Railroad Earth and Hot Buttered Rum String Band | 04.08.04 | The Independent | San Francisco, CA

Things seemed relatively normal for a Thursday night alongside The Independent in San Francisco. Buses were charging along the streets, people were shuffling home or out for drinks and good times, and of course, a randy group of hobos were itching to get after it with none other then Hot Buttered Rum String Band and Railroad Earth. A thick line had formed outside the venue and sparkles and brightly colored cowboy hats shifted around to fight off the bite of the cold. Smiles aplenty and much laughter filled Divisadero Street as one by one we made our way from the cold night air into the club.

Railroad Earth
With a backdrop that brought feelings of being in the good old outdoors and a gorgeous floral arrangement gracing the front of the stage, one couldn't help but get caught up in the ambience and feel as if they were anywhere but the middle of a hustling, bustling city. Maroon and dark green hills and valleys wove their way across the painted backdrop, complete with a railroad stretching up through the peak.

9:30 hit and the ride started to roll. Hot Buttered Rum took to the stage and within seconds, golden acoustic sounds spilled out onto the crowd. Nothing beats getting buttered up by these boys, and from the first lick you could tell that lubricating our ears was on their menu.

Launching into a set of bluegrass for the soul, the boys treated the few hundred folks in attendance to flying flute solos, good old-fashioned pickin', and the best choice for a cover song I have heard in some time. After the first half of their set the boys launched into a cover of Pink Floyd's "Brain Damage" > "Eclipse." Now, I'm not sure if that was a specific nod to me, considering I was wearing a Floyd shirt, or if it was just blind luck; either way, a smile stretched across my face till it hurt and I swayed in compliance as this powerhouse group put the nail in the coffin. Hot Buttered Rum is as good as their name sounds: warm, welcoming, and completely intoxicating.

Andy Goessling of Railroad Earth
Onto Railroad Earth... Wasting absolutely no time at all, the six men in question ripped onto the stage and blew the roof off of the Independent. Shaking to sounds that stretched as far as a Celtic coastline, Irish jigs and the bluegrass shuffle broke out like well-behaved mosh pits throughout the venue. Sweat poured like beer, and water was on demand more then anything else. These guys can actually make you feel wasted without touching a drop, maybe because you're dancing so hard that not enough oxygen is making its way to the bloodstream, or possibly because your blood is racing through your veins. Sore calves, goose pimples, and damp clothes are things that you can associate with at a Railroad Earth show. Hell, if I had my way, I would have them come play three times a week at my house and I would never have to worry about having a gym membership.

First set was jam-packed of lengthy numbers showcasing all the mixings that make Railroad Earth the maestros they are. With incredible songwriting, impeccable lyrical delivery, and dance-happy solos, each member stepped up to the plate and knocked it out of the park again and again. Tim Carbone left me absolutely stunned as he tore through his fiddle like he was coaxing the devil to old Mississippi Half-Step. Andy Goessling straight up played his ass off on any instrument that made its way into his hands. Running circles around Kermit on the banjo and sporting an old-school golf hat, he and Tim were masters in creating that feeling of being at an old-school bluegrass party somewhere on the Irish coast. The way these guys play together and get me going, I'm reminded a bit of Leftover Salmon and even bits of String Cheese.

John Skehan and Todd Sheaffer
Second set brought the heat and then some. Do these guys get tired? Four water bottles in and no extracurricular activities to my head that night; I couldn't believe how intoxicating their sound was. The first song of the set stretched far past 20 minutes and left me panting and pleading for a moment to catch my breath. But that moment never came, and I found myself casting sarcastic jibber jabber in my head: "Fine... have it your way, I didn't want to rest anyway." But alas once the set was over and the lights were back on, I found myself yearning for just one more.

Walking back to the car after the show I reflected on the evening's performance and the previous one from the Little Fox Theater in Redwood City from a few nights prior. I was in awe of this band that just casually strolled into my life, rocked my face in an almost inappropriate manner, and wandered off leaving me wanting more. After seeing them only two times I can say full-heartedly if I was to die tomorrow, Railroad Earth would be my heavenly house band for quite a while. They are that good.

Words by: Matt Layton
Images by: Susan J. Weiand
JamBase | California
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[Published on: 4/21/04]

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