Railroad Earth, The Kent Stage, Kent, OH – 2/10
During the ride up to Kent, I was asked a question about what type of music I would categorize Railroad Earth as… and I found myself unable to answer. When I first saw them back in 2004 I would have called them a bluegrass band, but ever since that time Railroad has continued to evolve. Their style incorporates variations of jazz, folk, bluegrass, and even celtic music in perfect balance with each other. Wikipedia describes them as a “roots and Americana based jam band from Stillwater, New Jersey,” and I describe them as an outstanding group of musicians with a sound that stands by itself.
It was bitter cold evening in Kent, Ohio. When I say bitter, I mean it was only 9 degrees outside. A small crowd shuffled into the Kent Stage auditorium. The show was advertised as the “Halfway to 420” show, because of the date. It was a much smaller turnout than I had anticipated, but the crowd would continue to grow to about 200 people by the time the second set started. I imagine that this is very different from what Railroad Earth is used to seeing when playing in other places like Denver, but only so much can be expected on a small town in rural Ohio.
At about 8:40 Railroad Earth took the stage, likely giving some time for more seats to fill. They delivered two sets and a pretty wicked encore throughout the next couple of hours. This was my first time seeing the band with bassist Andrew Altman, who joined in 2010 to replace Johnny Grubb. Andrew fit in quite well, and looks like he is significantly younger than the rest of the band.
Front man Todd Sheaffer sounded a bit hoarse and did struggle to hit some of the higher notes on a few songs, but it wasn’t very noticeable and didn’t take away from the evening at all. He was fortunate to have great backing vocals and harmonies to help him in those moments from drummer Carey Harmon, and John Skehan who is a beast at the mandolin.
It’s always such a treat to watch the multi-talented Andy Goessling switch from instrument to instrument throughout the show. On this February night we watched as he played the banjo, a variety of guitars, the flute, and then at one point two saxophones simultaneously. If there were 20 instruments on stage, 10 of them were for Andy.
The real shining star of the night though was violinist Tim Carbone. Tim is always an outstanding performer and musician, but he really stepped it up during this show and blew the entire audience away. Carbone played every note as if he was emotionally invested in it. The way he plays, from his facial expressions to his body language, really expresses his passion for what he is doing. He was spot on and gave some of the most breathtaking and energetic solos I have ever seen from him, or any violinist for the matter.
Railroad played fan favorites like “Mighty River” and “Like a Buddha.” The crowd joined in to help sing a loud chorus during “Peace on Earth,” and also during my personal favorite “Long Way to Go.” Another huge highlight of the evening was hearing the band jam out with George Harrison’s “Any Road.”
After two solid sets the band returned to the stage for an encore of “Promised Land”, and then the evening came to an end. Walking out I saw nothing but smiles. Fans certainly have a lot to look forward to as Railroad Earth gear up for more shows that are already being booked from now through the end of summer.