Photos by Rich Singer
Walking in to the cavernous Fillmore, Charlotte – an 5 year old venue operated by LiveNation – seeing roadies scramble to and fro on the stage, bartenders setting out their menu boards, boasting PBR’s for $9 a pop; I could feel in my gut that it was going to be a good night. The Fillmore is located in the center of the Music Factory – an urban farm of music food and spirit venues, just outside of uptown Charlotte, NC.
I came for Railroad Earth, but once the opener, Have Gun Will Travel got going, I knew I couldn’t leave them out. This 6 piece Florida band, aptly named after the late 50’s television western, has a lively western bluegrass sound that makes you want to tap your toes and sing through your soul. They started the set with Standing at the End of the World with lead singer, Matt Burke, draping his voice – lazily energized like Bob Dylan. They have strong rhythm and are enjoyable, the blend of the player’s instruments and their voices, felt easy and unified. HGWT has a familiar sound, like your singing in the barn with all of your best friends, maybe go milk a cow afterwards. The band formed in 2006 and just released their fourth album “Fiction, Fact or Folktale?” We got to hear a great jazzy guitar solo from Scott Anderson in The Show Must Go On. They also played Finer Things, from the newest album, a rocking laid back tune to break up the two-stepping fury. Actually, every song they played was pleasant and thoughtful. HGWT is a friendship of skilled country western bluegrass musicians, playing exactly as I would hope and expect them to; a lot of heart and incredible skill.
Now, what we came here for; Railroad Earth. The band takes the stage in semidarkness. A wash of blue light grows around the band, as a lone fiddle drones into the hum of wall-to-wall mash of bodies, vibrating in anticipation. The violin grows, and the bass joins the drone of sound, setting the tone, and feeding back and forth with the excitement of the crowd. This is one of my favorite moments of a good show. The “handshake” between the performers and the audience – the first lines of communication. And a great band, like RRE, lets you know right off – “Hey there, you’re gonna want to take a minute to hold on to your hat.” They launch into The Jupiter & the 119, as the lights come up fully lighting our way through this happy mid-tempo hit from their title album, released in 2010. The first thing you hear is the tight vocal harmonies between lead singer/guitarist Todd Sheaffer, bassist Andrew Altman and drummer Carey Harmon. Old Man in the Land highlights the violin and mandolin duo, has an easy island feel and makes you appreciate just how versatile this band is – more so when they play 1759. Played right on the heels of Goat, 1759 highlights as a strong building upbeat Celtic fusion that pulls you through shifting beats and song stories, a wordless musical journey. Later on in the second set, they play streaming instrumental Like A Buddah, which grooves on for days featuring incredible jazz flute played by Andy Goessling and John Skehan on the bouzouki. A clear eastern sound with a Tenessee twist. You wouldn’t imagine the New Jersey roots of this band, who have all played together since they formed in 2001, the only exception being Altman (formerly of Bobby Lee and the Codetalkers) who joined in 2010.
The second set started much like the first, a wash of blue, that haunting violin, skillfully managed by Tim Carbone – who makes such a strong impact on each tune. Like each of it’s members – Carbone’s influence on the RRE sound is part of the magic that makes them consistent and familiar while demonstrating incredible versatility.
The second set included Chasin’ A Rainbow, pleasant country tune that hearkens the days of John Denver. Birds of America, starts out with Carbone’s bird-like chatter, and moves into an easy groove – you have to love how much this band pulls you into their improv, they’re involved and feeling every inch of what they are putting out there, but better than that – they never stop communicating with their audience. You feel like you are not just watching the jam, you feel like an active part of it. RRE puts together an incredible show, big venue, but intimate feel. The sound was incredible, and the lights were an entirely different bonus. RRE lighting designer, Alex Anderson, gives the show life and energy, lighting the sets free-style, using creative color washes and playing on the well-known RRE backdrop, cleverly painted with light-reactive colors and paints that blast into a veritable light show.
An incredible show bursting with a strong palette of color and sound, executed by clear masters. If you have not seen RRE live yet – go and do.