The overnight temperature drop created an instant camaraderie among the early arrivals to the second night of the Horn-A-Plenty Weekend, at the Sherman Theater in Stroudsburg, PA. Smiles appeared quickly on concert goers faces as they walked out of the cold and windy night, and into the historic Sherman. A theater born in the 1920’s, it is another venue which has risen from the ashes of obsolescence to find a new relevance in today’s entertainment arena.
On this particular weekend, for the second year in a row, the Horn-A-Plenty festival concluded with newgrass band Railroad Earth as headliners on the bill. Railroad Earth, hailing from Stillwater NJ, takes fans on a journey through many musical genres. Americana, roots, bluegrass, and even a touch or two of a Celtic melody will infuse with both their poignant ballads and string-band jams. Creatively, they utilize masterful musicianship together with nicely balanced vocal harmonies to produce both an interesting and engaging style of music.
The evening began with a strong support set from New York based Americana-Alt Country band Yarn. Fun, personable and talented, a group like Yarn is one reason you should always catch the opening act. Digging deep into their latest release, ‘Almost Home’, the band weaves understated harmonies with a sound reminiscent of The Grateful Dead or The New Riders of the Purple Sage. Midway through the set, Tim Carbone, violinist from Railroad Earth joined Yarn for the remainder of their songs. A nice touch, showcasing the brotherhood of musicians, while adding the sweet taste of anticipation for RRE. With their star on the rise after endless touring, and an appearance at SXSW 2012, Yarn has created a well-defined sound worthy of the next step up on the marquee.
After more than a decade together, Railroad Earth is still evolving their sound. Their latest album is self titled for a reason. It is not centered on a particular song, but rather is focused on the emergence of a sound encompassing all their influences and abilities.
With no fanfare, Railroad Earth took their places on stage and eased the engine into first gear with “Lone Croft Farewell” off their latest album. Lead vocals by Todd Schaeffer, give RRE an instantly recognizable sound. At times, Schaeffer offers straight-out vocals intent on telling the story of the song. Other times, as in this opening number, his voice pleads the case of the songwriter. A vocal style both full of emotion and yet offering so much restraint, it’s haunting.
Lifting the tempo with “Bringing My Baby Back Home”, the bluegrass feel engaged the crowd with the sing-a-long chorus. As he would throughout the night, John Skehan wove both fun and fire into his mandolin playing. An appealing aspect of the work of RRE is how they feature each instrument alone, bringing the next in a familiar duel, leading to another layer being added. From “Walk Beside Me,” which led into “Seven Story Mountain,” Railroad Earth created a give-and-take between the musicians, creating a uniquely blended sound.
While most of the extended jams flowed with a certain amount of power, the energy seemed to dip during the “Mountain Time” into “Black Elk Speaks” transition. All jam bands reach one point in the set where, the highs have been reached and it takes a few minutes for the momentum to rebuild, and this was that point on this evening. Changing the mood quickly, RRE ended the first set with a fiery rendition of “Peace on Earth.” Entering into the holiday season, the message was well received.
Their second set began with several well-paced songs. Setting the mood instantly, the crowd quickly moved into full dance mode. While the jam sections on songs like “Elko” were lively enough to keep the crowd engaged, the violin solo from Tim Carbone was delightful. Eight songs into the second set, the band lowered the energy with the captivating ballad “Lovin You.” With a balance of exquisite lyrics and an infectious melody, it is a strong inclusion into a set not creatively focused on love songs.
A fusion type jam on “Spring-Headed Jack” worked its way into a solid rendition of “Mighty River.” Bringing out the rhythms of Americana, roots and bluegrass, the story telling of the lyrics paces well with the backbone of the music. The second set ended with “Hard Livin” and featured guitarist/banjo player Andy Goessling picking up the sax and handing the banjo duties to John Skehan.
An encore had the band singing a cover of one of their musical influences, Woody Guthrie’s “I Ain’t Got No Home.” On a Thanksgiving weekend, with the effects of a natural disaster still hovering over the Northeast, metaphorically, it was an appropriate and thought-provoking way to end the night.
Written by Kath Galasso
OurVinyl | Contributor