Words & Pictures by Eric Rayburn
For the first time in its 13 year history, Railroad Earth brought in the New Year in the South. Spreading the joy across 3 days at Asheville, NC’s Orange Peel Social Aid and Pleasure Club, the band played to packed crowds on December 29 and 30th. A sold out show on the 31st had fans stalking the front of the club with one finger in the frigid night air looking for tickets that were few and far between.
River Whyless, an Asheville quartet, opened the first 2 nights. Formed in 2009, the group combines Americana with baroque-folk. Led by vocalists Ryan O’Keefe and Halli Anderson they turned heads with their innovative sound.
The run began with “Like a Buddha” and the smiles spread across the room as the “Hobos” in the crowd started to dance. The first set ended with what may be the group’s break-through song “Chasin’ a Rainbow” off the upcoming album Last of the Outlaws, which is being released January 14, 2014. The song has been getting a fair amount of radio airplay in numerous markets across the country. The second set of the night saw a breakout as the title track was played for the first time. Slow and haunting, “Last of the Outlaws” brought the tempo down before building to a crescendo with an “Elko” closer that had numerous decks of cards flung into the air during the line “I need a card! I need a card!”.
Night two picked up right where the previous night left off with “Way of the Buffalo,” a seldom played “bonus track” off of 2004’s The Good Life. A frenetic “Untitled #12” saw fiddler Tim Carbone almost saw through his strings in the middle of the set, which ended with another song off the new album, “One More Night on the Road”. Andrew Altman was dropping bass bombs on a “Walk Beside Me” encore that soundman Mike Partridge had dialed in perfectly. People walking out into the mountain air were excitedly talking about the NYE show and throwing around predictions for songs.
New Years Eve 2013 saw the Peel transformed with decorations to reflect the “Moonlight Masquerade” theme the band had chosen for the night. There was even a brand new backdrop for the show painted by Alyssa Trudel, an artist living in Healdsburg, CA. The backdrop depicted North Carolina’s Grandfather Mountain, which is also the title of a new song on “Last of the Outlaws”. Many of the fans in attendance were dressed in masks and costumes for the night which began with “Seven Story Mountain” that transitioned into “Mighty River”. The aforementioned “Grandfather Mountain” appeared in the middle of the first set and showed the power and beauty in the words of songwriter Todd Sheaffer.
The second set saw the band re-emerge from backstage wearing masquerade masks to ring in 2014. The obligatory balloon drop brought the first song of the New Year- another new one, “Monkey” was played for the first time. Throughout the run, the light show, choreographed by Alex Anderson, complimented the music perfectly, adding that extra layer that always makes Railroad Earth shows so enjoyable. The coming out party for the new CD continued with a tune that was talked about and anticipated by many through the 3 days. “Face with a Hole” was debuted sandwiched between “The Forecast” and “Spring-Heeled Jack”. This new song is a part of a 21-minute multi-movement piece composed by Sheaffer and mandolinist John Skehan. An encore of the Charles Johnson’s “My Sisters and Brothers” – made popular by Jerry Garcia – had many grooving and singing along as they bid farewell to the band and walked out the doors and into a new year.