Railroad Earth | 09.26.08 | S.F.

Words by: Dennis Cook | Images by: Susan J. Weiand

Railroad Earth :: 09.26.08 :: Fillmore Auditorium :: San Francisco, CA

Railroad Earth :: 09.27 :: San Francisco
Walking into The Fillmore last Friday, I didn't know the titles of many songs or even all the band member's names in Railroad Earth. What I did know was that over the course of the past two years I've found myself increasingly smitten by them each time I caught a show. While having not made the full "join-the-club" leap, I arrived determined to really focus and see if I couldn't figure out what was so freakin' compelling about these acoustic instrumented gypsy rockers.

It didn't take one song before I felt slathered in joy jelly, embraced by music of wide scope and bounteous spirit. It's a sensation I can only compare to the more intimate moments I spent with Jerry Garcia and the Dead in the '80s, a feeling of resounding well being manifested by the music and shining humanity of players with real American wit and soul. This Dead echo in RRE isn't a sound-a-like thing, either. It's their stretch into myriad facets of American popular music, from immigrant fiddle tunes to scratchy country blues to jazz fusion to '50s rock and around the bend to scoop up bluegrass, teary eyed folk and plain old exploratory instrumental music (these boys, especially during the full-on jams, are a worthy descendent of the often-uncredited Oregon). While America's rep as a melting pot has simmered down in the recent years of immigrant bias and border guarding, it is poignant to hear a band that embodies the best parts of this concept. While not expressly political, there is an empathetic, freedom embracing mojo to what Railroad Earth creates.

I should note that these lofty thoughts sprung into my head whilst I was skipping a light hippie jig during first set closer "Right In Tune," which charmingly announced, "I got no worries/ I got no doubts/ 'Cause you got it all worked out/ You know your part and I know mine/ And we're right in tune, me and you." There is a shared faith residing in the bottom of this tune and many others by this band, a feeling that together there isn't much that can't be accomplished. As a natural cynic, my knee-jerk reaction to such sentiments is usually to scoff and distance myself in some way. It's a stupid defense mechanism and the fact that RRE weaves past my defenses, and clearly those of the roiling dancers around me this night, is special. Hope is grasped in tiny snatches, dandelion petals whipping past in strong wind, and we're damn lucky if we get a hold of it at all. Breathing crisp night air out front during setbreak I felt positively stuffed full of hope, and it was all Railroad's doing.

Todd Sheaffer - RRE :: 09.27 :: San Francisco
Watching them with fresh eyes at the start of the second set, I was again struck by the overwhelming professionalism they exude. I've never seen them really chuff up a gig, and an off night for RRE is likely a very good night for many bands. They seem aware of how much chemistry and creative crackle exists between them. Lead singer-guitarist-songwriter Todd Sheaffer, Tim Carbone (violin, vocals), John Skehan (mandolin, vocals), Andy Goessling (multi-instrumentalist, vocals), Johnny Grubb (bass) and Carey Harmon (drums, vocals) run as a pack, shining when they step into the light but largely preferring to conjure their own brand of rolling thunder, which they did pretty much from top to tails at The Fillmore, swinging from high energy pick-a-thons (though blissfully free of bluegrass' usual showiness) to honest weepies like "L'il Bit O' Me," with its refrain of "Oh, little baby" choking up the many parents in attendance.

They are so humongously accessible that it's tough to fathom why they aren't pouring from radios everywhere, except that the institution, the recording industry in large part really, has turned its back on raw talent like RRE, unable to package real adults making fantastically crafted music in the age of music videos, instant sensations and short term affairs. For all the bands slammed with the dreaded "Next Grateful Dead" tag, Railroad Earth may be the best contender if only because their arc somewhat mirrors the Dead's own. Seven years into their existence and one sees the crowds growing, the fierceness of their followers intensifying (go hard, hobos!) and their music growing simultaneously more sophisticated and catchy with each release. This night drew heavily from this year's Amen Corner, and they injected fresh life into what were already very winning songs. And that's maybe the nut-meat here: their songs are future classics with the depth and potential to last lifetimes, which is what ultimately makes new generations clutch tight to what Hunter, Garcia, Weir, Barlow, etc. created together. It's hard to write music that feels and spits like folklore and Railroad Earth offered up a nigh ceaseless stream of these kind of long distance ditties.

Tim Carbone - RRE :: 09.27 :: San Francisco
Add to their high songcraft a smooth group interaction and soloing that sidesteps the usual music ego, where top shelf players like this peacock strut rather than serve some greater musical good. Watching Carbone and Skehan play pass the potato all night was a joy, and it never felt like any part took something away from the song unfolding around them. And the same could be said for the back-and-forth between every guy onstage. Their sound touches on a crazy quilt of artists: David Bromberg, Stealers Wheel, Leo Kottke, John David Souther, Paul Simon, John Prine, Gram Parsons and, most certainly, Workingman's-period Dead. There's also something of Duke Ellington's dance band concerts and antique sea shanties floating in their infectious air. Perhaps most surprising to me was how they played with the same energies I associate with something like Handel's Messiah or Beethoven's "Ode To Joy" in his Ninth Symphony. It's massive stuff to get one's paws around but they managed to rip off hunks of that kind of cosmic goodness netted by notes and words and lob it all over us. Like I said, joy jelly.

So, it was with a head full of big thoughts and a body weary from rumbling and shaking for several hours, I practically skipped into the street, pulling money from my pockets for the first real life hobo that asked me, feeling the need to share the fine feeling inside in some tangible way. I hope he got wine with my offering. I won't soon forget this feeling or miss another chance to tap into it again when Railroad Earth plays. They are a true surprise for me, not a band I thought I was going to love and one that brought me in for a long kiss with their music, their craftsmanship and warm personalities. And their hardcore fanbase doesn't hurt either. Heading toward my car, the title of a Grand Funk Railroad album produced by venerable freak Frank Zappa popped into my skull. When asked why he wanted to work with them, Zappa told them he heard "good singing, good playing" in them. And leaving behind all the big thoughts, that's probably what's most appealing about RRE – a guarantee of good singing and good playing, night after night after night.

The Watson Twins :: 09.27 :: San Francisco
A few quick thoughts on opener The Watson Twins before I dash. The sisters played with a full band and offered up a fuller, more adult contemporary sound than what they wrought with pal Jenny Lewis on 2006's Rabbit Fur Coat. Offering elemental come-ons like "the sky opened up and talked to me" and a mood/vibe not far from Aimee Mann and other quality L.A. pop sculptors, the Watsons offered a rustle of cymbals, acoustic strumming, electric guitar tickle and other subtle pleasures that seemed a little lost on the crowd, who were largely over-anxious for RRE to appear and didn't pause to drink in the Watson Twins cool water.

"I'm digging you right now," said one of the sisters mid-set. "I'm feeling love for you right now." And chatting with them briefly after the set it was clear they really do dig San Francisco people. And if you tuned in you caught not only their own late '70s Joni Mitchell worthy swooners but also a keen cover of The Cure's "Just Like Heaven." There is also a bit of ol' Roy Orbison's melancholy blues-pop to this pair, who were lovely if one just gave 'em a chance.

Railroad Earth :: 09.26.08 :: Fillmore Auditorium :: San Francisco, CA
Set One: Happy Song, Stillwater Getaway, L'il Bit O' Me, Just So You Know, Came Up Smilin', New Lee Highway Blues - > Fiddlee, Right In Tune
Set Two: Lois Ann , Peace on Earth, Seven Story Mountain, Hard Livin', 420, The Forecast, Lovin' You, Mighty River, Magic Foot - > Luxury Liner
Encore: Been Down This Road

Continue reading for more images of RRE at The Fillmore...

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okstatepanic starstarstarstarstar Wed 10/1/2008 05:33PM
+7 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Great Review. I stumbled across these guys a couple years ago at Wakarusa and was blown away. I went to see bands like Mule and Assembly of Dust and left saying that RRE was the best show of the weekend. I hope many others get out and see what people are quickly finding out. These guys are amazing.

mmmFriedFrogLegs starstarstarstarstar Wed 10/1/2008 05:44PM
+5 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


truly a great live act, never seen these guys play a bad show . nice review . interesting lineup as well, maybe its cuz i havent seen them in a year or more

MtnRydr starstarstarstar Wed 10/1/2008 06:34PM
+5 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


That would be Johnny Grubb on the bass -- a solid guy and an outstanding bass player. He has been playing with RRE since 2003 or so. As expected, it was a great weekend at the Fillmore. Both nights were phenomenal, but Saturday was through the roof. We'll see you hobos for the NYE run in Portland!

wisco07 starstarstar Wed 10/1/2008 07:11PM
+4 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

I see these guys every chance I get. A few years ago a friend argued with me that they werent really bluegrass because they had a drummer. Call it whatever you want, but RRE is one of my favorite live acts right now.

gratefullybred starstarstarstarstar Wed 10/1/2008 07:26PM
+4 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


i played before these guys at all good festival, and they blew me away. definetly one of the better performances ive seen, ill be going to see them play again and again..

the fact they have played will phil is a testament to what amazing musicians these guys are..

Phattiebace Wed 10/1/2008 08:06PM
+5 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

A really great review for RRE, does them perfect justice...there's truly something mystical about this band that I love... YMSB>RRE at canopy club, whos with me here? CANT FUCKIN WAIT!!!

hipchc starstarstarstarstar Wed 10/1/2008 08:17PM
+5 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Wonderful article, Dennis! I absolutely LOVE that Jambase had someone like you cover the show.. Someone who wasn't familiar with them or their music. It goes to prove that Railroad Earth is a truly marvelous band with unspeakable talent and that they are gaining new fans every day!

Sue ~ your photography at the show was stellar, as always!! You always take the most awesome pix!!!

jamrad starstarstarstarstar Wed 10/1/2008 08:43PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

thank you Railroad Earth for another great night of dancing in SF. i didn't see friday night's show, but the one on saturday. these guy's just keep getting better everytime i see them. thank you.

daddyfatsack Wed 10/1/2008 09:31PM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

I will be at the Canopy Club, its one of my favorite small venues in the midwest! I Saww RRE @ the house of blues a few weeks ago and it was one of the best shows ive been to all year...and RRE is not bluegrass.

AZ~*Droo* Thu 10/2/2008 06:22AM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


^^^its lovely epicgrass

Treetophigh Thu 10/2/2008 06:47AM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


^^ epic grass, ilike that (as well as spacegrass- cornmeal and jamgrass- yonder)

i too will be at the canopy and then st louis with them the next night (and little feat)

its gunna be an amazing weekend

krizaster Thu 10/2/2008 07:08AM
+5 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Great to see the positive review and comments for this band. I love the picture of the drummer. He always looks totally blissed out when they're playing. I love seeing musicians really into what they are playing. It really adds to the good vibes.

moephishH2O starstarstarstarstar Thu 10/2/2008 08:12AM
+5 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Great review and pics! These guys get better and better every time I see them. Wish I could have made it to the Fillmore!

gregboyer starstarstarstarstar Thu 10/2/2008 08:14AM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

I've these guys about 20 times between when I lived in MD and Magfests. They are always a great time and they just get better as the years go by. I wish they would play Columbus, Dayton, or Cincinnati some time. It is impossible to pigeonhole their music as any certain genre but I would definitely consider it to be uplifting. You will always leave a RRE show feeling better about life than before.

RedHeaven starstarstarstarstar Thu 10/2/2008 08:20AM
+6 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


ahhhhhhhh what can I say, another creative inspiring review by Cook, and more incredible shots by Sue. My sentiments exactly. Both nights were amazing at the Fillmore. Although I personally would pick Friday, Saturday was by far the better playing and more intense jams. Jeff Miller of New Monsoon came out on Sat for Hunting Song and just typhooned the earthy landings. Both nights had their soft and crazy, like RRE shows should. Saturday just had the sound dialed in even more, and Todds vocals shined brighter than I have ever heard them in my 6 years seeing this band out west. The crowd both nights were hobo-licious. Dennis Cook talks about sharing with hobos after the show. Funny, I gave a nug to this rapper who coined us "the nicest group of folk outside the Fillmore in years". It was definitely a weekend of good SF synchronicities as well and a glow hung over the fog sun dreams of the bay area with September on the railroad Earth.

gregboyer starstarstarstarstar Thu 10/2/2008 08:26AM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

I just found out Newport, KY is right across the river. I'm there!

Mark Price former NBA star Thu 10/2/2008 08:33AM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Mark Price former NBA star

Saw these guys at Yarmony Grass and was blown away.

peej starstarstarstarstar Thu 10/2/2008 08:46AM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Exactly what I was thinkin' the whole weekend. I was slathered in "Joy Jelly" all night saturday. Railroad Earth's music speak to the collective heart, probably because it comes directly from it as well.

willydog Thu 10/2/2008 08:50AM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


I used to be on the fence about this band. I went saturday night and WOW!! They are on fire right now. I was moved by the vibe in the room. All smiles. The playing of the mando creature was inescapable and Carbone was lights our all night. I am a fan!!!! Go Railroad.

r0llingst0ned starstarstarstarstar Thu 10/2/2008 09:30AM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


I was at the House of Blues show in Chicago. These guys are the best jamgrass band out there right now - pure musical bliss! And Tim Carbone's a fucking rockstar!!

mcbacuma Thu 10/2/2008 10:43AM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Never miss a chance to see these guys when they come around. I hope they make it back to the NW sometime soon.

farquha Thu 10/2/2008 10:57AM
Show -5 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!
Wild Turkey starstarstarstarstar Thu 10/2/2008 11:07AM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Wild Turkey

Off the fence as well, the Denver Ogden shows got me on board. They are the next Railroad Earth!

Ter starstarstarstarstar Thu 10/2/2008 11:19AM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Hey ya'll - RRE announched their New Year's run yesterday. It is going to be a great run to bring in the New Year. Got my tix yesterday and I hear they are nearly sold out. Cheers to the EARTH! NYE @ The Aladdin Theater in Portland OR... Venue only holds 620 at max.

RedHeaven starstarstarstarstar Thu 10/2/2008 11:54AM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Theyre totally the next Railroad Earth! While I was always a huge Cheese fan, I always felt closer to what RRE is. Cheese does excel at mixing it up and variety like a good jam band should, but I always loved RRE's attention to detail and honing in on THEIR sound as opposed to being all over the map. Vocals too, are of utmost importance to me personally, which always pushed me to be a little more into RRE than SCI. Depends on what you want and like more....nobodys right or wrong, its all just up to taste.

With that said, I got my 3 night pass for Oregon NYE!!!

BoboJeffie starstarstarstarstar Thu 10/2/2008 11:56AM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

And dont forget; These guys make songwriting important again. Great article and pix!

breckenridgejam starstarstarstarstar Thu 10/2/2008 12:11PM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


I love joy jelly!

rider11 starstarstarstarstar Thu 10/2/2008 12:16PM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

great band on the rise, great review and pics, thank you!!

MtnRydr Thu 10/2/2008 01:35PM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


As far as RRE not having enough tunes or variety (as one commenter posted above), I could not disagree more. In only 7 years, this band has put out 4 albums and a double-disc live album and the number and variety of high quality songs is beyond impressive. Todd is an amazing poet/song writer and, as anyone familiar with his solo stuff can attest to, there are many beautiful songs just waiting to be wrapped in RRE goodness (and many more to come, no doubt). The ocassional cover song, whether it's Jerry, GD, Robert Earl Keen, Tom Waits or the Doors, is always a new twist on an old favorite. I am excited to see what the future holds for these guys. They certainly deserve whatever success comes their way.

Great photography and review. Only one minor error in the piece which was promptly corrected.

Dennis, you hit the nail on its head when you said: "their songs are future classics with the depth and potential to last lifetimes."

Onward and upward!

Lightenupyourload starstarstarstarstar Thu 10/2/2008 02:25PM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Great review! One of the most well-written I've read on here in a long time. Being a huge fan of both SCI and Railroad Earth I don't see how any comparison can be made - apples and oranges. RRE is in a class by itself, hard to categorize as most good music is. I've been listening to the new CD over and over since it came out - at first I thought the songs were not as well-written and deep as previous albums but the more I listen the more I like. I sure hope they make it down to Florida again soon. SpringFest is too far away!

futhepharmer starstarstarstarstar Thu 10/2/2008 05:20PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


One of my favorite bands of the moment. Listening to these guys is like "sitting on the front porch of the world". They are the musical tonic for wot ails you. And the medicine only works better with repeated listenings. Like someone above noted. You ALWAYS leave a RRE show feeling all the better for having seen it. I'm on their street team and I must say that Gayle, their promotions person is one of the most awesome folks around as is all of the band members. Tim Carbone is an awesome fiddle player and a most proficient producer. He is producing the next album of some friends of mine, another great band called Boris Garcia. check 'em out!

RedHeaven starstarstarstarstar Thu 10/2/2008 06:56PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Carbone is multi dimensional splendor! Skehan has a mando personality that tears through fog. But its Andy Goessling's multi instrumental talents with that deep hearted dobro that gives me the most goosebumps. He might be my favorite musician to watch of all time.

Vanstheman starstarstarstarstar Fri 10/3/2008 06:02AM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

This is how to write a review----good or bad.Superbly written!!! Ocassionally the Dead,Cheese,Phish,Dylan,etc...have an off night.Been to 20+ plus RRE shows and they always deliver----fresh and fun!!!See ya in Birmingham and Chattanooga.

mattguff9 starstarstarstarstar Fri 10/3/2008 07:21PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


caught RRE in MPLS a couple weeks ago and they blew me out of the water. WOW! Much improved over their Varsity Theater show a couple yrs ago. The crowd was focused and rowdy and everyone danced (Cabooze kix a$s). They were supper tight and every musician took clever, tight solos. The song selection connected with the audience and the flow was smooth. It was a nice balance of improvisational instrumentals and "sing-along" songwriting. GREAT REVIEW!

willydog Sun 10/5/2008 05:02PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Looking for a copy of this show. Lack of tapers at the Fillmore unexpected. gregnsara@comcast.net

haggardphunk Sun 10/5/2008 10:50PM
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i saw RRE this month and i wasnt digging it. i actually left early. seen em a few times but i just couldnt get into it. ill definitely give them more chances tho

hoboholic starstarstarstarstar Mon 10/6/2008 12:18PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

The connection with the Dead is what most people hear, yet it's hard to explain. This is my take: Bill Monore started a style which for years nobody else really did or expanded on. But now there "bluegrass" bands which clearly owe a lot to Monore, yet don't sound like the Bluegrass Boys that much. RRE aren't the Dead, anymore than New Grass Revival is Bill Monore, but finally somebody has done best tribute to the Grateful Dead ever: Take the essence of their beauty and sound and come with something fresh & new.

RedHeaven starstarstarstarstar Wed 10/8/2008 12:29PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Goodness I believe Todds songwriting and this band are tributing themselves....they just have a heart and soul not unlike the Dead. The focus is more true though, and the Dead were more journey men.

TAPERS!! HELP!!! I swear I saw a few in the room. Recordings, where? Livedownloads? HELP! THey could at least release Sat. show on livedownloads.....if I were the band I would want the world to hear that awesomeness.