Railroad Earth

16 September 2016 - Red Rocks Amphitheatre - Morrison, CO

for The Lot Scene by Parker

Band Members:  Todd Sheaffer - lead vocals, acoustic guitar; Tim Carbone - violins, electric guitar, vocals; John Skehan - mandolin, bouzouki, piano, vocals; Andy Goessling - acoustic guitar, banjo, dobro, mandolin, lap steel, flute, penny whistle, saxophones, vocals; Carey Harmon - drums, hand percussion, vocals; Andrew Altman - upright bass, electric bass

    Red Rocks, majestic and proud as ever, welcomed us all once again into the very heart of music and merriment.  The Harvest Moon was just below the horizon, aching to make its appearance in conjunction with the hallowed and heralded music of Railroad Earth and we all waited patiently for it to creep slowly into our vision.  With our musical palates and appetites only enflamed all the more by the phenomenal musical stylings of Anders Osborne and The Chris Robinson Brotherhood, we were more than ready to see our RRE headlining once again in this magical place.  The cool blackness of the night air enveloped us all as the lights leapt forth from the stage bathing pools of smiling faces in warm hues and crisper colors.  And then, that moment we all pined for with glee and anticipation, that moment arrived when the band walked onto that giant stage, waving to the crowd assembled en masse to bear witness to a supremely wonderful show to come.  We cheered them on quieting only when it came time for the first note.  As such, let us continue on to that music, how about?

    Except that it was to be Carey Harmon’s drums that brought this show instantly to life, his metronomic beats deftly hammering out the musical pathway for the other instruments to follow.  The gradual building up eventually became a surprise opener for old fans and new fans alike:  “Butterfly and the Tree”.  This led to immediate delight written all over each face in the audience.  And there’s just nothing like hearing the first words that Todd sings in any show as well…merely hearing his voice is like meeting an old friend over a nice, cold pint.  Everyone was sounding particularly spot on throughout the band that evening from the very beginning.  There is just something mystical about Red Rocks that can bring that something extra out of ensembles who perform there.  Lucky for us, right?  They followed up with “Happy Song” kicking our collective energy into high gear, all of us singing along and into the night.  Up to the moon, as some would say (thanks, Uncle Vince).  However, no matter how happy the song nor the people singing and dancing in it, the thunder and lightning and eventual hail storm brought things to a quick pause — 20 or so minutes huddled under the cedar trees against the rain was all it really amounted to.  However, after years of going to Red Rocks, that was my first hail storm there.  That place serves up just about everything weather-wise, it’s true.  But, then the band retook the stage after all was deemed safe enough to continue and, impressively enough, they jumped right back into “Happy Song” where they left off before the storm.  I mean, almost to the very note/word.  Talk about pleasing your crowd — holy schneikies!  As I said, impressive, no?  But also not surprising considering this powerhouse band of musical adepts.  “Chasin’ a Rainbow” seemed appropriate for the next selection, seeing as how we were all basking in the metaphysical rainbow made by such lovely music in the wake of the rainstorm.  Another big crowd pleasure early on in the show…I was liking the trend.  The Black Swan Singers (Sheryl Renee, Coco Brown, and Carl Carwell) joined them on stage for this one, adding some amazing vocal depth and texture to the mix.  What a great addition to augment Railroad Earth.  Fantastic.  They took this one at a bit slower of a pace than normal and it really lent itself to the application, especially with the now larger chorus of voices coming through.  It made for a powerful rendition of an old favorite.  Next on the setlist for the night was “Came Up Smilin’”, that chill and mellow happy song.  It’s almost as if they chose “joy” as the musical theme for the night.  The amount of voices united in song during this one was nothing short of heartwarming in the most “music family” oriented way possible.  RRE Hobos are rather tightly-knit as a crew, it’s true.  Some really lovely Carbone fiddle going on in this one too, all the while supporting Todd’s dead-on light and lilting vocal melodies.  After that came a driving and pleasantly intense “Goat” whose ending jam was particularly tasty, Andrew Altman laying down some fantastic bass licks which led into Todd shredding ever so kindly on the guitar and Goessling jumping in on saxophone like a master— excellent stuff.   This they took directly into “Head” which we snagged some nice footage of for you.  Please enjoy!! 

They segued straight into “The Jupiter and the 119” from “Head” ramping up into another definite favorite of the crowd.  What a delightful song and delightful rendition for us all that evening.  Todd was in fine voice as he related this story of the rails to us, and the remainder of the band was musically tight, to be sure.  Andy Goessling’s banjo is always a welcome addition to the framework of any song or tune, and it certainly was here.  Love that sound!  Instrumentation is such an important consideration, especially when you have the plethora from which to choose like this band does.  Makes for very few moments that are less than stellar from a musical standpoint.  Especially during a show like this.    And, then, it was right back into “Head” to finish it up.  No stopping, no standing.  Boom.  Way to go, fellas…let’s keep that momentum rushing along!  So much fiddle, too!  Wowsers!   Carbone was tearing it up.  Only to hand the reigns to Skehan on mandolin.  What a duet those two threw down!  Holy amazing music, Batman!  And it just went on and on, back and forth, like that for countless wonderful minutes.  Bravi, gentlemen, for that amazing ride!  What a first set!

Railroad Earth

Railroad Earth

    So, apparently, the rain delay ate up all the time for an actual set break.  Instead, the band offered a verbal “set break” from the stage in lieu of a real one and then set about immediately nailing their second set to the wall.  Harmon’s iconic drums began this set as well, with the band joining in and Tim Carbone stepping up and out on fiddle.  The intro was long and well-built, a lovely musical journey with lots of delicious morsels for the hearing.  Soon enough, Andrew Altman stepped up to the mic for the lead on “12 Wolves” and we were off into another fantastic landscape of lyrics and notes.  And what a jam in this one to boot!  Andy dominated on banjo for quite some time until he handed things over to Carbone for the finishing touches.  So much great music coming from all corners of the stage!  How good is this band?  “Dance Around Molly” was an instrumental roller coaster of incredible musicianship.  Every man got his chance to shine and shine brightly in this one.  And, boy, did that crowd dance.  And dance.  And dance.  Until we were breathless!  This they took directly into “Dandelion Wine” keeping our delighted dancing vibe a-going strong.  Goessling brought some heat to the dance with his riveting guitar solo.  So many notes!  So quickly!  How do these fellows do it?  What a pleasure it is to watch musicians such as these in action and in such obvious joy at their chosen path.  Yet another mighty fine drum intro from Carey signaled the unfolding of the Red Rocks rendition of “Elko” — I was loving all this Harmon love tonight.  The Black Swan Singers rejoined the boys on stage for this one, broadening the vocal texture of the group in such marvelous ways.  Skehan gave us all a really magnificent solo on mandolin about a minute and a half in.  Excellence in action.   “Like a Buddha” followed “Elko” and was, from the get go, a light and lively version of this one.  A super happy and kind of trippy intro brought us to the song proper which we all savored like a fine wine.  Goessling had a sweet and diaphanous solo on the flute during the intro…my goodness!  What instruments doesn’t he play, am I right?  So impressive.  Not surprisingly, I do love this song.  Quite a bit, in fact.  How can’t you?  It’s so positive in so many ways.  The lyrics were on everyone’s lips in the crowd as we all sang at the appointed moments, like one big happy family.  This is why we do this.  And, without missing a beat, they then took this right into Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” in musical observance of the actual Harvest Moon which had risen high into the sky over our heads and hearts.  This was a special moment for a lot of people.  The confluence of so many beautiful things coming together at once.  It was pretty incredible to witness — one of those points in time where the magic happens.  Many thanks for that one, fellas!  After that amazing Young tribute, it was time for a little “Birds of America” action.  Dan Sears joined in on stage on the pocket trumpet, adding in some choice horn lines throughout the song.  What a show this had been so far!  Great guests and great setlist.  Great sound all around.  An evening to remember, to be sure.  A little down the set they played Shuggie Otis’s “Strawberry Letter 23” which was also a debut number for the band.  And what a debut it was!  Super funky, this one was an instant favorite of mine.  Such a different sound from this band — and I loved it.  Between Todd and the Black Swan Singers, the vocals were in very fine hands.  And then, more funk, from everyone.  Super groovy.  Super.  Then it was time for the set closer.  Sad, yes, I know.  But, every good concert comes to and end.  And great concerts like this come screaming to a joy-ridden halt.  They came straight from the Otis piece directly into “Everything Comes Together” to close things down.  Driving banjo from Goessling, soft mando from Skehan, floating fiddle from Carbone all over the backbone created by Altman and Harmon and all these things serving to bolster and intensify the lyrics spun out by Sheaffer — yes, that is the way to end a show.  But wait, encore, you say?  Where would we be without an encore?  Well, not at this show, as we got a super fun “Cold Water” to satisfy the withdrawals already setting in.  They took this one a nice, fast clip getting us all dancing just one more time underneath that amazing moon.  And, then, the last note rang, we all cheered, and it was time to go.  Sadly.  Leaving Red Rocks each time is hard enough, but after a show like that?  It certainly made me excited at the prospect of seeing the again the following night at The Boulder Theater (review inbound).  But, let there be no doubts, this Red Rocks show was one of the very best Railroad Earth show I had seen to date.  It really was that good in so many various ways.  Bravi to the band and all their folk who helped put this stellar night together!  The music is always so appreciated.  Always.  Thanks to you all for reading, as well!  More to come on RRE’s Colorado visit soon!!

Railroad Earth beneath the Harvest Moon

Railroad Earth beneath the Harvest Moon

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