The Beatles’ final performance took place on a London rooftop. Railroad Earth started atop an RV in a High Sierra Music Festival campground.
Railroad Earth formed in New Jersey, but quickly gained popularity out West.
“It really is home as far as the history of the band is concerned,” drummer Carey Harmon told Tahoe Onstage. “Colorado, and especially California, embraced the band from the very first tour in 2001 and we have so many good friends from Santa Cruz up though Tahoe who have been with us for a really long time.”
A drummer, Harmon is the only member of Railroad Earth who doesn’t play a stringed instrument. The band has resonated for its singular sound, which songwriter Todd Sheaffer once joked is “Country and Eastern.” It frequently plays bluegrass festivals and is loved by jam fans.
This week, Railroad Earth begans 10 weeks of shows, including a Jan. 19 appearance at the Crystal Bay Casino, its first at the venue since March 2015. Like every year, there will be several wintertime shows in the Midwest, in freezing places such as Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. When a band is named after a Jack Kerouac story, that’s what it will do.
The tour bus and equipment are scheduled to arrive in California on Wednesday as the players travel by air.
“Were going to ease into this before we get in the thick of it,” Harmon said. “(Tahoe) is always a blast because it usually tags along with San Francisco shows (Jan. 17-18 in the Fillmore) so a lot of people make a whole run of it. That night is a big party night.”
The band’s 10th album, “All For The Song”– the first since the death of multi-instrumentalist Andy Goessling – is expected to be released early in the tour. Two tunes, “The Great Divide” and “It’s So Good,” were released in November and December. Anders Osborne is the producer.
“I hope it’s days or weeks,” Harmon said. “We’re promoting the record on road. We’ve rehearsed the whole record and ready to get it out live.”
Railroad Earth had planned to cut the album in summer of 2018, but Goessling became too sick to participate. He died Oct. 12, 2018.
“We could have very easily walked away from each other for a bit, but we made a concerted effort to travel together to New Orleans to make this, which we’ve never done before,” Harmon said.
“We all have families and that’s why we don’t want to go away to make a record. This time it was clear that we really had to be together through this process and deal with each other creatively without Andy for the first time. It was an important couple of weeks that we spent together, going out to dinner every night, spending full days recording, and I think it’s reflected in the recording.”
Going back 19 years, Railroad Earth’s first record, “The Black Bear Sessions,” was made before the first tour, which included High Sierra.
“Our manager advised to play the food court or anywhere we could to try to get attention,” Harmon recalled. “It was really hot and we were camping with friend who had an RV. Somebody had brilliant Idea that instead of running around, let’s just climb on top of this RV in middle of the campground. That started a long relationship with High Sierra.”
Another long relationship started with Ryan Kronenberg and Adam Northway of Pet Projekt Presents. Next October will mark Placerville’s 10th Hangtown Music Festival, which is hosted by Railroad Earth.
Last fall’s festival was the most challenging because Pacific Gas & Electric had shut down electricity in the region due to fire danger.
“Hats off to everybody who ran the festival because they were so prepared with generators and everything else that I think a number of people attending the festival didn’t even know the power in town was out,” Harmon said. “And I think a lot of people came there because it was the only place with power.”
Railroad Earth, after all, can run on steam — or arrive by air.
— Tim Parsons