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music: Riding that Train

Railroad Earth is barreling through the country with its Americana jam music,and people are listening.


Two things about the band make me think it's not a bluegrass band: you have a drummer and you're from New Jersey.

We don't call it anything, we call it Railroad Earth music. The sound is an organic creation that's coming from a mix of input of all the players. Dave [bass] is coming from a jazz foundation. My songwriting comes from more of a folk tradition, my guitar style is more of a folk-rock style. Tim [violin] and Andy [guitars, dobro, banjo, marxophone] have played together for many years in the bluegrass band Blue Sparks from Hell. John, the mandolin player, played with a more traditional bluegrass group called the Lost Ramblers. Cary Harman our drummer is from New York.

The band got going so quickly, how did it all happen?

We started playing at the Pocono Bluegrass Society's monthly get-together. We were having fun doing it and decided we wanted to start doing it more than once a month. We had all come from bands that had been popular around the Northwest Jersey area. We all knew each other playing together at benefits. We wanted to play some stealth gigs to get started but people found out about us. Our first demo started getting circulated by the Internet, and even before we were playing, people were hearing about us. Right from the beginning, people were taping shows, and they were getting played on the radio.

Do you think the band caught on so quickly because it's a good time for bluegrass music right now?

Not really, maybe to some extent. Bluegrass is a style that never seems to go away. Right now there are more people than before, maybe some pepole are gettting interested because of "O Brother," but it still has its core audience of pickers and festival-goers. A lot of the current audience won't be around forever, but a lot did get turned on to that kind of music [because of the movie soundtrack].

I think a lot of people out there at festivals don't get their lifestyle from what's commercially giant. Frankly, I think a lot of people are sick of what's been commercially pumped out. A lot of people like our band and the scenes we're in because they're looking into other scenes than what's commercially giant. And I think that's what's going to last and grow, and the "O Brother" hype is going to fade.

What makes bluegrass and traditional music translate to the 21st century?

More organic approaches to living, and music that reflects that thought are inevitable. I think that people who like what we're doing are interested in music that's more than a marketing plan, that has some substance and reality that relates to their lives.

I don't think we're bluegrass, though. I think we're trying to create an original painting from our music, although we're incorporating elements of traditional American styles.

We fit comfortably on a stage that's a jam-band hippie festival, and we fit comfortably with traditional bluegrass, so we're somewhere in between there. Our approach is more of a rock or jazz approach. It's music that's meant to uplift the spirit and touch the soul.

A lot of your songs have a feel-good, positive message, is there a particular message you're trying to get across?

There seems to be a common ground in the band that we want to play music that puts a smile on people's faces and maybe uplifts the spirits a bit. I think there is a common feeling among the group that that's what music is about and that's why we enjoy sharing it with an audience.

What's the significance of the band's name coming from the Jack Kerouac's "October in Railroad Earth"?

It's a journey of a poem, a long ramble. He tries to find his place in the world. … it's overall a peaceful journey. The elements of journey and elements of groundedness, and with the instrumentation we have, the bluegrass, it sounded like the right name. S

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