A Night with Railroad Earth

An eclectic night of bluegrass-inspired music at the Fillmore Charlotte.

February 20th, 2020. A day that brought not only eccentric weather but an eclectic band to Charlotte. Outside the roads around the Queen City were icy, the air frigid, and the temperature freezing. However, inside the Fillmore the crowd was warm and receptive to any band that happened to be on stage. Starting off the show was a duo called Handmade Moments.

Handmade Moments.


Comprised of Anna Moss & Joel Ludford, this duo brought a great opening set to the Fillmore. Through brass and wood, these two brought a unique sound to the opening part of the show, and I highly recommend checking them out! They are out supporting Railroad Earth on this tour on select dates through the rest of the tour.

Railroad Earth


A plethora of instruments lined the stage. Such instruments included the usual suspects like acoustic and bass guitars. Others like pedal steel made a welcome appearance in the eyes of the attendees. Starting with a black stage, Railroad Earth was received fondly as the drummer(Carey Harmon) started the set. Slowly, building in layers, the other instruments came in building an overall sound that could only be described as cohesive.

Cohesiveness was the main underlining factor in this set. 19 years of performing will do that to a group. One thing that stuck out was how during the set, no one ever got in each other’s way. Carey Harmon’s drum fills never competed with Andrew Altman’s stand up bass lines. Tim Carbone’s violin never interfered with John Skehan’s mandolin picking. The crowd picked up on that, noting by how attentive the crowd was during the entirety of the set.

A time and a place.

Although cohesiveness was the main theme of the set, a big part of how I perceived a Railroad Earth live set was through the individual skills of every member in the band. There was a time and a place for each member to take a solo, while still contributing to the overall sound of the song.

Todd Sheaffer
John Skehan
Tim Carbone

As examples, John Skehan & Tim Carbone had many moments throughout the show where the individuality of each of their respective instruments was put on display. Even frontman Todd Sheaffer had many tasteful solos.

A great night filled with incredible music, Railroad Earth had such a fantastic set which you can check out here:

Set 1:
Chasin’ A Rainbow
Bread & Water
Bird in a House
The Hunting Song
For Love
Crossing the Gap
The Forecast
Runnin’ Wild

Set 2:
Just So You Know
Lovin’ You
Old Man and the Land
Warhead Boogie
Captain Nowhere
Jupiter and the 119
Cuckoo’s Medley

Be sure to check out Railroad Earth on tour through March! Dates below!

Feb. 22 – Asheville, NC – The Orange Peel

Feb. 23 – Charleston, WV – Mountain Stage

Feb. 25 – Louisville, KY – Mercury Ballroom

Feb. 26 – Knoxville, TN – Mill And Mine

Feb. 27 – Birmingham, AL – Iron City

Feb. 28 – Pensacola, FL – Vinyl Music Hall

Feb. 29 – Pelham, TN – The Caverns

Mar. 3 – Indianapolis, IN – The Vogue 

Mar. 4 – Grand Rapids, MI – The Intersection

Mar. 5 – Madison, WI – The Sylvee

Mar. 6 – Minneapolis, MN – First Avenue

Mar. 7 – Chicago, IL – Vic Theatre

Mar. 20 – Washington, DC – 9:30 Club

Mar. 21 – Washington, DC – 9:30 Club

Mar. 25 – Fayetteville, AR – George’s Majestic Lounge

Mar. 26 – Tulsa, OK – Cain’s Ballroom

Mar. 27 – Kansas City, MO – Knuckleheads Saloon

Mar. 28 – St. Louis, MO – The Pageant 

Railroad Earth to Headline The Fillmore Charlotte February 20th

Bluegrass never sounded so good in the Carolinas.

Around The Country will be providing coverage for Railroad Earth as they stop into Charlotte February 20th on their 4th show out of 23 on the tour. With stops including one of our favorite venues ‘The Caverns’ that has already sold out, Railroad Earth has much to look forward to during this tour!

Forming in 2001, the band was a culmination of the love for acoustic instruments. 9 albums later with the lastest entitled All For The Song releasing later this year, we have much to look forward to with this group!

You can find tickets here & the complete tour schedule below. Hope to see you all there!

Feb. 7 – Boston, MA – Paradise Rock Club

Feb. 8 – Port Chester, NY – The Capitol Theatre

Feb. 19 – Salem, VA – Salem Civic Center

Feb. 20 – Charlotte, NC – The Fillmore

Feb. 21 – Raleigh, NC – Lincoln Theatre

Feb. 22 – Asheville, NC – The Orange Peel

Feb. 23 – Charleston, WV – Mountain Stage

Feb. 25 – Louisville, KY – Mercury Ballroom

Feb. 26 – Knoxville, TN – Mill And Mine

Feb. 27 – Birmingham, AL – Iron City

Feb. 28 – Pensacola, FL – Vinyl Music Hall

Feb. 29 – Pelham, TN – The Caverns

Mar. 3 – Indianapolis, IN – The Vogue 

Mar. 4 – Grand Rapids, MI – The Intersection

Mar. 5 – Madison, WI – The Sylvee

Mar. 6 – Minneapolis, MN – First Avenue

Mar. 7 – Chicago, IL – Vic Theatre

Mar. 20 – Washington, DC – 9:30 Club

Mar. 21 – Washington, DC – 9:30 Club

Mar. 25 – Fayetteville, AR – George’s Majestic Lounge

Mar. 26 – Tulsa, OK – Cain’s Ballroom

Mar. 27 – Kansas City, MO – Knuckleheads Saloon

Mar. 28 – St. Louis, MO – The Pageant 

Kelsey Waldon at The Evening Muse.

Kelsey Waldon may have small-town roots..but her songs know no bounds.

Stopping in Charlotte on a cold November night, Kelsey Waldon transformed the Evening Muse into a proper country music venue. Supporting her latest album White Noise/White Lines, Kelsey put on a great show.

Born and raised in the rural community of Monkey’s Eyebrow Kentucky, Kelsey is about as real as it gets. In a state that has produced some of the best emerging country artists, Kelsey adds to that list with songs that speak of life experiences and different points of view.

Throughout her set, Kelsey would sometimes give a tiny snippet of the song’s origin, crediting her grandma for one of them. Things like this paint a portrait of a person who has lived. A person that isn’t filling a song quota, or searching for current buzzwords. A true country artist.

Kelsey also brought a killer band with her. One of the best sounding rhythm sections belongs to Nate Felty & Alec Newnam. This only elevated Kelsey’s songs.

The crowd at the Evening Muse was attentive the whole night, with silence coming during the acoustic part of Kelsey’s set. It was a truly authentic country night at the Evening Muse, and I highly recommend going out and supporting this great artist.

Kelsey is on tour through the new year, with dates surely being added in the future. Thanks to Kelsey for having ATC out to the show!

Quick Takes Featuring “Desert Dove” by Michaela Anne

Welcome to this second edition of Quick Takes, where we at Around The Country quickly give you a reason to give an album a listen in 200 words or less.

Alright folks, break out your favorite beverage and block out 40 minutes of your day…because this album is a good one.

Michaela Anne is a songwriter that is new to my playlist, but she entered my country music radar via her appearance on Live from Layman Drug Company.

If there is one defining trait of this album, it’s the careful craftmanship of each song. With the first song “By Our Design”, one can really get a taste of the sound of this album from a sonic standpoint. The haunting strings that start right on the downbeat give this album a theme of space and nostalgia. Each song on this album could be a title track, something that I find rare in other albums.

My favorite song off of Desert Dove has to be “Two Fools”. It’s a no-frills classic country song dripping in pedal steel that revolves around a complicated relationship. It doesn’t get more country than that.

Give Desert Dove a listen, and get lost in the space & vibes that make this album so special.

Flatpicking, Family & Friends.

A conversation with seasoned bluegrass artist Larry Keel.

Around The Country recently had the chance to interview Larry Keel, a treasured bluegrass musician who’s seen a life of music. Here’s what he had to say:

What got you into flat-picking?  

Larry: I grew up in a very musical household, with both sides of my family having been musicians and music-lovers for generations. Very deep mountain traditions from the southwest corner of Virginia – my parents moved up from the family fold in Clintwood, Virginia, up to northern Virginia for work when the coal mines slowed way down in the 1970’s. My father played guitar and banjo and sang, my brother played guitar, my close uncle on my mother’s side played drop-thumb banjo and his band toured around with Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys for years (Ralph Stanley is from Clintwood also). My grandfather Joe Mullins played banjo too… he’s reputed to have ‘penned’ the song “I Got a Mule to Ride,” that Ralph Stanley recorded and performed. There was always music in the house growing up, and musicians were always stopping by. I guess I was just born with it burning in my blood. I wanted to play music just like all the cool, interesting folks that were in my world. My brother bought me a guitar of my own when I was 7 and I’ve never set it down. As far as why I flat pick the guitar, it’s just the way I learned to play since that was the way my brother and dad played… and I loved the flat-picking style that I heard guitar greats like Doc Watson, Clarence White, and Tony Rice playing. That got me really fired up to get technically advanced like they were.  

Do you have any memorable shows you’ve played? 

Larry: Playing with Tony Rice at MerleFest, playing with my brother Gary at MerleFest, playing Carnegie Hall and Red Rocks Amphitheater. Getting to play with my wife and with friends and musical legends in some of the most beautiful places in the world… and I’m ready for more!

Photo courtesy of Angel Hendrix

Who are your favorite up-and-coming bluegrass artists?

Larry: I’m way into The Infamous Stringdusters, Billy Strings, Sierra Hull, the Steep Canyon Rangers, the Songs From The Road Band and Front Country, just to name a few really talented acts and artists out there killin’ it.

I always love to learn about the recording process of albums. Tell me about the recording process of your latest album One.   

Larry: For this particular project, we recorded it in the basement of my road manager’s house, completely live. The setting was totally comfortable, familiar, relaxed, close to home, etc., so that automatically makes for a really natural and centered feel going into things. The ‘live’ part means that we didn’t use any studio layering of tracks, no separation booths, no gimmicks, no fixes of anything; what we played that day is exactly what you get in each song, as if you were hearing us perform right in front of you like at a live show. That is the truest representation of what we wanted to say with these tunes. Recording the album this way made it genuine and fun for us, hopefully, that comes through to the listener. The other important factor is the finishing stage of the process, which was having the recording mastered by Bill Woolf. The best!

Many thanks to Larry for taking the time to answer these questions! Catch him at any of his live shows through February!

Son of A Songwriter.

Talented Texas transplant Ben Danaher on being a 21st-century songwriter.

If you want to learn about the life of Ben Danaher, all you have to do is listen. Ben credits his dad the late Bob Danaher (an accomplished Texas songwriter in his own right) for the grit and determination he needed to weather the hardships of being a songwriter in the modern age. Hailing from Huffman, Texas, he made the move to Nashville shortly after his brother Kelly was tragically shot and killed in his home. During early writing sessions in Nashville, Ben explains:

I had just moved to Nashville after I had lost my brother, and for a while this was the first time I was talking about it.

A Special Songwriter.

Like many great songwriters, Ben chose to channel his hard life experiences through song, resulting in a raw, unfiltered look into the life of a songwriter. Within Nashville and country music, Ben Danaher is a straight-shooter. His ability to connect with listeners through deeply personal stories puts him on my list of songwriters that I feel are changing the landscape of the songwriting mecca. A part of the reason his album “Still Feel Lucky” has been received so positively.

“Still Feel Lucky” embodies not only personal stories but harrowing truths about Ben’s personal loss and hardships. The album was done live with his touring band. Ben explained the process of recording an album live with his band saying:

we rehearsed the album 6-7 times before recording so everyone really knew their parts. I remember we did around 7 songs in the first day. 

Live at The Fillmore

Ben took the stage at The Fillmore in Charlotte opening for Aaron Lewis on his “State I’m In” Tour. Armed with a worn Gibson acoustic, Ben opened up the show to a warm response. The crowd drew ever-increasingly quiet throughout his set, really relating to the hardships he’s faced. Referencing his dad throughout his set really put into perspective the weight his songs carry. The songs don’t reference trends in country music, and they aren’t trying to fill a songwriting quota. I believe crowds want the authentic, relatable nature of country music back. Ben can and does provide that. And people are listening.

You can find Ben on tour as he tours the country through December. Thanks to Ben for answering my questions!!

125 Miles West of Charlotte.

Jesse Langlais of Town Mountain & the importance of music among friends.

Travel 125 miles west from Charlotte and you’re bound to start hearing banjos. Talking to Jesse Langlais(Banjo & vocalist for Town Mountain), evidence of this statement could be found at any given street corner in Asheville.

Asheville is Home.

Asheville was home for Town Mountain even before the group had formed. Jesse explained “We had all lived in Asheville long before Town Mountain was a band.” Town Mountain came to be out of the different open jams around Asheville. The culture of Asheville lended itself to musicians meeting out of these different events. It also fostered the strong sense of collaboration that brought on many new faces and ideas to the band. As Jesse said

Collaboration is a really big part of bluegrass music, with friends jumping in and out of each others bands…

Music Among Friends

With their latest album New Freedom Blues, collaboration was at the forefront of its creation. Friend Caleb Klauder(mandolin & fiddle for the Foghorn Stringband) was at the helm as producer. Miles Miller(drummer for Tyler Childers & Sturgill Simpson) provided the drums for the album, although his impact was more apparent as the band rehearsed a few songs with him. Jesse explains

“Miles came into the studio and we rehearsed a few songs, and it ended up that almost every song on the album had Miles on drums”.

With Miles came Tyler Childers(a good friend of the band) who co-wrote and provided vocals on the last song on the album Down Low. Recording the album in Echo Mountain Studios in Asheville, the band felt perfectly at home experimenting with different ideas.

A Busy Schedule

Town Mountain, like a lot of other working bands, tours heavily. Jesse gave me a ballpark range of over 120 dates a year. I was able to catch them live as they stopped in Charlotte at the Visulite Theatre July 25th. Playing close to a 2 hour set, the energy and tenacity of this band is relentless. Zac Smith(bass) provided a solid foundation for blistering solos courtesy of members Phil Barker & Bobby Britt. Jesse Langlais incorporated a great hand on banjo, while Robert Greer sang the truth in song. The musicianship of this band as a whole can’t be overlooked.

The crowd stayed eager throughout the whole set, getting rowdier as the night progressed, hollering after each solo and song. Town Mountain put on such a flawless show that they even did two songs after the encore.

As far as shows coming up, there is a big one on their minds. Red Rocks, with Tyler Childers. “Were really looking forward to Red Rocks” Jesse said enthusiastically.

125 Miles west of Charlotte is where Town Mountain came to be. They continue to be a band that works hard and plays hard. Hats off to these NC natives for making great music and being even better people. Special thanks to Jesse Langlais for taking the time to talk!

Quick Takes featuring “Over The Trees” by The Steel Wheels

Welcome to this first edition of Quick Takes, where we at Around The Country quickly give you a reason to give an album a listen in 200 words or less.

First things first…If imagery and musicianship are part of your amazing album checklist, then please give this one a listen. Stop reading, and go listen.

Reading into this albums creation, it seems to be spawned out of a need to experiment with new and fresh ideas. None is more apparent than the percussive first track “Rains Come”. Listening back on previous albums, a lot of folk based instrumentation was present. The usual suspects, such as violin and banjo. But this album feels different. It feels vibrant and a little edgy. The folk elements are still there, but I feel they provide a good foundation for other experimental ideas to flourish.

My favorite moments of this album honestly was the way each song started. From the beautiful banjo melody of “Falling”, to killer acapella in “This Year”. Each song kept me guessing..I love that…and don’t get me started on the tasteful slide intro in “Something New”…I replayed that intro a couple times.

Amazing photo courtesy of Ruby Sky Photography

Go fill your weekend with this album…and catch The Steel Wheels in your town as they tour the country through November.

A Festival for All

How two days up in Wilkesboro changed my life.

Two days was all it took to be hooked. This was ATC’s first time on the Wilkes Community College grounds for a festival that had so much admiration. Arriving on campus was a surreal site. Stepping off the local boy scout chartered school bus Friday afternoon, the festival was already in full swing. MerleFest had my full attention.


The first day was overwhelming. Getting a booklet from a volunteer, I was quick to find a bench to sit and and get my bearings. With the festival being on a college campus, the grounds were easy to navigate and mostly flat. The Watson stage loomed in the distance as I made the trek to see it. I feel the Watson Stage acted as a centerpiece to the whole festival, a sort of central gathering place. As a first timer of MerleFest, the magnitude of this festival was a sight to see.


7pm. “Supper Break” had commenced, a sort of 45 minute dinner break between sets at the Watson Stage. Festival goers were making their way around the huge food tent that MerleFest had provided. A lot of food being made and sold in the tent came from different non-profit groups and even the local Boy Scout organization. Money given in the food tent directly impacted the community in a huge way, a kind of overall theme of MerleFest. After getting a hotdog the Elvis hotdog man(yes like Elvis Presley),

The Elvis Hot Dog Guy…

people started making their way to the Watson stage directly across from the food tent. It was time for Tyler Childers. Tyler Childers isn’t just any country pickin’ songwriter, he hails from Lawrence County, Kentucky. The state has been infamous over the past couple years of producing some of the best country talent and Tyler really fits that bill. His incredible storytelling compels the listener to really appreciate all the imagery and imagination that Tyler brings into his songs.

All that to say that a bunch of people turned out to hear Tyler sing. And boy did he sing.

One of the coolest aspects of Tylers show was the inclusion of two drummers. It was incredible to watch how both of them could keep in time with each other, sharing fills for the duration of the set. Playing covers such as “Long Long Time To Get Old” really reinforced the notion that Tyler cares and wants to preserve his roots. He won’t ever let you forget about where he came from. After the last note had rung out on that chilly Friday night, it felt like all 10,000 plus people in attendance became closer. As the last bus from the local Boy Scout troop pulled away, everyone was ready for what was in store Saturday.


Thousands of people each year attend MerleFest. A lot of the people I talked to had been coming for years. The first lady I was fortunate enough to run into had a lap steel guitar on. Intriguing my interest, I asked her what she was doing with a lap steel guitar in the middle of a balmy Saturday afternoon. With a cheerful reply she said “Well I’m in line for the jam tent sir!”. I asked her how long she had been playing for.. “over 20 years!” she exclaimed. MerleFest has always had what I like to call a  BYOI(Bring Your Own Instrument) policy that lets anyone and everyone bring an instrument to jam on. Whether you’ve been playing for a week or 20 years, the JamTent at MerleFest doesn’t discriminate. That’s special to a festival who brings in Grammy winning acts almost every year. I think I’ll bring my old Guild guitar next year.

MerleFest may be centered around music, but it also welcomes a different kind of art as well. Crafting. Entering the crafting tent, the overwhelming amount of human creation astounded me. Pottery to necklaces, everything a DIY’er could ever ask for was in this tent. One particular booth caught my attention. Avery Knifeworks is run by Raleigh Avery, a knifemaker out of Morganton, North Carolina. Raleigh makes every single knife by hand, carefully crafting a molten piece of steel into a functional piece of art. Like a musician, an artisan must practice his craft diligently. Since 2015, Raleigh’s been producing knives for not only people in the US, but people in other countries as well. A true maker in all sense of the word, I will surely be purchasing a knife from Raleigh in the near future.  

Beyond crafting, I ran into a man who is all about organics. So much so, that him and his wife make all kinds of organic products, ranging from Blackberry Apple Jelly, to appetizing soup mixes. Keith Finger insisted that his wife Kim usually does all of the product development and R&D. Mountain Momma Organics operates out of Ritchie County, West Virginia, on their farm named Almost Heaven Farms. 100 acres became a playground for organic food and product development, as Keith and Kim have been producing products since 2011. Keith was eager to tell me the process of how things were made. For someone to be so transparent about their products means the world. It truly means they care. Thank you Keith for showing me around your booth, the cranberry apple granola bar was great!


MerleFest 2019 incorporated a great number of acts from North Carolina( over 35+). Acts ranging from morning performers to The Avett Brothers, who headlined on the Watson Stage the last day of the festival.

Once again, a certain band caught my eye(or should I say ear). Ellis Dyson and the Shambles are a gypsy jazz band out of Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Ellis Dyson

I first heard them stepping off the bus on the second day. The dance tent was conveniently located next to the entrance, and after getting checked in, I very quickly walked over to the tent. I had to see what band was playing such amazing “jazzy” tunes. And then there they were. As Ellis Dyson entertained the crowd in between songs with some witty comments, I know this band from Chapel Hill was special. Soon after their set was over, I was informed that they were going to be playing a second set later in the afternoon on another stage. Count on me being there. Once again, they played an incredible set filled with humor and wit. Please check them out if they come to your town or as Ellis put it “Watch out when we come to your town!”


“We were a daytime band, you know, the band that plays before the headliner”

Brandi Carlile wasn’t a stranger on my radar. Judging from how many people showed up Saturday night, I’d say she was on everyone’s radar as well. Brandi is sort of a national treasure in the folk/americana scene. Brandi has amassed numerous Grammys while also standing her ground on topics related to LGBT. A true artist in the purest form, Brandi showed poise and grace as she stepped on the Watson stage Saturday night. During her set she brought back the memory of 2016 when she last played MerleFest. “We were a daytime band, you know, the band that plays before the headliner”. A crowd as far as the eye could see accompanied Brandi as she blazed through her 14 song set. During the final songs of the set, Brandi would bring out Scott and Seth Avett from the Avett brothers. After playing through “Murder in the City” (an Avett Brothers original) and “Hold Out Your Hands”, Brandi thanked the crowd and left the stage gracefully into the night. A fitting ending to a magical Saturday at MerleFest.


As the Boy Scout Troop 109 bus dropped us off at parking lot A after Brandi’s set, a sort of contentment was in the air. A feeling that 4 days in late April would now be dedicated to a festival up in Wilkesboro. A festival that was one of the best experiences of my life so far.

None of this would have been possible without the amazing team at IVPR. Thank you for allowing Around The Country to cover this amazing festival.

2 days in April was all it took for a tradition to begin for the rest of my life.

Makers of MerleFest (Part 2)

Your favorite MerleFest artists..brought to you by Lindsay Craven.

Every year, multiple artists are contacted to play a show during the 4 days in April that is MerleFest. They must navigate process of scheduling, booking, and logistics. Fortunately, they have an ally. A veteran of MerleFest.

Enter Lindsay Craven, A dedicated entertainment professional with 11 years in Artist Relations under her belt. She’s helped numerous artists navigate the hectic landscape of MerleFest, but she’ll tell you that working with James Taylor was one of the more memorable ones.


Lindsay got her start early in her college career as an intern. “My internship was for marketing originally and then I worked the spring leading up to the festival in 2007. And then during the festival I ended up in artist relations.”  She would eventually take on other impressive roles outside of the festival.

Yadkin Cultural Arts Center was a place Lindsay would frequent in the coming years. She would work as an administrative assistant for a year, then take on the role as House & Theatre manager for Willingham Theatre, the residential theatre of the arts center. Through all of this, she was still working hard at MerleFest every year, proving her commitment to this great festival. Soon, bigger things would come, as she would be promoted to Assistant Director for Yadkin Arts Council, then Executive Director of Yadkin Arts Council. An impressive couple years for Lindsay. After working MerleFest for over 10 years, she would take on her current role as MerleFest Artist Relations Manager. When asked if all of her previous roles prepared her for the new role at MerleFest she said “ I wore a lot of hats while I was there. So I think it helped in being prepared to juggle all the things that go along with artist relations”


Just like festival director Ted Hagaman, Lindsay has been around MerleFest for over a decade. She has seen the changes and impact the festival has had on Wilkesboro. “It really put us on the map”. Ted and Lindsay knows the impact of MerleFest to the surrounding community. Part 1 of Makers of MerleFest described this impact in greater detail.


With over 10 years of experience working in MerleFest, Lindsay Craven does have some cherished moments. Working with James Taylor was a special time in 2017. But it was the performance of The Avett Brothers in 2013. It had been raining all day that Sunday, and turnout for the Avett Brothers performance was looking bleak. Looking out over the Watson stage, the crowd hadn’t left. Lindsay remembers the energy of the crowd saying “the energy of that crowd was amazing. the audience loved it”. Crowds are attentive at MerleFest, rain or shine.

Lindsay Craven, along with Ted Hagaman, are just two of the many Makers of Merlefest. Their love for the festival is enduring, the passion they have for the people is infectious, and the desire to put on the best possible festival is paramount. There are many more people working behind the scenes, people that share the same passion that Ted and Lindsay share. If I could write articles about all of them I would. Such a special group of people sharing a common goal:

To continue the legacy and traditions of MerleFest for those four days in April.

Stay tuned for coverage of MerleFest by Around The Country as we take a look at the People of MerleFest.