Ahead of Railroad Earth’s upcoming tour this weekend, the band’s founding guitarist and frontman Todd Sheaffer made a stop in Connecticut this past Saturday for a rare, solo acoustic set at New Haven music venue Pacific Standard Tavern.
Pacific Standard Tavern is one of New Haven, CT’s true smaller musical gems. In addition to providing a popular outlet for many up and coming bands and artists in the area, PST has been part of the proving ground for a lot of bigger names in their early days, like Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Aqueous, The Breakfast, and more. Sheaffer is a longtime friend of PST owner Adam Northway, who is a co-founder of Railroad Earth’s yearly Halloween event Hangtown Music Festival.
Todd started off this night’s solo set with “Jupiter and The 119,” a song that rocks as a Railroad opener, and similarly here pumped up PST’s crowd right away, too. Sheaffer, playing to what was clearly a room of devoted fans, showed a natural affinity for a true troubador style, that was either contrasted or complimented—depending on your particular acoustic taste—immensely by his guitar’s rich, fat, hearty sound. There’s a dynamic quality to the way he plays that may stem from a sense of intensity that is also clearly visible.
After the opener, he dialed things back for some prettier numbers: “Passing Through,” “The Good Life,” and a stirring version of “Peggy-O.” The midpoint of this set saw an introductory story to the song “Lonecroft Farewell,” in which Sheaffer described the rustic retreat at which he had spent a number of his winters years ago—before the area saw a tragic modernization take place. The guitarist found an excited patron in the crowd that had visited the same place himself a few times.
Down the backside of this evening’s set, Sheaffer offered some more from the Railroad Earth catalogue, “Seven Story Mountain” followed by “Captain Nowhere,” the second a newer piece that shares the title of the band’s new, upcoming album. On these he channeled the cosmic bravado often found deep within Railroad Earth sets, showing in his guitar playing now a meditative, intense strumming, that with its funky peddle work made the songs captivating in their almost strange way.
Sheaffer rounded out his solo set with a couple of really unique versions of tunes. First, a classic in “Hard Livin’,” which is cool to hear Todd play alone, coming from its big, brassy original sound. He then finished with what he called one his favorite Dylan songs, “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall.” Interestingly, the cover found the much more lush feel of Blood on the Tracks rather than the early sound of Freewheelin’.
The String Cheese Incident, members of Hot Rize, Sam Bush—many bluegrass giants have listed Todd Sheaffer as one of their favorite songwriters from the last couple decades. If there’s a chance to see the material that powers Railroad Earth’s musically colorful shows stripped down to their lead man’s humble, bare bones approach, take it. In the meantime, the band heads out on tour this weekend, starting in Portland, ME on Thursday, and then hitting Boston, MA, Port Chester, NY, and Hartford, CT before heading down south next week.
Article and Photographs by Miles Hurley