Railroad Earth 11.13.11
Bell’s Eccentric Café
Words & Photos By Greg Molitor (ReMIND Photography)
Michigan’s surely been blessed with bluegrass this November. A few days after Yonder Mountain String Band and The Infamous Stringdusters in Grand Rapids, November 13th found Railroad Earth bringing their mellow style of bluegrass a few miles south at Bell’s in Kalamazoo. The New Jersey sextet’s work was largely unfamiliar to me before the show, and I was interested to see what all the hubbub was about. My friends’ excitement intrigued me even more during the days leading up. We’d chat, and when the topic would arise, a simple joyous exclamation of ”RAILROAD!” from them would spark my interest further and build the already peaking anticipation for the mysterious show that would hopefully expand upon my understanding of why this band is so sought after.
When I arrived to Bell’s with my good friends Keenan and Jackie, the venue was already near capacity. I tend to miss the bigger events there, but I can’t remember ever seeing Bell’s that full for any show I’d been to. The mood in the room was light with smiles abound in every directions I turned. The people were ready, and around 9:00 PM, Railroad hit the stage for their first of two sets. As he did most of the night, guitarist Todd Sheaffer took the lead vocals on the band’s first offering, “Long Way To Go”. It was clear from the onset that this band does something to people that goes far beyond the notes they produce. Perhaps it’s the casualness with which the band does their work, but even for a typically callous skeptic like myself, the music brought about a feeling of welcoming warmth that was uncanny yet incredibly well received among the Bell’s faithful.
Instrumentally, violinist / guitarist Tim Carbone was the one to watch. His use of melody never took the spotlight from other bandmates; instead, the band worked around his subtle lines, drawing in the audience with their relaxed style of jamming. Throughout the show, moments were never forced as Railroad time after time build their improvs through careful listening and use of restraint. This is what great bands do. The best musicians know when to sit back and let others take the lead, and when the time is right, spring into action themselves. Memorable highlights included a beautiful dueling violin segment during “Little Bit O‘ Me” with the help of Tim Weed, as well as “The Forecast -> Stillwater Getaway” that featured the show’s most energetic pickin’. There wasn’t a point throughout the show where I was completely blown away by Railroad’s playing, but over-the-top instrumentals aren’t their game. The show was highly successful on many levels, and I’m sure that I’ll find myself at one of their shows the next time they grace the Mitten with their Americana.
Railroad Earth Live at Bells Brewery on November 13, 2011.
Set 1: Long Way To Go, Lovin' You, RV, Mourning Flies, Little Bit O' Me, Gold Rush, The Forecast - > Stillwater Getaway
Set 2: Walk Beside Me, Mission Man, The Good Life, The Hunting Song, Potter's Field, Colorado, Hard Livin', Everything Comes Together
Encore: Ragtime Annie Lee
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