Bama Theatre hosts Railroad EarthBy Sarah Cole | 01/30/2012 11:09pm
For a band, it’s an age-old story: A group of musicians come together and establish a sound. They spend months to years traveling the country and producing songs in search of that one person or performance that’ll guide their musical career. For most, it never happens, but for New Jersey-based Railroad Earth, that journey led to greater things.
It all started back in 2001, when members Tim Carbone (violin, vocals), John Skehan (mandolin, vocals), Andy Goessling (guitar, banjo, dobro, mandolin, flute, pennywhistle, saxophones and vocals), Carey Harmon (drums, hand percussion) and Andrew Altman (upright bass) spent the summer throwing “picking parties,” as Carbone referred to them, at Goessling’s house.
Eventually, lead singer, songwriter and guitarist Todd Sheaffer joined one of the sessions. The group played a few of his songs and discovered that, together, they held something different.
“We were all like, ‘Hey man, that sounds pretty good,'” Carbone said.
Earth manager Brian Ross proposed the guys start a band. He suggested the name Railroad Earth, taken from the Jack Kerouac poem “October in the Railroad Earth.” The group grew from there.
A month after forming, the bluegrass-rock sextet recorded a five-song untitled demo featuring Sheaffer’s tunes. Ross pushed the album to a number of music festivals. Next thing they knew, they were playing for a crowd of over 10,000 people at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Telluride, Colo. It was their 10th show as the group Railroad Earth.
“It happened pretty quickly,” Carbone said. “It’s like we worked our whole lives to become an overnight success, but that’s just how it worked out.”
According to Carbone, the group came onto the scene at just the right time. Entering the jam band circuit with a musical cluster of styles and sounds earned them a spot among some of the top jam bands in the nation as well as thousands of avid fans.
The base of their sound is a smooth, American folk harmony. On top, rich rock mixed with melodic bluegrass, light-beat jazz and poetic Celtic elements, all of which compliment the tranquility of the band’s harmonizing vocals and the intricate imagery of each musical movement.
In a word, their sound is “Transamericana,” as Carbone put it, a compilation of each member’s own personal influence.
“It’s not just music based upon American folk,” Carbone said. “It’s more than that. It’s Americana, yet its base transcends all of that.”
For Earth, no two shows are the same. Each one produces a different take on the same song, a result of their unique relationship as friends and as musicians.
“We’re all dialed into the same thing at the same time,” Carbone said. “We use our music as a way to explore, so it works out really well. [Our music] is like conversation taken to a higher art.”
The band will visit Tuscaloosa for the second time in their musical career Wednesday at the Bama Theatre, thanks to Chris Bently and brothers Andrew and Kevin Wilhoite of Grass Roots Productions.
After following the band for some time, Bently, Andrew and Kevin headed to Earth’s recent Birmingham show to convince them to perform as the headliner for Grass Roots Productions’ first big event. The band agreed to help Productions’ goal of bringing “good, live music to Tuscaloosa,” as Bently put it.
“There’s so many guys who play a variety of instruments in the band,” Andrew said. “Just seeing and hearing the talent they store is truly a great experience. Anyone who’s into music of any fashion is sure to have a great time.”
Doors open at 7 p.m. with the opening act, The Black Lillies, starting at 7:30. Railroad Earth will take the stage at 8:30. Tickets are available online at brownpapertickets.com or at the Theatre’s box office.
If You Go
What: Railroad Earth and The Black Lillies
When: Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Bama Theatre