The most recent Railroad Earth project is as the backing band on “Ashes and Dust,” an album by Warren Haynes (of the Allman Brothers Band and Gov’t Mule fame).
Fans, though, won’t hear Railroad Earth playing material from “Ashes and Dust” during any of its shows this fall.
“It doesn’t figure into our set at all,” Railroad Earth fiddle player/multi-instrumentalist Tim Carbone said during a recent phone interview. “If we’re not playing with Warren, we don’t play that material.”
But just because the “Ashes and Dust” project isn’t extending to a Haynes/Railroad Earth tour this year, don’t get the idea that either party is anything less than happy with the album.
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“I think it came out really great,” Carbone said of “Ashes and Dust,” which was released in July 2015. “I love the way the record sounds, and I had a great time making it. It was a cool experience.”
Even without the “Ashes and Dust” material in its shows, Railroad Earth has plenty of songs to play. The group’s headlining shows typically span two sets and upwards of three hours. Railroad Earth will play multiple sets at this week’s Hangtown Music Festival in Placerville.
The group also almost entirely changes up its song sets from night to night. That way, fans who follow Railroad Earth to several consecutive shows on a tour hear a different selection of songs each night, while fans from each city also get a different song set than the group played on its previous visit to that market. Railroad Earth in 2001 began building a song catalog large enough to allow for that kind of variety from show to show.
Original members Carbone, singer/guitarist Todd Sheaffer, mandolin player John Skehan and multi-instrumentalist Andy Goessling came together at the suggestion of manager Brian Ross to play acoustically and see how they sounded together. And in a way, Railroad Earth became a band almost before the musicians realized it was happening.
“Various people came through the ranks, and we’d have little barbecues and sit around and drink beer and pick tunes,” Carbone said. “By the time fall (2001) came, or August or so, Todd Sheaffer came around, and we were like, ‘He has some cool songs. Let’s frame them in this way and see what happens.’ So we did and we went … ‘These are cool songs and this sounds good.’ Then it all sort of coalesced around his songs.”
Ross suggested the musicians record a few songs, and Carbone said the four musicians decided for that session they needed to find a rhythm section, as well as a harmony vocalist to go with Sheaffer. Those slots were filled by drummer/vocalist Carey Harmon and bassist Dave Von Dollen. A short time later, the group emerged with a tape of five songs that the manager sent to several promoters of festivals, including the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.
In short order the group was invited to play that prestigious event.
“It was like … ‘I guess we’re a band,’ ” Carbone said. “Then it was, ‘Maybe we should make a whole record if we’re going to go play this big festival. Don’t you think we should have something to sell out there?’ So we quick went back into the studio and recorded another few songs and put together (the 2001 debut album) ‘The Black Bear Sessions,’ and then all of a sudden we did a tour.”
Fifteen years later, Railroad Earth has six more albums in its catalog (and a new bassist in Andrew Altman). In January 2015 the band added a concert DVD/CD, “Live at Red Rocks,” to its discography. Filmed at the group’s summer 2014 show at the picturesque venue near Denver, it features a career-spanning 21 songs. For Railroad Earth fans, there’s the bonus of seeing the band joined by the Mile High Horns for a number of the tunes.
Carbone said he’s pleased with the way the Red Rocks show went despite the pressure of headlining a historic venue, playing with a horn section that didn’t rehearse with Railroad Earth until the day of the concert and knowing this was the group’s one shot to capture a show worthy of release on DVD.
“There was an added sense of excitement just playing Red Rocks, first of all,” Carbone said. “Probably some folks in the band felt a little, had a little more of a stiffness to it because of the added pressure. But that only lasts for the first song or two and after that it was just, ‘Let’s go, let’s get it.’ And when I look back at the DVD it’s like the first couple of songs are a little tight, but then the next thing you know, it was like the rest of it was like, ‘Oh yeah, this is great.’ ”
Hangtown Music Festival
When: Thursday-Sunday, Oct. 20-23
Where: El Dorado County Fairgrounds, 100 Placerville Drive, Placerville
Cost: Multiple-day passes $25-$450; single-day passes $65-$75; late-night tickets $24-$26