz, cowboy, Celtic and psychedelic is known for its extensive live improvisation, and they delivered three energy-packed hours of music, selections from their five albums, starting with The Black Bear Sessions from 2001.
The first set highlighted traditional bluegrass arrangements with songs like Mighty River, The Good Life, Give That Boy A Hand—an American Folk songbook nod to Pete Seeger.
In the second set, there was a slide into more jam instrumentalism with a newgrass psychedelic flavor, but at times the virtuosity and speed morphing into a sound adjacent to Guns and Roses. (Would love to hear them do a cover of Sweet Child of Mine, in their own emotionally exalted version.)
The original members of RRE include Todd Sheaffer on guitar, and lead vocals; Tim Carbone on violin, electric guitar, vocals; John Skehan on mandolin, bouzouki, and vocals; Andy Goessling on acoustic guitars, banjo, dobro, mandolin, flute, pennywhistle, saxophones, and vocals; Carey Harmon on drums, hand percussion, and vocals; and Johnny Grubb on upright bass since 2003, but recently Grubb announced his imminent departure from the band.
The band has built up a passionately devoted fan base who call themselves Hobos. I met some of the RRE “heads,” coming in from out of town, some wearing tie dyes and of all ages, including fans up from North Carolina, who had discovered the band at summer music festivals. When asked why they liked RRE, one NC responded, “they just make me smile from ear to ear.” They’ll be finishing up the year with New Years shows in Portland, Oregon—Hobos smiling all the way!