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 411mania » Music » Columns

Jam Central Station 1.04.14: Railroad Earth
Posted by Jeff Modzelewski on 01.04.2014

Rising from the ashes of the great From Good Homes, Railroad Earth have jumped out into the forefront of the modern progressive bluegrass movement. For the past thirteen years Railroad Earth have taken their considerable talent and turned into albums and shows that have drastically altered the course of modern jam and bluegrass music. While they certainly take plenty of influence from bands that came before them, they have also brought another generation of progressive bluegrass fans on board, and even converted some more traditional bluegrass folks.

A big piece of what sets Railroad Earth apart is the diversity of their six-man lineup. While the traditional bluegrass instruments are all represented (and represented quite solidly, I might add), the band branches out quite a bit. Beyond just having a drum kit backing up the band, it's not uncommon to hear accordion, flute, percussion, saxophone, and electric guitar in the mix. Only Andy Goessling and Andrew Altman come from "traditional" bluegrass backgrounds. Instead of focusing on straight bluegrass, the band came together as a Grateful Dead style melting pot of music, leaving room for all sorts of ideas and improvisations to come up organically through the members.

Railroad Earth got their start after Todd Sheaffer found himself without a band following the breakup of From Good Homes. The group first got together through a mutual friend and a chance encounter at The Wetlands Preserve in New York. After a handful of jam sessions the band recorded a short demo that they sent out. The response was immediate and overwhelming. They landed a spot on the Telluride Bluegrass Festival before they had even played an official gig as a band. They quickly played a handful of warm-up shows before heading out to Telluride. Despite the fact that the band was in their infancy, the individual members had more than enough experience to turn the show into a success, and they quickly began touring and recording in earnest.

The Black Bear Sessions featured songs written almost entirely by Todd Sheaffer. Sheaffer's success as a part of From Good Homes and his prominent role as the guitarist and main vocalist made him the de facto frontman for the group. This setup was a success and the band quickly found themselves touring the club and summer festival scene. Their improvisational skills and the fact that they simply did not sound like anyone else at the time helped win them fans from across the country, and The Black Bear Sessions included many songs that are still staples of the band to this day.

This initial success quickly led to a record contract and a second studio album. Bird in a House was a much more collaborative album, and the result was an album that was even stronger than their debut. Their success was made on the road, however. They would play over 200 dates a year, and not only in "jam band" territory. They focused on branching out and reaching untapped potential fans. They spent time opening for bands that could help them branch out as well as playing early in the day at festivals. This pattern continued through the release of their third album, The Good Life.

Railroad Earth's biggest breakout came with the release of their 2006 live album Elko. This extended double album gave fans an immediate way to recreate the band's live performances. By this time the band had moved on to main stages and even some legendary late night performances at festivals. They made multiple trips back to Telluride for the bluegrass festival, and they were consistently high on the bill. They moved over to SCI Fidelity Records for 2008's "Amen Corner" and the band performed a late-night set at the initial Rothbury festival.

In 2010, the band released their eponymous "Railroad Earth" album. For a band that had been together nearly a decade, it seemed like odd timing to release a self-titled album, but it definitely fit with where the band was. The album was again a collaboratively written album, and they took advantage not only of their diverse influences and instrumentation, but also their vocals and harmonies. The result was an album with massive appeal. The album included a number of songs that became immediate concert staples for the band as well. In 2011 the band released a huge retrospective collection, featuring 20 previously unreleased soundboard recordings from throughout the band's career. Also in 2011 Andy Altman replaced Dave Von Dollen on bass, but the band didn't slow down, continuing touring on a regular basis. The band finally got around to recording a new studio album with Altman in 2013, and The Last Of The Outlaws will be released on January 14.

Railroad Earth continues to impress audiences across the country and have shown no signs of slowing down. Despite an occasional From Good Homes show for Todd, the band is focused on bringing Railroad Earth as far as they can, continuing to stretch the limits of progressive bluegrass and the imaginations of their audience. Through impressive studio albums and continued top-notch live performances, there's no doubt that Railroad Earth will continue to do that for quite some time.

Wakarusa announces initial lineup
The Wakarusa Festival announced their first round of artists. So far the festival will include STS9, Umphrey's McGee, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Lettuce, Dr. Dot, Papadosio, and many others. The rest of the lineup will be announced over the next two weeks.

Allman Brothers confirm Beacon residency
The Allman Brothers Band have confirmed their annual Beacon Theatre residency, set for this March. The band will perform 10 dates between March 7 and 22. These include March 7, 8, 11, 12, 14, 15, 18, 19, 21, and 22.

Floodwood adds dates
Floodwood, the bluegrass project featuring Al Schnier and Vinnie Amico of moe., announced a run of dates starting in January. They have dates running through March, touring around moe.'s schedule.

January 14 Fort Collins, CO—Hodi's Half Note (with Gipsy Moon)
January 15 Breckenridge, CO—Three20South (with Gipsy Moon)
January 16 Avon, CO—Agave (with Gipsy Moon)
January 17 Denver, CO—Cervante's Masterpiece Ballroom (with Assembly of Dust)
January 18 Denver, CO—Cervante's Masterpiece Ballroom (with Assembly of Dust)
February 28 Plains, PA—River Street Jazz Café
March 2 Killington, VT—Pickle Barrel Night Club
March 7 Utica, NY—Mohawk Valley Community College
March 8 Buffalo, NY—The Waiting Room (with Big Leg Emma)
March 12 Boston, MA—Wilbur Theatre (with Sam Bush and his Band)
March 14 Frostburg, MD—Dante's
March 15 Richmond, VA—Capital Ale House (with Jackass Flats)
March 16 Lexington, NC—High Rock Outfitters
March 17 Atlanta, GA—Smiths Olde Bar
March 20 Charleston, SC—The Pour House (with James Justin and Co.)
March 21 Live Oak, FL—Suwanee Springfest
March 22 Asheville, NC—Grey Eagle (with Sanctum Sully)

Jam Cruise
January 4-9, 2014
Miami, FL
Performers include: Les Claypool's Duo de Twang, Bootsy Collins, Galactic, Robert Randolph & The Family Band, Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, Keller Williams, Galactic, and many others.

One Big Holiday
January 26-30, 2014
Riviera Maya, Mexico
My Morning Jacket will be performing 4 nights at this event.

Aura Music & Arts Festival
February 14-16, 2014
Spirit of the Suwanne Music Park
Live Oak, FL
Performers include: Papadosio, Lotus, Conspirator, Zoogma, The Werks, The Revivaalists, Particle, Marco Benevento, Dopapod, and many others.

International Incident
February 19-23 2014
Hard Rock Hotel, Riviera Maya, Mexico
Performers include: Multiple shows from the String Cheese Incident, EOTO< Kyle Holingsworth Band, The Motet, and Prophet Massive.

Winter Wondergrass
February 21-23, 2014
Nottingham Park
Avon, CO
Performers include: Greensky Bluegrass featuring Sam Bush, Leftover Salmon, The Infamous Stringdusters, Elephant Revival, Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers, Fruition, and many others.

Jam in the Sand
February 28-March 4, 2014
Negril, Jamaica
Dark Star Orchestra will host the event. Other performers to be announced.

Panic en la Playa tres
March 17-21, 2014
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Widespread Panic will perform four shows during the event.

Suwannee Springfest
March 20-23, 2014
Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park
Live Oaks, FL
Performers include: Avett Brothers, Punch Brothers, Sam Bush Band, Southern Soul Assembly, Donna the Buffalo, Greensky Bluegrass, and many others

Hoopla in the Hills
March 27-30
Poston Lake Music Park
Athens, OH
Performers include: Papadosio, Keller Williams, EOTO, Larry Keel & Natural Bridge, Cosby Sweater, Rumpke Mountain Boys, and many others.

Wanee Festival
April 10-12, 2014
Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park
Live Oaks, FL

Tortuga Music Festival
April 12-13, 2014
Beach Park
Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Performers include: Sheryl Crow, Train, Slightly Stoopid, Ziggy Marley, Brett dennen, Delta Rae, Moon Taxi, The Revivalists, and many others.

Summer Camp
May 22-25, 2014
Three Sisters Park
Chillicothe, IL
Performers include: moe., Umphrey's McGee, Trey Anastasio Band, Bassnectar, Primus, Yonder Mountain String Band, Lotus, EOTO, and many others

Dark Star Jubilee
May 23-26, 2014
Legend Valley
Thornville, OH

Nelsonville Festival
May 29-June 1, 2014
Nelsonville, OH
Performers include: The Avett Brothers

June 5-8, 2014
Mulberry Mountain
Ozark, AR
Performers include: STS9, Umphrey's McGee, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Lettuce, Dr. Dog, Papadosio, and many others.

June 12-15, 2014
Manchester, TN

Telluride Bluegrass Festival
June 19-22, 2014
Telluride, CO
Performers include: Sam Bush Band, Bela Fleck & The Colorado Symphony, Brandi Carlile, Yonder Mountain String Band, The Del McCoury Band, Leftover Salmon, Greensky Bluegrass, and many others.

High Sierra
July 3-6, 2014
Quincy, CA

July 23-27, 2014
Floyd, VA
Performers include: Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite, Ms. Lauryn Hill, ray LaMontagne, Thievery Corporation, Ziggy Marley, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Buddy Guy, Robert Randolph & The Family Band, and many others

Gathering of the Vibes
July 31-August 1, 2014
Seaside Park
Bridgeport, CT

Lockin' Music Festival
September 4-7, 2014
Arrington, VA

Catskill Chill
September 5-7, 2014
Camp Minglewood
Hancock, NY

Thanks again for stopping by. I'll be back next week with more jam. Until then, check me out on Facebook and Twitter for up to the minute concert announcements. Until next week, Jam On!


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