On Friday, August 25th, the Pocono Mountains echoed with incredible music delivered by Greensky Bluegrass and Railroad Earth. The event coordinators of the Sherman Theater Summer Stage created a two-day mini-festival entitled Summer’s End Fest. Friday was used as a focused co-headlining evening for the two jam-grass titans, while Saturday was reserved for local acts.
No tour is complete without a few unfortunate hiccups, as many fans in attendance purchased tickets to see the original co-headlining bill of moe. and Railroad Earth. After moe.’s beloved bassist, Rob Derhak’s, devastating cancer diagnosis forced the band to take an indefinite hiatus, Greensky was summoned from the mountains as traveling companions to Railroad Earth. Adding insult to injury, RRE’s multi-talented Andy Goessling was also taken out of the lineup due to recent medical treatments and was replaced by the genre-eclectic Matt Slocum on keys for most of the tour, though Goessling triumphantly returned to the stage last week. The overwhelmingly grassy engagement and newly formed bill has been a stellar example of musicians stepping up to the plate to help one another in times of need and unifying in the name of good music.
Greensky Bluegrass opened the show with “Burn Them” and “The Four,” which are both found on the 2014 album, If Sorrows Swim. As the sun dropped behind the Poconos creating a stellar sunset painted by the gods, the group moved into “Run or Die,” and attendees began to realize that this lightly attended tour finale would be an extremely intimate affair. Greensky’s comedic relief and dobro aficionado, Anders Beck (or “Ders” for short), commented on how meaningful it was to tour with “the band that taught them everything they know”—Railroad Earth.
The opening track to 2011’s Handguns, “Don’t Lie,” took the eighth spot of the set and showcased Greensky’s improvisational talents, with the group transforming the five-minute studio tune into a twenty-minute live monster. Founding members Dave Bruzza and Paul Hoffman went on a cosmic journey with their guitar and mandolin as the infamous light show shocked and awed first-time viewers. The quintet momentarily slowed things down with two numbers off their critically acclaimed 2016 release, Shouted, Written Down and Quoted—“Fixin’ to Ruin” and “Past My Prime”—only to launch into an energetic and extended “Kerosene.” As if the “Kerosene” wasn’t enough to ignite the fire on the lawn, Phish’s “Chalk Dust Torture” was covered in outstanding fashion to close out the set. Greensky’s love for Vermont’s fab four is no secret and their ability to bring the heat with the lack of Jon Fishman (or any drummer for that matter) is most impressive.
During the brief stage transition, fans buzzed in anticipation for the Railroad Earth set. The New Jersey natives have developed a huge following in their seventeen-year run, and many of those early fans had found themselves in the Poconos, which is only a short drive from the Garden State. “Storms” started things off and seemed oddly placed as lead singer and principle songwriter, Todd Sheaffer, sang about thunder, rain buckets, and rumbles under a clear August night sky in Pennsylvania. Nevertheless, the emotional lyrics and crisp playing hit the fans in the soft-spot that only RRE can conjure.
After a straightforward “Walk Beside Me,” the six-piece floated into “When the Sun Gets in Your Blood” from the 2014 album, Last of the Outlaws. This particular rendition saw violinist Tim Carbone make his exceptional playing look easy, while mandolinist John Skehan plucked and shined. The sun has been a topic of discussion over the past week due to the total solar eclipse casting its shadow over the land of the brave and free on Monday, August 21st—therefore this tune held a special feel on Friday night. Monday saw tens of millions of people standing together in unity to watch as the sun disappeared from the sky, giving us the feeling of togetherness that is so relatable at a Railroad show.
After a spiritually uplifting “Happy Song” and the newly released “Addin’ My Voice” off the Captain Nowhere EP, Sheaffer dedicated the fan favorite “Lovin’ You” to Melissa and Johnny Grubb on their 11th wedding anniversary. Old-school fans remember Grubb as an influential bassist in the group before playing his final show on 12/31/09. While RRE has found a strong replacement in Andrew Altman since 2010, Grubb always holds a special place in their hearts and minds of fans and members alike. Picking up steam after the emotional dedication, “Colorado” led into “Face with a Hole” into “Seven Story Mountain” to the delight of the friendly and engaged crowd. The enlightened story-telling of “Seven Story Mountain” fit perfectly in the mountain setting of the Poconos before “Everything Comes Together” closed the set and literally helped everything come together in the encore.
The Greensky “camp” and Railroad Earth “hobos” can both agree that the dual encore was instantly legendary. After driving through the majestic Delaware Water Gap during the day to arrive at the Poconos Carnival Grounds just before sunset, there was a feeling that this tour finale would be a special one before the first string was plucked. Both bands unified on stage to create the “LeapHead” mash-up, which weaved together Greensky’s “Leap Year” and Railroad’s “Head” for over a half an hour of continuous blissed-out bluegrass. Channeling a higher power, the twelve-piece band also welcomed the aforementioned Johnny Grubb on stage as the third bassist of this insane conglomeration of talent. While the waves of jamming sounded choppy at times with all those strings on stage, the energy given off by the gathering will be remembered and discussed for years to come.
Where one road ends another begins. Railroad Earth will be making appearances at four different music festivals before their three-night New Year’s Run in Colorado. Greensky Bluegrass also plans on keeping their wheels in motion with an extensive fall tour before raging in Chicago for their NYE festivities. You can check out photos from Friday’s performance in Pennsylvania below, courtesy of Sam Watson.
Setlist: Greensky Bluegrass | Pocono Mountain Carnival Grounds | Mount Pocono, PA | 8/25/2017
Set: Burn Them, The Four, Run or Die, Room Without a Roof, Bringing in the Georgia Mail, Merely Avoiding, Blood Sucking F(r)iends, Don’t Lie, Fixin’ To Ruin, Past My Prime, Nine Days, Kerosene> Chalkdust Torture
Setlist: Railroad Earth | Pocono Mountain Carnival Grounds | Mount Pocono, PA | 8/25/2017
Set: Storms, Walk Beside Me, When the Sun Gets in Your Blood, Happy Song, Addin’ My Voice, Lovin’ You*, Farewell to Isinglass –> Chasin’ a Rainbow, Colorado –> Face with a Hole –> Seven Story Mountain –> Everything Comes Together
Joint Encore^: Leap Year –> Head –> Leap Year –> Head –> Leap Year –> Head
Notes: * Played in honor of Johnny and Michelle Grubb’s 11th wedding anniversary | ^ Joint encore included all members of both bands, with a rotating trio of bass players, including Johnny Grubb. |