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Railroad Earth invites sentimentality

By Josette Keelor -- jkeelor@nvdaily.com

In thinking about a successful career so far with his band, violinist and singer Tim Carbone remembers a recent moment of unintentional but perfect synchronicity. The band was in Bond, Colo. performing in a rural location where trains rush through several times a day with wheels screaming against tracks at 98.6 decibels.

All weekend the band had been in town and had not seen or heard a single train pass by, though they knew from past experiences that the tracks there were well-used.

"We started the second song," Carbone said -- their namesake song, which begins "This railroad earth" -- and in that moment, a train whistle sounded.

The assembled crowd erupted into applause, he said. "I was brought to tears, and I saw people in the audience crying, it was such an amazing moment.

The song, he said, "It's very sentimental."

For a band that makes a career of banking on the sentimentality of its fans, moments like this are golden.

Railroad Earth will perform at the Shenandoah Valley Music Festival for the first time Friday night. In a phone from Sussex County, in northwestern New Jersey, Carbone that they're looking forward to being in Virginia and performing with The Hackensaw Boys.

"We've done a couple tours with them," Carbone said.

"It's going to be great," he said. "You know, we love playing outside."

Planning to incorporate music from the band's latest album, the eponymous "Railroad Earth," Carbone said, "We never do the same set list twice."

The band finds inspiration for music in America's changing landscape and times, and Carbone said one of his favorite songs is about new 50,000-volt transmission lines with 300-foot towers disrupting the 80-acre property on which lead singer Todd Sheaffer used to live in Stillwater, N.J.

"They're just plowing transmission-wise right through," Carbone said. Sheaffer called the song "Lone Croft Farewell," from the Scandinavian word "croft," for a farm or small piece of land, to remember the house he used to call home.

With Sheaffer and Andy Goessling on acoustic guitars, Carbone on violin, John Skehan on mandolin, Carey Harmon on the cajon drum box and Andrew Altman on upright bass, the song has an earthy, mid-western, wistful feel as Sheaffer sings, "Goodbye to all I know."

Another of Carbone's favorites from the new album is "Black Elk Speaks," a song he said he doesn't contribute much.

"I just pick up a guitar and 'make loud noise here,'" he said. It's the meaning of the song that moves him more, he said.

"'Black Elk Speaks' is pretty much the story of the March of Tears," Carbone said. It was named for the 1932 book of the same name by John G Neihardt, about when "[Americans] marched the last of the Indians out of the country."

"The song tells the entire story right out of the book to a 'T'" he said.

Listeners can enjoy Railroad Earth's music even if they don't draw meaning from it.

Favorite moments playing with the band are in abundance, Carbone said, but the moment joined in song with a train whistle in Colorado tops the rest.

"I'm fairly easily moved, but that's a pretty heavy-duty moment," he said.

As the band sang the last line is "Oh mama, ain't it good to be alive," Carbone recalled, "It was just this amazing beautiful moment. I'll never forget it."

Railroad Earth will perform with The Hackensaw Boys Friday at 8 p.m. Reserved pavilion seats are $35. Adult lawn seats are $30, and lawn seats for children under 18 are $10. For more information, visit www.musicfest.org.

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