Last year, two weeks before Hangtown Halloween Festival, Railroad Earth, and the music community, was grieving the loss of band member Andy Goessling, who passed away on Oct. 12, 2018. Drummer Carey Harmon said the band was somewhat incomplete after that.
“This year has been healing and rebuilding,” Harmon said.
Railroad Earth took it slow finding a replacement after their winter tour, having various musicians fill in on different nights. Eventually they added two new members.
“We wanted to take time to heal and take our time and find the right place,” Harmon said. “We have two people that replaced the one person (Andy); if that’s even possible.”
Adding keyboardist Matt Slocum and Mike Robinson for pedal steel, guitar and banjo,Railroad Earth called the band complete again in April.
“We’ll be happy to introduce them to Hangtown,” Harmon said.
The Hangtown Music Festival event returns for its ninth year at the El Dorado Fairgrounds in Placerville, Calif., a two-hour drive away from Carson City this Thursday through Sunday. The event is a staple to many in the regional music community, and it caps off festival season at a time of year when the weather can be perfect for the occasion, said Ryan Kronenberg, who co-founded the festival and helps organize the event.
Railroad Earth hosts and headlines the event, which they have done since the first Hangtown in 2011. The band plays three nights over the four-day festival among many other popular acts in the music scene, many of which are regional favorites, including Greensky Bluegrass, Dark Star Orchestra, The Wood Brothers, The Motet and more.
COSTUMES, FAMILY FUN
One popular theme is the spirit of Halloween that the organizers bring to life, but also the vibe the crowd brings with them. Harmon said a lot of the magic that happens at Hangtown is self-created from the folks coming in from all over.
“It’s really special that they take responsibility in having fun,” he said.
The costumes are a big way for everyone to get festive. Railroad Earth leads the way each night with matching outfits. Other activities include pumpkin-carving, yoga, sound baths. There are vendors selling items as well as food to buy. There is a KidZone, with activities for children with the main stage in sight, so parents won’t miss any of the music.
“My daughter is 8; she’s been going since she’s been 1,” Kronenberg said. “She loves it and lots of kids love it.”
NEW THIS YEAR
Kronenberg added to the visual element this year by booking Mad Alchemy Lighting, and adding a giant LED video wall behind the stage. Mad Alchemy Lighting brings a “liquid light show,” a form of light art that accompanies the music. Jonathan Singer will create the art for the LED video. He has worked with Dead & Company, Sphongle, Tipper and many other musicians.
“I heard it’s going to be amazing,” Harmon said. “I just hear really great things about it. We’ll see what it’s all about.”
Several bands are returning and many others are coming for the first time, Kronenberg said. A few years ago The Wood Brothers were booked, but bassist Chris Wood had to cancel because of a sickness.
“Chris is such an amazing bass player and personality,” Kronenberg said. “We’re glad we got The Wood Brothers Back.”
Both The Motet and Anders Osborne return after a few years away. Kronenberg is excited to get Corey Wong, from the band Vulfpeck. He said Vulfpeck is impressive because they sold out Madison Square Garden without a manager or major support.
Harmon said he’ll be roaming around checking out different bands when he isn’t on stage. Railroad Earth doesn’t perform Friday, so Harmon said that can be a fun day to do whatever with no responsibilities. He likened festivals to a summer camp for musicians, where they get to see each other and collaborate unlike when they’re on tour.
“It’s a nice time to see a lot of music, which is great,” he said. “And obviously there’s other activities, the costumes, and some of the mayhem in the campgrounds.”
HELP FROM HIGH SIERRA
Both Kronenberg and Harmon credit the organizers of High Sierra Music Festival for their help. Kronenberg said his friend, Adam Northway, has helped put Kronenberg’s ideas in motion. After Hangtown’s second year, they partnered with HSMF and continued success.
“In a nutshell, the location, partners and time of year (have helped the success),” Kronenberg said. “I feel like in its growth, we’ve done it in a very organic, natural way.”
Railroad Earth’s home is in New Jersey, but Harmon said California is just as much, if not more, of a home. He said High Sierra booked them in 2001 when the band was together for just a few months.
“When we first got involved with Ryan and Adam, and then the folks from High Sierra got involved, and it was a great coming together for all of us,” Harmon said. “We are grateful to have the opportunity; from the audience to producers.”
Music can be a medication, whether you are dancing to it or on stage performing it, said Kronenberg. He appreciates the community and connections built through music that bring people together.
“Music is a powerful force for that; it’s an amazing tool,” he said. “Then intention of this event, and lots of events, is to create community and give people a way to gather in a loving way and have a safe space to have those awesome moments.”
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