Interview with Railroad Earth: A Bear's Picnic Preview
Words by Autumn Walden
The 7th Annual A Bear’s Picnic runs this weekend from Thursday, August 16th through Sunday, August 20th at Lincoln Park in Laurelton, PA. Several of my favorite indie bands and musicians such as Cabinet, Flux Capacitor, Dirk Quinn Band, MiZ, and Citizens Band Radio will join The Mickey Hart Band, Melvin Seals and the JGB, 7 Walkers, and Railroad Earth, among others. I had the pleasure of briefly meeting Todd Sheaffer, Railroad Earth’s lead vocalist and guitarist, at the All Good Music Festival and was so happy for the chance to speak on the phone with Tim Carbone, the band’s violinist and vocalist, about Railroad Earth and their upcoming set at A Bear’s Picnic on Friday, August 17th from 9pm-Midnight.
TC: Yea, that’s true. Railroad Earth was started by me and my manager and he named it. We’re both into Jack Kerouac’s writing.
TSI: I see you played A Bear’s Picnic in 2007. Did you get to jam with other bands?
TC: Yea, I played with a few other bands. I can’t remember which ones though.
TSI: One of my fellow TSI colleagues said he saw you play with Toubab Krewe at Peach Festival. How does that kind of thing come about?
TC: Yea, I know them well. Usually other bands will know about you and ask you to play with them. I’m known for that—playing with everyone—I’m kind of a “band whore”. Back in 2009, Railroad Earth opened for The Allman Brothers Band at Red Rocks. After we played, I was packing up and the Allman Bros stage manager tapped me on the shoulder and said that Warren Haynes wanted to talk to me. Warren asked me to sit in on a song with the Allman Brothers. I do that a lot—at High Sierra I played with five different bands and at Yarmony Grass I played nine complete sets.
TSI: This year, you’re playing A Bear’s Picnic on Friday. Are you guys sticking around for other days or are you on the road before and after?
TC: No, we’re going in and going out. I’m on the board of a nonprofit and have to attend an event the next day—we’re having an overnight canoeing trip.
TSI: What’s the name of the nonprofit and how long have you been involved?
TC: It’s the Shawnee Preservation Society. I’ve been involved for six years.
TC: They’re two of my favorites, too. “Black Elk Speaks” is taken from the book by John Neihardt. It’s a story of the Indians—the “last hurrah”—the massacre. The lyrics tell the story and of the spirituality of a Sioux Medicine Man and his conversations with the author of the book. The Sioux Medicine Man was one of the shamans who kept the Ghost Dance going after it was outlawed. Todd wrote the song—he’s the principal song writer. “Like a Buddha” is related to the 2000 World Festival of Sacred Music when I played with another band—The Dharma Bums (Writer’s note: another Kerouac reference)—for the Dalai Lama in India. Todd joined us in Thailand and wrote most of “Like a Buddha” based on his experiences in Thailand. Me and the bass player wrote the bridge to that song as well.
TSI: Why did you choose the violin and fiddle? How many hours a day did you have to practice to get where you are now?
TC: Well, I took lessons in public school—I didn’t have private lessons. And between 4th and 5th grade, we had to choose an instrument. My parents told me to pick an instrument that they wouldn’t have to pay for—at the time, I was already playing the drums since 3rd grade. The violin was one of the other few instruments we could get from the school for free…and I had a crush on this cute girl who played violin and I thought that I could get to know her by taking violin lessons with her. But she moved away before my first lesson. It’s always about a girl, right? When I first started playing, I picked up pretty well. As far as practice, when I was young, I played 2-3-4 hours a day until I graduated high school at 16.
TSI: Are there any activities that you simply won’t do because of your profession?
TC: Yes. I won’t mountain bike, ski, snowboard or rock climb—I won’t do anything that puts risks on my wrists.