“Panama Red, he’ll steal your woman then he’ll rob your head,” which is just what Peter Rowan did November 30th at The Sherman Theater in Stroudsburg, PA. Peter Rowan stole the hearts of all the boys and girls as he fronted Railroad Earth in a recreation of Old and in the Way, the timeless bluegrass album from 1975. There were tears of joy and hands on hearts as the collaboration channeled the late, great Jerome “Spud Boy” Garcia.
A Thanksgiving weekend tradition has emerged with Railroad Earth’s Horn-O-Plenty Getaway. The much-anticipated second night began with a solo set from Peter Rowan. His guest performer, Tibetan singer Yungchen Lhamo (meaning “Goddess of melody and song”) captivated the spirit within. Her high-pitched vocals pierced the ego and reached the soul as her dark eyes and doll face breached the ugly in her song about forgiveness. It was in that moment the audience was able to purge their own darkness and their own sins. She made the whole room beautiful, giving permission to live, to feel, and to love from the soul. Heads were robbed, but hearts were broken open, ready to receive. The transformative chanting prepared the crowd for what happened next.
Peter Rowan and the Railroad Earth fellas emerged to the darkened stage. The backdrop was a lighted bear paw that alternated colors throughout the set. Start to finish, they played Old and in the Way in the order the songs appear on the album. As “Pig in a Pen” unfolded, it was clear that the level of musicianship was astounding in their arrangement and interpretation. Todd Sheaffer humbly stood farther back on stage, giving what could only be one of his legendary idols full access to his own band’s talents. The visibly happy Sheaffer was enough to break a heart into a million pieces of joy and then passed around to each member of the audience. At one point Sheaffer raised his fist into the air as if he too was an onlooker rather than a participant.
The ever-charismatic Rowan flirted with music and his swagger fancied the crowd. As he approached Timothy Carbone in “Midnight Moonlight,” his advances were returned with an over-the-top fiddle that Vassar Clements would delight over. “Wild horses couldn’t drag [anyone] away” at this point, and the bluegrass rendition of The Rolling Stone’s cover was enough to melt a packed house into a giant blob of waterworks – joyous tears of course. Yungchen Lhamo was invited back to the stage for “Land of the Navajo” where the depth of spirituality was captured via an ethereal arrangement of vocals and instrumentation. The collaboration had cultivated a most sensual and spiritual purging that was most transformative.
Rowan handed the reigns back to Sheaffer for set two, which was equally as special as two new songs off the upcoming album, Last of the Outlaws (January 2014) was introduced for the first time. “Chasin’ a Rainbow”, an upbeat, happy dancing feet kind of tune that followed the omnipotent “Seven Story Mountain.” The closing song, “One More Night on the Road” introduced John Skehan on keys, a new addition to the ever-growing family of instrumentation who presented elements of rock and jazz and sounded a bit like something The Band would have done. However, the set took the crowd full circle when Peter Rowan came back for more. A carefully crafted set list merged the Garcia-Rowan-Monroe connection when a haunting “Cold Rain and Snow” and “Walls of Time” were played back to back, during which Lhamo’s chanting bellowed throughout.
Sadly, all good things must come to an end but hearts were settled with a nurturing encore of “Railroad Earth.” A special night of song and dance opened the gates of freedom of the soul. “Oh mama, ain’t it good to be alive.” Indeed, it is.
Railroad Earth will be at The Space at Westbury in Westbury, NY Saturday, December 7th.
Special thanks to media contributors: Timme Newman, Anita Riley, Susan Skidmore and Pati Bobeck.