Railroad Earth’s Todd Sheaffer and Coral Creek’s Chris Thompson Treat Oregon Crowd to Intimate Acoustic Performance (SHOW REVIEW)

With touring and shows still largely on hold, many artists have been taking to less conventional means of connecting with their fans and generating income. For many, this has meant the now tired medium of online streaming, but more adventurous artists have hit the road to play intimate shows outside the world of official music venues. That is precisely what Railroad Earth’s Todd Sheaffer and Coral Creek’s Chris Thompson have been doing this spring as they have loaded up their guitars into an RV and set out to play acoustic shows in backyards throughout the West. On Thursday, April 29th, both musicians stopped at a home just outside of Portland, Oregon for a special show in front of roughly thirty socially distanced fans.

Getting the evening started was Chris Thompson, best known as a member of Colorado Newgrass stalwarts Coral Creek. With only his acoustic guitar, Thompson treated the crowd to a handful of “songs about rivers and hollows” – fitting considering the river flowing peacefully behind him – as well as some other favorites and covers. His calm and laid-back singing style lent itself perfectly to the surroundings as he occasionally worked in guitar effects while stretching out his jamming. He also included extra mellow covers of the Grateful Dead’s “Catfish John,” “Friend of the Devil,” and “Ripple,” a trio of feel-good songs that were definitely crowd-pleasers.

Todd Sheaffer has always been the unassuming humble frontman of one of the most successful jamgrass acts in the scene, letting his voice and guitar playing take precedence over any kind of rock star bravado. On this divine spring evening, he strolled casually to the small stage while sipping a glass of white wine and proceeded to serenade the audience for ninety minutes. For the diehard fans of Railroad Earth in attendance, Sheaffer’s set was a delightful journey through some of the band’s best-known tunes. Songs like the warm and playful “Came Up Smilin’” fit the riverside setting wonderfully, while “Dandelion Wine” was a proper spring rambler and “Old Man and the Land” was laced with nostalgia. Sheaffer would also deliver a stirring cover of Bob Dylan’s “Girl From the North Country” before shifting gears into the rousing outlaw track “Goat.” Other highlights from the set included his rendition of String Cheese Incident’s “Sometimes a River,” which he wrote with Keith Moseley and also fit in with the river theme of the evening that would be frequently addressed through songs, and a lively version of “Like a Buddha,” with Chris Thompson laying down a bluesy baseline. With the audience feeling relaxed and happy, Sheaffer closed out his set fittingly with “Genesis,” a song that has the bittersweet lyrics “the time has come for us to part” and in this case featured a stellar harmonica solo. Before finally bidding the crowd adieu, Sheaffer gave in to a fan request for one of Railroad Earth’s most popular and powerful songs, “Mighty River,” playing it with passion as if he hadn’t played it thousands of times already in his life.

Maybe it was the crisp Oregon air, the smell of spring and the birds chirping, or just the bucolic setting in general, but this first show in 13 months (for this writer) felt like a cleansing experience. While Sheaffer’s set didn’t come with the kind of stretched out jamming and complex bluegrass instrumentation of a full-on Railroad Earth show, playing solo acoustic showcased his talent as a singer-songwriter and his penchant for writing quaint and comforting songs about simple and often happier times. By the time he said goodnight, the small crowd was glowing with the warmth of live music and hope for the future.

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