Bluegrass-folk outfit Railroad Earth has composed a long and winding story throughout its twenty-plus years on the road. Like Jack Kerouac, the inspiration for the band’s name, the band’s music paints vibrant hues of starry-eyed dreamers, barefoot dancing in the grass, early mornings, late evenings, driving the country’s lost highways, drifting from town to town, embracing the surprises lying in wait over the horizons of rolling Americana landscapes, and making meaningful moments out of the mundane.
Throughout those travels, the band’s love for its home and humble beginnings in the Garden State has remained constant. The current lineup consists of Todd Sheaffer on lead vocals and acoustic guitar, Tim Carbone on violins and electric guitar, John Skehan on mandolin, bouzouki, and piano, Carey Harmon on drums and percussion, Andrew Altman on upright and electric bass, Matt Slocum on organ and piano, and Mike Robinson on banjo, guitar, steel. Vocals were a group effort as nearly everybody on stage contributed toward to the harmonies while they rotated through a stockpile of instruments.
Fans from every direction made the pilgrimage towards the outskirts of the Big Apple to Jersey City’s White Eagle Hall for a Thursday night of acoustic merriment. Surprisingly, the seven-piece band merely grazed the surface of its most recent release, 2022’s All For the Song, instead opting for a setlist of classic cuts spanning the expansive valleys of their celebrated careers.
Railroad Earth kicked things off with “Saddle of the Sun”, the closing track off 2002’s Bird in a House, before progressing into a trio of tunes from the group’s 2001 debut, The Black Bear Sessions, as “Head”, “Lordy Lordy”, and “Chains” appeared in identical sequence of their track list—minus “Seven Story Mountain” (foreshadowing)…
One last classic emerged in “The Forecast” before Railroad earth fast forwarded into the more modern selections as 2017’s “Raven’s Child” took flight into “Blues Highway”, the first selection of the night from the new record.
Wrapping up the first set, Railroad Earth jammed out on “Stillwater Getaway”, yet another cut from The Black Bear Sessions, before punctuating the frame with a return to All For the Song for a conclusive “Come and Go Moon”.
All For the Song was cathartic undertaking for the group as first album released following the passing of founding band member Andy Goessling. With the help of producer Anders Osborne, RRE was able to channel the spirits New Orleans to embrace the pain of loss and heal through music, nature, and reflection on shared experience, and that sincerity was notably present on this “Come and Go Moon”.
After a short break, the seven-piece band returned with a swingin’ take on “Just So You Know” before celebrating the state’s legalization with “420 Hornpipe”. The band then filled in the blank left in the Black Bear Session portion of the evening with “Seven Story Mountain” before jumping ahead to 2010 with a pairing of “Potter’s Field” and Lone Craft Farewell”.
Like a trail through the woods, the music meandered through “Said What You Mean” before featuring one last take on their newest album with “Runnin’ Wild”. Winding down the second set, Railroad Earth covered The Waterboys’ “Fisherman’s Blues” before finishing off the set with “12 Wolves” and a classic finale of “Dandelion Wine”.
Returning for encore, the band members resumed their respective positions for a emotional tribute to their home state with “Donkey for Sale”. The opening lyrics of the song glorify other states, holding a jaded perspective toward Jersey (“California is shinin’ bright / Colorado, what a delight … / … Pennsylvania is lookin’ sweet / New Jersey ain’t what it used to be”) but it eventually evolves to conclude with a humble admittance that “New Jersey is where I want to be!”
Railroad Earth rolls onto DelFest this weekend with two consecutive nights of jam-grass on Friday and Saturday, May 27th–28th. For the band’s full touring schedule, click here. Scroll down for a gallery of photos from the show via Otis Sinclair.
Setlist: Railroad Earth | White Eagle Hall | Jersey City, NJ | 5/26/22
Set One: Saddle of the Sun > Head, Lordy Lordy, Chains, The Forecast > Raven’s Child > Blues Highway > Stillwater Getaway, Come and Go Moon
Set Two: Just So You Know > 420 Hornpipe, Seven Story Mountain, Potter’s Field > Lone Croft Farewell, Said What You Mean > Runnin’ Wild, Fisherman’s Blues, 12 Wolves, Dandelion Wine
Encore: Donkey for Sale