Littleton’s Breckenridge Brewery has always supported live music, and this weekend saw an impressive docket for their “Hootenany,” two days of local and national acts “playing their most iconic albums in full.” We were in attendance for Saturday afternoon with singer-songwriter Steve Poltz, New Orleans rocker Anders Osborne and headliners Railroad Earth. A glorious and sunshine-filled fall day was the first of many highlights, accompanied by delicious barbecue and thirst-quenching brews that drew out hundreds for a music-filled Saturday.
The early afternoon saw performances of Poltz’ One Left Shoe and Osborne’s Coming Down, played to full crowds with more attendees milling under beer tents and taking full advantage of the last days of warm weather. Just as the heat of the day took hold, Railroad Earth took their place onstage for one of two sets, the first of which was slated as their album Black Bear Sessions. As close to perfect as an album can get, Black Bear Sessions is a tall peak in Railroad Earth history that encapsulates everything they’ve done in the past 20-some years.
From the energetic singalong “Head” that opens the album and feeds into the uproarious “Lordy, Lordy,” to the masterful poeticism of “Seven Story Mountain,” Black Bear Sessions is a vast portfolio of Railroad Earth’s best work. It boasts the brilliant lyricism of frontman Todd Sheaffer, the incendiary fiddle-mandolin duels between Tim Carbone and John Skehan and the almighty drumbeats of Carey Harmon. Though the 2002 album was recorded with additional players who are no longer with the band, including the late Andy Goessling, the current lineup performed the ten songs with abounding skill and love.
While the band and their longtime fans waxed nostalgic, other attendees were new to Railroad Earth, hopping on the bandwagon one after another. The fan favorite “Colorado” segued into the rarity “Real Love,” with fandom excitement growing at every turn. The band took a brief break after the album’s closer and quintessential “Railroad Earth” before getting straight into the first tune of their newest album. The ten tracks on All For the Song created a perfect symmetry for the second set, with Matt Slocum and Mike Robinson on deck as the band’s latest additions to assist in bringing the two albums to their full live potential. Where keyboardist Slocum brought the funk, Robinson rotated between the banjo, acoustic and pedal steel guitars to elevate the music wherever necessary.
The day was commemorative in more than one way, with the show being bassist Andrew Altman’s last one in Colorado with Railroad Earth, who’s taking his leave from touring. In true “Hobo” spirit, the diehard fans gave the beloved bassist a bittersweet farewell, with posters and memorabilia in hand and overwhelming applause during Altman’s “Come and Go Moon.” Another especially moving moment was the live debut of Carbone’s “Driftin,” which is the last piece of music Goessling recorded with Railroad Earth and invoked emotions from those remembering the multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire, founding member and dear brother to his bandmates.
Railroad Earth closed out yet another Colorado summertime with a once-in-a-lifetime performance that reiterated the power of their music and an impressive 20-year career together. A band that has learned to roll with the changes, they’ve proved that good music and good people can get you through thick and thin, a sentiment that was made clear from the dubious smiles and warm embraces found throughout Saturday’s crowd. There’s nothing like a Denver day full of tunes and brews — until next year, Hootenanny.