Railroad Earth’s train keeps on rolling
Railroad Earth is a hard band to categorize.
Some call it a bluegrass or roots-music band because the musicians use mainly acoustic instruments.
Some call it a rock band because it has drums and electric guitar, and others, still, call it a folk group.
Tim Carbone, Railroad Earth’s violinist and guitarist, said the ensemble — which also features mandolinist John Skehan, guitarist Todd Sheaffer, banjoist Andy Goessling, drummer Carey Harmon and bassist Andrew Altman — is a combination of everything.
"Yes, we play bluegrass, but that’s not all we do," Carbone said with a smile in his voice during a phone call to The Park Record from his home in Pennsylvania. "We use Celtic music and lots of rock ‘n’ roll, so we’re sort of a hybrid band or just a mutant.
"I’ve also heard people call us a jam band because of our willingness to improvise and do a different show every night," he said. "But I’ve always claimed that that label describes the audience, instead of the music."
Whatever the style, Railroad Earth will show it off when the band plays with Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers at Deer Valley Resort’s Snow Park Amphitheater on Monday, July 15, at 7 p.m.
Carbone said describing his band’s music is just one of the hazards of the job.
"Sure, we can dance around the issue and say we’re a combination of this and that, which adds up to this other thing," he said wryly. "That’s the best we can do, but for me as a player, I utilize pieces of every type of music I’ve played in my life in one night, including jazz and classical music."
Railroad Earth formed in early 2001 in Stillwater, N.J., when the core members, which included bassist Don Von Dollen, decided to play some music.
"We all weren’t doing anything in particular, so we figured we could do this," Carbone said. "We all gelled quite quickly."
The group spent a few weeks together before recording a demo, which landed them a manager.
"It sounded good and we had a good time, but things moved very fast and our 10th performance was opening the 2001 Telluride Bluegrass Festival later that year," Carbone said.
Since then, Railroad Earth has played other festivals around the world including Fuji Rock in Japan and Celtic Connections in Scotland.
"We were able to play for tens of thousands of people and got to experience these cultures first hand," Carbone said. "We’re also about to headline Red Rocks in Colorado this month."
Carbone is looking forward to that show because of personal reasons.
"We’ve opened for The Allman Brothers at Red Rocks in the past and that was great, and it got better when the band asked me to sit in with them," Carbone said. "All of a sudden, I’m playing in front of 9,000 people with The Allman Brothers at Red Rocks.
"So, to headline the venue is special."
In addition to The Allman Brothers, Railroad Earth has played with former Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh and is now on tour with Bruce Hornsby.
"Everything has kind of revolved around Railroad Earth," Carbone said. "All these things add up to just another step in the band’s forward progress."
Carbone said he is especially thankful for the fans.
"We’ve gained a sympathetic and sweet following through an almost exponential formula where we have fans who tell 10 of their friends about us and those people tell 10 of their friends," he said. "We are lucky to have hooked up with these people. I mean, everyone we have met are super sweet and great music lovers, and you can’t really ask for anything else."
Carbone’s track to Railroad Earth followed a typical music-lover’s story.
"I saw The Beatles on the ‘Ed Sullivan Show’ when I was seven or something like that and I said, ‘That’s what I want to do,’" he said. "I also had older brothers who were in doo-wop bands and grew up in that environment. They would come and sing on my front porch."
Carbone got interested in the violin around the same time he discovered girls.
"I had a crush on a girl and I knew she was going to learn to play the violin, so I wanted to play it," he said. "Unfortunately, she was an Air Force brat and moved away before we were both going to take the class. And I never saw her again."
On the plus side, learning the instrument came easy for Carbone.
"I know a lot of kids have a hard time learning how to play, because it sounds funny and they need to work hard and keep it up to make it sound good," he said. "I didn’t have to work too hard."
When he finished high school, Carbone looked at three choices — go to college, enter the workforce or become a musician.
"I realized that I was doing all of them simultaneously, so my goal became to write and record original music and get a record deal," he said.
That’s when he joined the others in Railroad Earth, which is currently mixing its new album for release sometime early next year.
"It’s been a little challenging, because we have six people in the band, and all of us have an idea of what we think the album should be," Carbone said and laughed. "So, to help with that, we brought in an outside mixer to get away from that problem. But, now, we have one guy whose mixing and six different people who are telling him what it should sound like.
"(The process) actually sounds worse than it is," he said. "We are just wanting to make sure it’s the best record we can make, especially when it comes to the next step of our musical progression."
Unfortunately, the band will not play any of the new songs during the show.
"We don’t usually play stuff that hasn’t been released, yet," he said. "That’s one of the things we do that is akin to some bands that are on major labels.
"The only time we have done that was before our first record was released," Carbone said. "But since then, we record the music, release the record and then play the songs live, because we want the audience to hear what our sonic vision was before we play them in concert setting."
Railroad Earth and Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers will perform at Deer Valley’s Snow Park Amphitheater on Monday, July 15, as part of the St. Regis Big Stars, Bright Nights summer concert series. The music will begin at 7 p.m. Tickets range from $45 to $65 and are available by calling (435) 655-3114 or by visiting http://www.ecclescenter.org .
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