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 411mania » Music » Columns

Jam Central Station 5.17.14: Railroad Earth
Posted by Jeff Modzelewski on 05.17.2014

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 eleven 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.

The band continued touring heavily before taking some much needed time off in 2013. They used that time to write and record Last of the Outlaws, which was released early in 2014. The album was widely heralded as a tour de force, a great mix of old and new styles for the band. The album includes a 21 minute "suite" in the middle of the album, linking songs through shared themes without getting repetitive. It's a huge undertaking that the band pulls off exceptionally well. The album is yet another in a long line of impressive releases from the band.

Railroad Earth continues to enthrall 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.

Phish's Fuego gets release date
Phish's upcoming album Fuego, which was performed in part during Phish's Halloween set in 2013 as Wingsuit will be released on June 24. The album features 9 of the Wingsuit songs. The band has stated that, unlike previous efforts, much of this album was written collaboratively as a way to more closely mirror their live performances. The album is available for preorder.

Summer Set adds artists
The Summer Set festival added a handful of artists this week. The festival, which takes place from August 15-17 and is held in Somerset, WI, added Umphrey's McGee, Break Science, Cults, Twiddle, The Floozies, Kaskade, and many others. The lineup already featured Bassnectar, The Disco Biscuits, Wu-Tang Clan, Big Gigantic, Chromeo, and others.

Zac Brown Band to play "special" Summer Camp set
The Zac Brown Band will be playing two sets at next week's Summer Camp Festival. The band just annouced that one of those sets will be a "special" set including covers, surprises guests, and other fun things. No word if that'll be their first set or their second set.

Allie Kral and Jake Joliff to join Yonder on tour
Allie Kral and Jake Joliff will be joining Yonder Mountain String Band on their tour from Mune 26 through July 12. The band will be on the road on a co-headling tour with Railroad Earth for much of that run. This could make for some pretty amazing cross-band pollination.

Hangout Music Festival
May 16-18
Gulf Shores, AL
Performers include: The Black Keys, The Killers,Outkast, Jack Johnson, Queens of the Stone Age, Pretty Lights, The Avett Brothers, STS9, The Flaming lips, Modest Mouse, Zedd, and many others.

May 22-25, 2014
Cumberland, MD
Performers include: The Del McCoury Band, The String Cheese Incident, Ricky Skags & Bruce hornsby, Yonder Mountain String band, Railroad earth, Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn, Greensky Bluegrass, 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, Zac Brown Band, Lotus, EOTO, The Devil Makes Three, Greensky Bluegrass, and many others

Dark Star Jubilee
May 23-25, 2014
Legend Valley
Thornville, OH
Performers include: 3 nights of Dark Star Orchestra, Yonder Mountain String Band, Galactic, Keller Williams & More Than A Little, Anders Osborne, The Werks, The Wailers performing Legend, and many others

The Ville
May 23-25, 2014
Clay's Park Resort
Lawrence, OH
Performers include: 3 nights of ekoostik hookah, Flether's grove, Tropidelic, Blue Moon Soup, and many others.

Sasquatch! Music Festival
May 23-25, 2014
The Gorge
George, WA
Performers include: OutKast, The National, Queens of the Stone Age, MIA, Foster the People, Kid Cudi, Neko Case, Violent Femmes, and many others.

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

June 5-8, 2014
Mulberry Mountain
Ozark, AR
Performers include: The String Cheese Incident, Bassnectar, STS9, Umphrey's McGee, John Butler Trio, Flaming Lips, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Lettuce, Dr. Dog, Papadosio, and many others.

Mountain Jam
June 5-8, 2014
Hunter Mountain, NY
Performers include: Gov't Mule, Bob Weir & RatDog, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Gov't Mule, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Umphrey's McGee, Pretty Lights, and many others

Governor's Ball
June 6-8, 2014
Governor's Island
New York, NY
Performers include: Outkast, jack White, Vampire Weekend, The Strokes, Skrillex, Interpol, and many others.

June 12-15, 2014
Manchester, TN
Performers include: Elton John, Kanye West, Jack White, The Avett Brothers, The Flaming Lips, Neutral Milk Hotel, Zedd, Umphrey's McGee, John Butler Trio, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Yonder Mountain String Band, and many others

Snowmass Mammoth Festival
June 13-15, 2014
Snowmass Village, CO
Performers include: LEftover Salmon, chris Robinson Brotherhood, Xavier Rudd, Les Claypool's Duo De Twang, The Motet, Bonerama, and many others

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.

Firefly Music Festival
June 19-22, 2014
Dover, DE
Performers include: Foo Fighters, Outkast, Jack Johnson, Imagine Dragons, Pretty Lights, The Lumineers, Weezer, Girl Talk, Tegan and Sara, and many others.

Electric Forest
June 26-29, 2014
The Double JJ Ranch & Resort
Rothbury, MI
Performers include: The String Cheese Incident (3 nights), STS9 (2 nights), Ms. Lauryn Hill, Stephen Marley, EOTO, Anders Osborne, The Revivalists, Nahko & Medicine for the People, Rising Apalachia, Zedd, and many others.

High Sierra
July 3-6, 2014
Quincy, CA
Performers include: Widespread Panic, STS9, Ms. Lauryn Hill, Beats Antique, Trampled by Turtles, The Chris Robinson Brotherhood, and many more to be announced

July 17-20, 2014
Sunshine Daydream Memorial Park
Terra Alta, WV
Performers include: Shpongle, Beats Antique, EOTO, Conspirator, Zilla, vibesquad, Janover 7 Resunator, Cosby Sweater, Aliver Hall, Broccoli Samurai, and many others.

Northwest String Summit
July 17-21, 2014
Horning's Hideout
North Plains, OR
Performers include: Yonder Mountain String Band, The Motet, Steep Canyon Rangers, Fruition, Dead Winter Carpenters, The Rumpke Mountain Boys, and many others

July 18-20, 2014
Waterfront Park
Louisville, KY
Performers include: Outkast, Jack White, Beck, The Replacements, Ray Lamontagne, Band of Horses, Nickel Creek, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, Gary Clark Jr., Trampled by Turtles, JJ Grey & Mofro, and many others

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

Gratifly Festival
July 24-27
Westminster, SC
Performers include: Papadosio, Opilio, Gratifly Symphony, Earphunk, Earthcry, The Human Experience, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, and many others.

Gathering of the Vibes
July 31-August 1, 2014
Seaside Park
Bridgeport, CT
Performers include: Widespread Panic, John Fogerty, moe., Umphrey's McGee, The Disco Biscuits featuring Mickey Hart & Bill Kreutzmann, Ziggy Marley, Dumpstaphunk, and many others.

August 1-3, 2014
Grant Park
Chicago, IL
Performers include: Eminem, Outkast, Kings of Leon, Arctic Monkeys, White Denim, Broken Bells, Lorde, The Avett Brothers, Forster the People, The Head & The Heart, Trombone Shorty, Chromeo, and many others.

Werk Out Festival
August 7-9, 2014
Legend Valley
Thornville, OH
Performers include: The Werks (3 nights), Papadosio (2 nights), Emancipator, Future Rock Zoogma, Dopapod, Zach Deputy, and many others.

Outside Lands
August 8-10, 2014
Golden Gate Park
San Francisco, CA
Performers include: Kanye West, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, The Killers, The Flaming Lips, Spoon, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Chromeo, John butler Trio, Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers, and many others

Arise Music Festival
August 8-10, 2014
Sunrise Ranch
Loveland, CO
Performers include: Galactic, Grateful Grass, Nahko & Medicine for the People, and many others

Peach Music Festival
August 14-17, 2014
Montage Mountain
Scranton, PA
Performers include: Allman Brothers Band (2 nights), Bob Weir & RatDog, Trey Anastasio Band, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Lotus, JJ Grey & Mofro, The Revivalists, Dopapod, The Infamous Stringdusters, papadosio, and others.

August 15-17, 2014
Wellston, MI
Performers include: Greensky Bluegrass, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Steppin' In It, The Ragbirds, and many others.

Summer Set Music & Camping Festival
August 15-17
Somerset, Wi
Performers include: Bassnectar, Umphrey's McGee, Kaskade, Disco Biscuits, Wu-Tang Clan, Big Gigantic, Chromeo, Cherub, and many others

Camp Barefoot
August 21-23, 2014
Bartow, WV
Performers include: Beats Antique, Papadosio, Lettuce, Kyle Hollingsworth Band performing a tribute to Motown, Dopapod, Kung Fu, The Motet, Zach Deputy, and many others.

August 29-31, 2014
Snow Ridge Ski Resort
Turin, NY
Performers include: moe. (3 headlining nights), Lotus, O.A.R. Les Claypool's Duo de Twang, Soulive, Twiddle, Aqueous, and others.

North Coast Music Festival
August 29-31, 2014
Union Park
Chicago, IL
Performers include: Bassnectar, Kid cudi, STS9, Snoop Dogg, Dada Life, Zeds Dead, Dr. Dog, The New Deal, and many others.

Lockin' Music Festival
September 4-7, 2014
Arrington, VA
Performers include: Furthur, The String Cheese Incident, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers,The Allman Brothers Band, Phil Lesh & Friends, Widespread Panic, Umphrey's McGee, Wilco, Bob Weir & Ratdog, and many others.

Phases of the Moon Festival
September 11-14, 2014
Kennekuk County Park, IL
Performers include: Widespread Panic (2 nights), Tedeschi Trucks Band, Gov't Mule, Galactic, Leftover Salmon, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Robert Randolph and the Family Band, and many others.

Catskill Chill
September 5-7, 2014
Camp Minglewood
Hancock, NY
Performers include: Yonder Mountain String Band with Allie Kral, Lettuce, Shpongle, Karl denson's Tiny Universe, Papadosio, Dopapod, Particle, The Heavy Pets, and many others.

Grand Point North Festival
September 13-14, 2014
Waterfront Park
Burlington, VT
Performers include: Grace Potter & The Nocturnals (headlining both nights), Lake Street Dive, Trampled by Turtles, The Devil Makes Three, Dr. John, Caroline Rose, and many others.

Harvest Music Festival
October 16-18, 2014
Mulberry Mountain
Ozark, AR

Bear Creek Music & Art Festival
November 13-16, 2014
Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park
Live Oak, FL
Performers include: Umphrey's McGee, Lettuce, Dumpstaphunk, The New Mastersounds, Break Science, Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds, Turkuaz, The Main Squeez, Tauk, and many others

Strings & Sol
December 11-15, 2014
Puerto Morales, Mexico
Performers include: Yonder Mountain String Band, Railroad Earth, Leftover Salmon, The Infamous Stringdusters, and Greensky Bluegrass

Jam Cruise
January 6-11, 2015
Departs from Miami, FL

Island Exodus
January 14-18, 2015
Grand Lido Negril
Negril, Jamaica
Gov't Mule will host the event

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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