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table of contents new music 8

railroad earth

venue highlights 25

A roots and Americana-based jam band from Stillwater, New Jersey. Their name was borrowed from the Jack Kerouac short story “October in the Railroad Earth,” to which the band also has a song by the same name.

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the powder kegs

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When they first moved to Philly they immediately sought out a great producer and made “Empty Side EP,” their first indie-pop record, which they gave away on a pay what you will basis online. Their new full length LP, “The Amanicans,” is due in March.

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yarn Much like its name, the Brooklyn-based band Yarn weaves country, rock, blues and more into a genre-defying blend that has captured the attention of fans and critics.

banjo jim’s This tiny, yet comfortable bar is a home away from home for bluegrass lovin’ bar-goers who want to get away from the hustle of alphabet city. It truly is a diamond in the rough.

rodeo bar This bar may be in a touristy area, but it really does stand out on it’s own. You’ll get great music, all the peanuts you can eat, and the always wonderful PBR/Whisky special.

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sunny’s bar Often said to be “the best bar in New York City”, this bar is a hole in the wall you don’t want to miss out on.


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railroad earth Alex has been playing and listening to a lot of bluegrass in the “exploding” bluegrass scene in NYC, so he was more than happy to have his home town buddy Jim Cunningham talk to the band about why they are not a bluegrass band. Jim has a near encyclopedic knowledge of music and a great sincere passion for it. Railroad Earth is a band that doesn’t like to be labeled. They jam out when performing live, but they aren’t a jam band. They can play country, bluegrass, and straight up rock n’ roll, but you really can’t label them as such. What you can label them as is a very talented 6 piece band with a bunch of strings and some drums. RRE has shows on Halloween, New Year’s Eve, and two nights of fan appreciation at the Fox Theater in Boulder, CO. Read on for an interview with fiddle player Tim Carbone who talks to us a bit about the tour, influences, and sharing the stage with others.

Jim Cunningham: I noticed that you took your name from a Kerouac poem. Have you ever written a song directly influenced by Jack or any other author? Tim Carbone: Our song “Seven Story Mountain” shares the same spirit as Thomas Merton’s “Seven Storey Mountain”. My song “Crossing The Gap” has a line in it that says “...above my head just sky and stone.” Stone and Sky was the name of the literary group that the author Gabriel Garcia Marquez belonged to in Columbia when he was a young man. I just flipped it around. JC: Your current tour takes you all over the country, is there one particular city/venue that you prefer? If yes, which? TC: My favorite city to play in is San Francisco. It just feels like home to me. I probably lived there in another life.


JC: What is your favorite part about being on the road? Least favorite?

JC: You are also playing on Halloween. Are you planning anything special for that show?

TC: There’s more than one part. One of my favorite parts is seeing different and revisiting favorite places. Meeting and interacting with new friends and fans is another favorite part. My least favorite is being away from my wife, cats and home… in that order.

TC: Pass

JC: You are playing NYE this year. What is it about this night that makes every band want to play? TC: It’s the biggest party of the year. What’s not to like?

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JC: RRE has covered many songs over the years from Bruce Springsteen to the Grateful Dead. What has been your favorite cover to play live? TC: My favorite cover to play is Acadian Driftwood by the Band. JC: David Crosby once said that he had the most trouble covering The Beatles. Which artists do you find the most difficult? TC: Frank Zappa…


JC: When you are not touring and have some free time, do you enjoy going to concerts? Are there any bands out there that have not “made it” yet that you feel should have somewhat more recognition? Why? TC: I absolutely love going to see live music. I have no clue what qualifies a band as having “made it” anymore, but a few bands I would pay to see are Surprise Me Mr. Davis, Dr. Dogg, Slavic Soul Party and probably Great Lake Swimmers. JC: You have had special guests come on stage to perform with you. Who was your favorite guest to play with?

TC: Well there’s a few. My favorites are Allie Kral from Cornmeal, Scott Law from Strings For Industry and Jeff Miller from New Monsoon. JC: What was your most memorable moment on tour as a band? TC: Sitting in with the Allman Brothers at Red Rocks. JC: To readers who have never ever seen you in concert, how would you describe the Railroad Earth experience? TC: Our music seems to connect with our fans on aspiritual level though our music is not overtly spiritual. There’s a sense of interconnectedness and family in the crowd nearly each night we play. JC: It has been a pleasure speaking with you and we appreciate taking time to sit down and talk with us. Good luck on the rest of your tour.


tour info

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04/15/11 The Pageant St. Louis, MO

04/23/11 The Plaza Theatre Orlando, FL

04/16/11 The Lyric Theatre Oxford, MS

05/07/11 The Wellmont Theatre Montclair, NJ

04/17/11 Sweetwater 420 Festival Atlanta, GA

05/20/11 Hangout Music Festival Gulf Shores, AL

04/19/11 The Music Farm Charleston, SC

05/22/11 Woodlands Spring Jubilee Columbus, OH

04/21/11 State Theatre St. Petersburg, FL

05/27/11 - 05/28/11 DelFest 2011 Cumberland, MD

04/22/11 Culture Room Ft. Lauderdale, FL

06/03/11 Smilefest Pinnacle, NC


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the powder kegs

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In one respect, we live in a blessed time in country music. If it was 1986, the superpick of our generation would be stuffing a sock down the front of their spandex tights as hair designers kink their bangs and perm their mullet, getting them ready to go on stage and pull some ungodly bad bubblegum butt rock out of a Korean replica flying V guitar. But instead, it’s hip if you have fast fingers to pick up a banjo, or a mando, or a violin, grow a beard, and kick it old school. Thank God. The fact that I hadn’t even heard of The Powder Kegs until about 10 days ago proves just how crowded the landscape is with superpicking pseudo bluegrass bands, but the Keg’s album “The Amanicans” quickly sets them apart. It was suggested to me in a discussion about the best albums of the


year so far, and after some spins, I agree wholeheartedly it deserves to be in the discussion. At some point it is just humanly impossible to play your instruments any faster, and this album has that element which is usually the quickest to be ballyhooed about these such bands. But it also has soul. Some were worried that this album would be too slick for me. What, you think The Triggerman can’t be a little classy? No reason to be ashamed of top notch production and mastering, and in fact when you can get away with it and yet still retain the dirt and devil

in the music like The Powder Kegs have done, you deserve extra kudos. Some were worried I’d get spooked because the band plays sitting down. I actually think this is a genius move, totally unintuitive but making perfect sense at the same time. By sitting, it makes the audience take the music more seriously. It forces you to listen more, and to listen with your ears instead of your eyes. And in a very deep way it ties the music to the past. Its wickedly brilliant. I think I know what makes this album, and the Keg’s sound so special. Bluegrass nerds with bigger pocket protec-

tors than mine will probably poke holes in my theory, but what I think is at the heart of the matter is bridging elements of West Coast bluegrass with traditional bluegrass. Traditional bluegrass is dance music, with straightforward chord progressions and accessible tones. West Coast bluegrass is usually played much slower, and is more artsy, with more complicated chords and more emotional tones and themes. Problem with straightforward traditional bluegrass is it can get boring and predictable to the ear after a while. Problem with West Coast is it can


lack the pep and danceability, while sometimes taking itself too seriously or building on illconceived notions of bluegrass traditions or customs. The Powder Kegs are the best of both worlds: Deep, emotionally soulful-driven songs, but with high energy, and a very strict adherence to the bluegrass rules from a technical standpoint. The Bill Monroe shuffle is there. And the slow songs are three-time waltzes, as they should be, but again, with more emotional chords to really make you really feel them. For all the stupidly-fast songs on this album, the

slow waltz “Bloodshot Eyes” might be the standout track. Makes sense they could split the difference, as the New York City-based band resides between New York and Philly, I can anticipate some people will grumble that this band is just a cleaner version of their favorite band they’ve been listening to for years and years. But these guys have been working in obscurity for six years themselves, and can’t be blamed for finding a little success with this album, which peaked at #1 on the US Bluegrass charts. “The Amanicans” is an accomplishment. 15


tour info 04/16/11 Rathaus Philadelphia, PA 04/23/11 Coco 66 Brooklyn, NY 04/30/11 North Star Bar Philadelphia, PA 05/07/11 Larry Street Philadelphia, PA 05/14/11 Johnny Brenda’s Philadelphia, PA 05/21/11 Trash Bar Brooklyn, NY

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what’s hot the avett brothers Concord, North Carolina based folk rock band made up of two brothers, Scott Avett and Seth Avett, who play the banjo and guitar respectively. Their 2009 I and Love and You is a must have.

dawes American rock band hailing from Los Angeles, California. Dawes was formed from the band Simon Dawes when co-songwriter Blake Mills left, abandoning their post-punk sound in favor of folk rock.

devil makes three Santa Cruz based band whose music encompasses a blend of bluegrass, old time music, country, folk, blues, ragtime, and rockabilly. The band has released four full-length albums, the most recent being Do Wrong Right in 2009.

the head & the heart Composed largely of transplants to the Seattle area, The Head and the Heart write and play songs that speak to the newness of a fresh start, of moving forward, all brimming with a soulfulness and hope for a better life than the one we’ve all been sold.

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yarn 18

“Everybody in New York thinks this music doesn’t happen up here, but it does,” says Blake Christiana. The deep-voiced songwriter and native New York upstater sounds more like a seasoned Memphis session man than a Yankee songsmith. “It’d be nice if we weren’t based in New York; it’d be a lot easier financially [laughs]. It’s tough,

man. It’s tricky, but we’re fighting it. We’re trying.” Their funds may be tight, but musically, Christiana and his Brooklyn-based band Yarn have little to worry about. The band headlines Wednesday night at the Pour House in support of a forthcoming album titled Empty Pockets—an unusually smoothcollection of heartfelt songs.


Christiana, 32, previously played for years in the N.Y. jam band Blake & The Family Dog. He admits he grew tired of the routine with the group and decided to switch gears completely toward a less chaotic musical ordeal. “It was more about improvising and jamming than it was about the songs themselves,”

he remembers. “I got so sick of that really. I was ready to make a record of songs. To me, the record is about the song first, really”. Yarn currently features Christiana on acoustic guitar and lead vocals alongside singer/guitarist Trevor MacArthur, filddler/mandolinist Andrew Hendryx, bassist Rick Bugel, and with Jay Frederick on the drums. “I got lucky with the guys in this band,” Christiana says. “They’re all very tasteful musicians. The rhythm section actually features a couple of jazz guys. We’re all in our 30s, except for the bass player, who is a young 25-year-old. He keeps us partying, you know. The band on the album is the band on the road. There aren’t any special guests planned for the Pour House show… although if anyone wants to come up and play, we might be glad to have them.” When the songwriter was growing up in Schenectady, N.Y., his guitar-playing dad bought him a guitar and arranged for lessons, hoping to nurture a natural talent. His guidance took a while to pay off. “Like any kid, I kind of rebelled against it a bit,” Christiana remembers. “My dad was a diehard Ricky Nelson fan—that and Elvis Presley. As a kid, that’s all I’d hear—in the living room and around the campfire. It was hammered into my brain. I started back up with music in high school again, and started playing rhythm guitar in garage bands. I didn’t start writing my own music until I was in my

mid-20s. Plus, I wasn’t really a singer, either.” The slightly drowsy, flattoned croon of Ricky Nelson must have made its way into Christiana’s vocal chords, too, as his singing style on most of Empty Pockets maintains a similarly nonchalant style. There’s a bit of Randy Travis-byway-of-Don Nelson in the tone as well, deep, rich, raspy, and understated, with the occasional yodel and trill. “That’s just developed over the years,” he says of his singing. “I think Ryan Adams has a beautiful voice. I’ve always liked his vocals. I don’t necessarily emulate him at all, but he does have a nice falsetto. I thought it was important to try to take that and take a note from my regular voice and make it that high trill, as you call it. I don’t even know how to describe it. I guess I developed that unconsciously.” Christiana didn’t even try his hand singing lead until just seven years ago, when he started collaborating more and more with his buddy Shane Spaulding, eventually adding lyrics and arrangement ideas to their original song sketches. Spaulding shares songwriting credit on several tunes on the new album. “This has been brewing since I was a kid,” says Christiana of his latest work. “I loved the Grateful Dead when I was younger and I was really into the Garcia and Grisman stuff—Old and In the Way and all of it. Then I started listening to Whiskeytown and Wilco and groups like that. I got into Gram Parsons and the Burrito

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Brothers and stuff. It became kind of a hipper thing to do; get the country stuff out. It inspired me for the first record, and it worked so well, I continued with this second record.” Empty Pockets features guest appearances by the great vocalist Edie Brickell, five-string banjo legend Tony Trischka, the amazing Nashville fiddler Casey

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Driessen, and the wonderful Caitlin Cary of Whiskeytown. The major slow waltz on the new album, “I’m Down,” features high-pitched harmonies from Brickell. The song “Move” has a snappy quick like tempo shuffle in 2/4 time, replete with rich vocal harmonies between Christiana and his high-tone, strumming sideman.


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n my earlier years in New York, I thought the best life in the city would be dressing up with my cocktail dress and heels, walking into a party scene as those in SATC, holding a martini glass, talking with beautiful people and try-ing to impress some of them. After many years of living here and knowing about a real New York better, my favorite changed. Now, I think one of the best moments of my life in the city would be—being in the clothes I feel most comfortable and confident with, hanging out

with friends I have met whom I like much, sitting somewhere in one of my favorite bars like Banjo Jim’s, listening to some beautiful music, drinking hot tea rather than alcohol (yes, I am the only one in this bar holding a tea cup rather than beer bottle. Why not? They have water heater prepared for tea at least for me). This place does ‘look’ very ordinary. I mean, no fancy decoration, there is no even a real stage. The windows of the bar are dirty and almost covered by all kinds of posters. The entire

bar is not very spacious… However, the vibe here really grabs my attention and heart, maybe because the audio equips are really good? Or I have listened to some very impressive singers singing here? Or maybe just because of the unpretentious crowd around me? I don’t know. But I do feel so comfortable, relaxed and happy with my friends hanging out here. By the way, there is no cover, beer is $5, tea is $3. Make sure you have your US state ID. A stringent bartender will come over to check all the time.

banjo jim’s

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odeo Bar is a little bit country and a little bit rock n roll. If you come here to see radio country, you’re gonna be disappointed. This place has better music than all that. The kind with a little grit, a little rock, sometimes it’s bluegrass, sometimes rockabilly, but always good. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bad show there. I bought many a great CD and discovered many an awesome. The first time I went I was scared the place might be a bit contrived and “theamy”. An old barn? A horse trailer for a bar? Peanuts on the floor? Ew. But I was wrong. Even though the patrons seem a bit bridge and tunnel or frat boy, over look them. This place smacks of authenticity. The choice of music alone is a clue. And if you look around, you’ll find some regulars who are “a little bit country and a little bit rock n roll” themselves. They’re usually right up front because they knew to grab a seat by the stage. Oh, and the margaritas. Delicious and sure to kick yer ass. The food is great, too. Chicken friend steak with yummy chicken gravy and mashed


potatoes… bless mah old soul. Oh, they also have some of the best fried pickles I've ever had. The music is free folks. And nobody does that anymore. Not for music this good. Don’t go just for the food or to hang out on the restaurant side. Take in the full experience. Grab a seat by the stage before the show (and get there early… the seats by the stage fill up quick), chow, throw back a few and enjoy. Rodeo Bar is New York’s oldest and finest honky-tonk. Hike up your Wranglers and head those Fryes inside, where you’ll find longhorns on the walls, peanut shells underfoot, first-class margaritas at the bar, and Tex-Mex on the menu.

But this place is really about the music: urban-tinged country, foot-stompin’ bluegrass, swinging rockabilly, Southernflavored rock. Bigger names, such as Brian Setzer, and up and comers on the tour circuit, such as Hank Williams III, occasionally grace the stage. It’s happy hour until 7pm; the free music starts at either 9 or 10pm nightly and usually goes till at least 3am. And of course there is always the wonderful five dollar Whisky shot and PBR recession special. Doesn’t get any better than that, now does it?

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eightner’s social life consists mostly of hoisting a drink. Cohen turns the corner and points to one of his literary inspirations, a lit sign with just three letters on it: B-A-R. This is Sunny’s, a Red Hook institution for three generations. Cohen moves to the back of the place to find Sunny Balzano. Balzano was born in the house next door. Like his father and grandfather, he still runs the bar. If you want to investigate the death of Red Hook, Balzano is an eyewitness. “In those years when I was growing up, it looked like the Long Island Expressway out there in the river,” he says. “This was one of 40 bars in the whole neighborhood. This is the only

one that is left from that era. The only one.” Sunny’s Bar doesn’t appear by name in any of Cohen’s mysteries, but Balzano’s stories infuse Cohen’s series of novels. Back in the day, Balzano says, with all the money and cargo and longshoremen pouring through the neighborhood, crime was a fact of life. Balzano remembers one murder just outside the bar. “It was a vendetta on the iceman,” he says. “I heard this cracking at 5 or 6 in the morning, and I looked out the window and I see this body, just oozing blood.” But that was a long time ago. Balzano left the neighborhood when he was a young man

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and when he got back, the crowds, the ships, the bars were all gone. The next bit of evidence in “The Case of the Missing Neighborhood” is outside the bar, down by the water. Cohen points across the harbor. “If you look to New Jersey, you see a thicket of cranes from the ships,” Cohen says. “A lot of that shipping and unloading moved to New Jersey because it’s much easier to have access to railroad yards there, and that just devastated neighborhood.” So in the death of Red Hook, New Jersey is a prime suspect. A likely accomplice: the technology of container ships, which made the Hook’s old piers obsolete.


“ best bar in

new york city.�

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Roots Magazine  

A bluegrass magazine