Railroad Earth 7.13.13

Boulder Theater
Boulder, CO

Words & Photos By Kevin Hahn (Split Open & Shoot Photography)

Here in our great state of Colorado, bands seem to come and go like our ever-decreasing amount of afternoon thunderstorms. Buses filled to the brim with gear, merchandise, and musical instruments stroll from one mountain town to another ripping and roaring their way through musical venues that we have all come to love and call home. Towns such as Breckenridge, Steamboat Springs and Aspen all are able to pull in national touring acts due to their magnificent beauty, great food and close proximity to Colorado’s music epi-center, the Denver Metro area. Year after year and month after month bands from all over the world head to the mountains of Colorado to usually embark on a multiple city run which can take them from Pueblo in the South all the way to Estes Park up North. Railroad Earth is a perfect example of one of these national touring acts who make an annual pilgrimage to the mountains of Colorado to blow our minds musically and tickle our fancy with their beautiful harmonies and soothing vocals.

This most recent Colorado mini-tour had the New Jersey natives hitting up the world famous Red Rocks Amphitheatre for their first ever headlining show at the historic venue. The following night they would headline my favorite venue, the Boulder Theater, and then finally up to Aspen to play at the Belly Up Tavern. The jam-grass quintet has a large following here in Colorado and this has been increasing year after year with each mountain show the Railroad boys put on. Unfortunately, I was not able to make it to the Rocks to see the Jersey boy’s rip through their first two-set headlining performance, but I was lucky enough to score two tickets to the next nights sold-out show at the Boulder Theater. I personally think the Boulder Theater and all that encompasses it (staff, location, parking, etc..) is top notch and I truly believe it would be hard for someone to find a more beautiful and well-kept downtown venue in such a large city. I arrived just in time to get a pre-show beverage and headed down towards the front of the stage to try and capture these jam-grass icons in full flight.

The first set was a bit slow for my taste as Railroad went through songs such as “Bread and Water,” “Right in Tune,” and “When Everything Comes Together” which are all great ballads, but not the raging jam-grass I wanted. “Fisherman’s Blues” was definitely the highlight of the set for me personally, as lead singer Todd Sheaffer showed off his vocal prowess while engaging the crowd as best as he knows how. This song also allows for every member of the band to take a turn soloing and truly show the crowd what they are made of, musically of course. Fiddle extraordinaire and the captain of the band, Tim Carbone, took to center stage to try and rip the strings right off his instruments as his passion for performing live was evident from the first note he plucked. John Skehan, mandolin aficionado, couldn’t keep the smile off his face for more than a second as he traded harmony-building riffs back and forth with Carbone and Sheaffer. Standing on the far left side of the stage (when looking at it from the crowd) Skehan provides Railroad Earth with unmatched consistency, as it seems that most jams either start with him or revolve around a riff or chord change he created. (To put it bluntly, John Skehan is a mandolin wizard because of both playing skills and old-school looks.)

As the first set winded down the music loving Boulderites rushed towards the cool air outside and most knew that the upcoming second set was going to be one for the ages. “Long Way To Go” came raging through the Boulder Theaters speaker’s with a fiery purpose and the jam-grass party was up and going once again. From the get go this set already had more energy than the first and I knew that this was going to be more of the Railroad Earth I have come to love and enjoy. “Dandelion Wine,” “Walls of Time,” and one of my personal favorite Railroad songs, “Bird in a House,” were part of the first rotation of the second set and I couldn’t have been more pleased with how each one of these was played. It was the last part of the closing set that truly brought the house down though. The combination of “Goat” and “Hard Livin” is an absolute monster of a way to close a Railroad show, and this pairing definitely lived up to the hype. Bass player Andrew Altman is highlighted prominently in both of these pieces and his bluegrass funky-ness can be heard with each deep pluck of his upright bass string. Multi-instrumentalist and overall musical fucking badass Andy Goessling jumps from acoustic guitar, to alto saxophone, to dobro, and back to the sax in both of these pieces and his “Out of this world” playing drove the Boulder crowd into an absolute dancing frenzy. Altman and Goessling can sometimes take a back seat to the three more prominent band members, Sheaffer, Carbone and Skehan, due to their quiet and calm stage presence, but these two songs showed those who didn’t know already how talented and amazing they really are.

As “Elko” rang through the theater and closed this night with a raging pick-fest, I couldn’t help but just smile at what I had just witnessed. Not only did Railroad Earth rip through this Boulder Theater show with determination and musical passion, but also all of those who attended could be seen continuing the sing-along/dance party long into the beautiful Colorado night. Railroad Earth will be back to Colorado sooner rather than later (hopefully), as I truly believe our Colorado LOVE for them is unmatched in most places. And when they do come back to blow our minds, soothe our souls, and make us smile uncontrollably, make sure to show up and have a good time. I promise it not only will be like everything has come together, but all that hard living you have endured recently will seem to float away just like a beautiful Colorado bird enjoying his/her mountain home.

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