Railroad Earth in Ann Arbor, MI
Words, Photos & Videos By J-man
Fresh off of the release of their new album, Railroad Earth rolled into Ann Arbor to play the legendary Ark. The Ark is a small four hundred seater folk venue located on Main St. I arrived at the venue about an hour before the show and headed around back to Railroad Earth's bus to meet fiddle master Tim Carbone. The bus was nice. Seemed like a solid means to travel the country. Tim and I reviewed some material for a project that we are working on, had a beer and I began to get excited for the show.
I have seen Railroad Earth a plethora of times. From festivals, to solo shows, my total I would assume exceeds twenty times. I really like what they do. I think it's enjoyable... But I have never really had one of those incredible show experiences at an RRE show. One of the most amazing things about seeing live music, is the connection one feels to the music. I typically feel some connection to the rhythm, notation, and melodies of most shows, even if minimal. But want continues to draw me back time and time again, is the desire for that rare moment of extreme bliss. In total I may achieve that level of emotional stimuli ten times a year... and I see a lot of live music. However, that night in Ann Arbor I had one of those blissful experiences.
I entered the Ark and walked up the staircase, noticing goosebumps on my arms. I smiled. At the top of the stairs I was surprised at how many folks were mingling in the foyer. I glanced to my left to see a decent line at the member booth/concession stand. I made a right down the long hallway of photographs from previous Ark performances and performers. One can not help but get a feeling of nostalgia when passing through that hall. I enter the main room and once again was taken back by the amount of people gearing up for the show. Before the show began I had a chance to meet and talk with a couple of bloggers, tour cats and photographer Ben Slayter who was there to shoot the show.
As the lights went down, the mad scramble was on. The bloggers, tour cats and photographers all went in opposite directions to prepare for Railroad Earth...
The energy was high in the Ark and the smiles were big. Railroad began to paint their musical picture, using their sweet delicate sound. A sound so smooth and mellow that I almost immediately fell into a trance. I attempted to start taking pictures... But it was useless, I was already sucked in. I shook my head, pulled myself together and headed to the back of the theater style seating for some photos. Their sweet sound became a little more intense with the incorporation of vocals. In between the vocal phrasings, the melodies criss crossed and intertwined beautifully... And so the bliss began.
I was impressed with the exchanges between John (mandolin), Andy (several instruments), and Tim (fiddle). They were so precise and calculated. As soon as one would come to the end of their riff, one of the others would seamlessly pick right up. John's playing was really strong. I thought Andy sounded just about perfect, and I really enjoy his dobro playing. Todd's vocal's sounded soft and genuine. Carey's drumming fit well into the string mix, adding an additional base for melodic exploration, and a beat to step to.
Per usual, for me Tim Carbone's playing stood out. His smooth yet at times aggressive playing lead his fingers on a race up, down and across the neck of his fiddle yielding incredible results. It was easy to hear the influences in his playing. Some classical, some Irish and most rooted in improvisation. You could see the amount of thought, concentration and passion that Tim put into his playing. With his eyes closed, he made facial expressions that conveyed his intensity and focus.
The crowd was into it, the band was energized, and the jams were extensive. After every song the applause seemed to get louder. Finally set break came and a a good portion of the crowd made their way outside for some fresh air or a smoke. I took the opportunity to sit outside and enjoy the beautiful Ann Arbor night.
Inside the Ark, the same familiar faces wandered around in search of conversation. I sat side stage and talked to a gentleman who I have been seeing at shows for ten plus years. It was funny, in all of the times I had seen him I believe that night to be the first time that I had actually spoken to him. He expressed to me that he was really enjoying the show.
The band took the stage for the second set and once again, the Ark filled in, with what seemed to be more folks than before. The second set offered some fan favorites as I was able to gage by the reaction of the folks dancing around me. Standing next to Tim, sidestage; offered a good vantage point for me to view folks reactions in the audience. I saw so many smiles and so many people closing their eyes and getting lost. It was clear to me that there were some extremely dedicated fans in the crowd, as I saw folks mouthing the words, and wearing the Band's shirt who's show it was (Don't be that guy). People love Railroad Earth...
I noticed the seats in the mid section in front of the stage started to thin out a folks made their way to the dance floor on the side stage. The Ark was moving more than I had ever seen it move. I once again got lost in the moment...
For me the jam of the night came at the perfect moment, when I was standing directly in front of the stage and just happened to have my camera in hand, ready to record. The above video is a result of that moment. The lights started to flicker, the instrumentation loosened, and pure musical bliss was created.
At some point deep into the second set, their bass player Andrew stepped up for an extremely impressive, swing blues solo that caught me off guard. His work earlier in the evening with a bow really impressed me, but his solo... Beautiful.
Around the eleven o'clock hour, Railroad performed a two set encore. Tim bowed to his fiddle and with that, the show had come to a close. Prior to that evening, I would have said Railroad Earth is good and that you should check them out. Following that night in Ann Arbor, I would say to you; Do not miss Railroad Earth.