Today’s Feature, October 20th & 21st: Railroad Earth

November 4, 2007 at 3:34 pm (Today's Feature)


Railroad Earth is one of those honest American bands, scorching a path through the American music industry that is all their own. As true musicians, the band has been writing and producing the melodies behind exceptional self-written song since their first gigs in 2001, and they continue to build an ever expanding fan base today.

Their talent was undeniable from the start – only three weeks after playing together for the first time, Railroad Earth was playing live in studio, creating a demo that would push the group forward like a steel locomotive. In fact, their tenth show was played at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival – this should give you an idea of just how huge the strides were for the band right from the starting line.

Railroad Earth is made up of Todd Sheaffer, Tim Carbone, John Skehan, Andy Goessling, Carey Harmon and Johnny Grubb on instruments ranging from violins and mandolins to flutes and saxophones. The musicians have produced several albums including”Black Bear Sessions,””Bird in the House,” and”The Good Life.” Their latest release,”Elko,” is a double-live album that demonstrates the marvelous gifts of Railroad Earth that their fans have known about for years. Next week, they’ll be appearing at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in Golden Gate Park of San Francisco. Stop by and meet some of the regular audience members – the ones that refer to themselves as the “Hobos.” See if you’re”Hobo” material, and jump into their XXQ’s

XXQs: Railroad Earth PensEyeView (PEV): Hey Johnny, so where did I catch you?

Johnny Grubb: We are in Denver right now…

PEV: What brings you to Denver today, do you have a show?

JG: We are playing at the Gothic Theater tonight. I think it’s relatively new or relatively renovated. We played there in April and had a great time, so we are playing their tonight and tomorrow, which should be a double great time again.

PEV: What is a live Railroad Earth show like?

JG: For me, (laughs) probably a lot different for the other guys, but for me, I usually pace around a lot, then go up and take a look at the set list an then play. This weekend though is probably going to be a big “to do”. We have people that flew in from California. This is the big theater show we are doing for the tour, so we are having a lot of people from all over come out. It should be mighty festive. Next week though we are playing the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco, which someone very generously decided to put on in Golden Gate Park. That is going to be a completely different setting since we are going to be playing for about an hour, for like tens of thousands of people…Probably some extreme pacing around.

PEV: On the road now, what is road life like for you?

JG: It is really tiring, long drives and really exciting live shows that don’t last long enough, you know what I mean. I gotta be honest with you, we have done a lot of driving with this tour and I am beat! I am in the hotel room right now, just watching the Food Network (laughs). Some of the short tours it easy to stay energized. But once you get past the two or three week mark, it starts to get a little tiring. We hit a lot of Texas and Golf coast, which is a lot of driving. We started in Vermont and are ending in Denver.

PEV: So, what is the best part about touring?

JG: Oh, playing of course. All the things we do during the day; business meetings, driving, setting up, loading out, that is pretty much in service to playing. That is why we do it. And seeing places you have never seen before can be pretty cool, in it of itself. But I think I can speak for the rest of everyone when I say, definitely the shows and especially the really good shows make up for it.

PEV: Kind of backing up a little bit, how did you guys first form as a band?

JG: Well, accounts vary, depending on who is telling them. These guys all grew up in the tri-state area of Connecticut, New Jersey, New York. Timmy the fiddle player is easily the multi instrumental guy, Andy plays the banjo, mandolin, saxophone, and they have known each others for decades. All the rest of the band, just new each other, played with each other from time to time. I think it was just one of those cosmic fate things where everyone found each other between projects. They started playing together and liked what they heard. Fans started coming out. I’m actually not the original bass player. I’ve been in the band for like a year and half.

PEV: What was it like to come into a band after they have already been playing together? A little awkward?

JG: Uh, it was weird at first since everyone knew each other…A. Everyone was in New Jersey and I was coming from the southeast….B. I have never been in a touring band before where we do sound checks and stuff like that. It was a little weird first but they had an established fan base and reputation. So, it was a little nerve wrecking but they were very welcoming. And after a year or two, it feels pretty normal.

PEV: Do you remember what your first live show like with Railroad Earth?

JG: The first show, I do, completely. No one was there, which was nice for the nerves. It was at a pub in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. There were probably about 40-50 people there. I kind of got off easy. The next night after that, was when their entire Jersey crew came there and kind of give me the “once over”. That was like my first night on the job (laughs).

PEV: What is a normal show day like for you?

JG: Well, it depends on how far the drive is obviously. If it’s a far drive, we get to sleep early and then schlep our butts in the car, maybe take a shower, maybe not then fall asleep as soon as we get into the car. If we get to actually sleep until like eleven or so, because we don’t have to drive to far, then ace! (laughs). Still we at least stagger to the car, load in, our guys wire the stage, microphones and stuff, then sound check for a bit, sit down and wait until show time.

PEV: What’s the best part about playing live?

JG: Probably about the second or third song, you get the feeling of whether or not this is going to be a great show or not. Usually the second or third song, I’ll open my eyes and then look around to see if everyone is on the same wave length as me. And hopefully it’s on by that point and there is no stopping that.

PEV: You said the this tour has taken you from Vermont, to Texas, to now Denver, but out of all the places you’ve played, which has been your favorite?

JG: That’s a tough one man, honestly. Portland, Oregon is a good time. San Francisco is a transcendentally good time. Atlanta is fun because it is my home town. Chicago is fun…any time you can draw like a thousand people, that’s usually pretty frickin’ cool. New York of course. It’s kind of toss up between Portland and San Francisco, I’d have to say.

PEV: How have your friends and family reacted to your career?

JG: Pretty positively, since I got into a good band and my parents like the music, you know. These are mostly older guys that have been around so they are not like hard partying rocksters, I don’t think my family would be too into that if I were hanging out with that kind of crew. And we are doing really well. We show up in Atlanta and we don’t play some crappy dive bar that I’ve used to play (laughs). They have been real supportive.

PEV: What do you like to do when you get some spare time?

JG: Well, me and my wife bought a house last year, so that is pretty much what I do when I go home. I’m all about the landscaping outside. Trim the trees, do the yard, you know. I get real domestic when I go home…Swing the pendulum completely back the other way.

PEV: What would people be surprised to hear about the guys in Railroad Earth?

JG: Give me a second I have to think….I don’t know. I don’t know what would be surprising to people. There’s kind of…being in a band, has kind of romanticized view about it. People think that you go out together, you get home and you go out to shows together. I don’t know (laughs), like you’re united in this brotherhood or something. It is like that on the road but we don’t hang out like that when we go home too much. Pretty much all business. I’m not saying that we’re not all friends, but you know. All kinds of different personalities.

PEV: Is there a certain up and coming band that we should be looking out for?

JG: I’m not sure I can answer that question…There is a huge opportunity for up and coming bands right now. Seeing as how the older guard has taken themselves out of the game. There are a HUGE group of people in this industry that like to travel, so there is a huge opportunity there. Of course, any band that travels can pick up a lot of fans. I don’t want to jinx it but we seem to be set to do pretty good next year (laughs). I would say Hot Buttered Rum is really good. There is a band out of California called ALO, they just toured with Jack Johnson. They just write the best songs I’ve frickin’ ever heard. I’m kind of in this little bubble of bands that we see when we tour. There are a wealth of seeds out there. That’s a tough one to answer…when you figure it out let me know.

PEV: Tell us about Elko, and what can fans expect from this album?

JG: Well, I think it is a pretty accurate representation of the band and our live shows, say like two years ago. We basically took two of our tours and put them together. Probably what you can expect from our live shows.

PEV: What one word best describes Railroad Earth?

JG: Eclectic (laughs). I hate the word but you know. There are too many influences in the band.

PEV: So, what is next for Railroad Earth?

JG: Get home, unwind a little bit , hunker down, then make another record that will come out some time next year.

For more information on Railroad Earth, check out


1 Comment

  1. Fritz said,

    Hey, Grubby, you’ve been in the band since March of 2003, so that would be like, 41/2 years and your tour ended in Ca., not Denver. Get some sleep!

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