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Concert Review: Railroad Revival Tour Rocks Marfa, TX 4/24/11

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The Railroad Revival Tour made its fourth stop in the small, dusty town of Marfa, Texas on Easter Sunday. With only one ATM and a population of 2,100, Marfa is probably the least likely place in West Texas to host Old Crow Medicine Show, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and British folk rock superstars Mumford & Sons.

The show kicked off with a set from Old Crow Medicine Show, a seven-piece, old-time bluegrass band with plenty of rock and roll attitude. “We must really be in the vortex now,” said fiddler Ketch Secor, after remarking on the novelty of playing in the middle of the afternoon on Easter Sunday. The band hitched up their britches and delivered a high energy performance with a brief cameo from Marcus Mumford.

Mumford & Sons took the stage next. They started off with “Sigh No More,” which got the crowd dancing and kicking up a lot of dirt. During that song, bassist Ted Dwane’s stand-up bass actually lost a couple of strings, leading Dwane to declare, “The West Texas sun melted my bass!” Fortunately, Old Crow Medicine Show was kind enough to lend their stand-up bass until Dwane’s was back in action. “She’s back!” he cried as the roadie brought out the bass. “She’s been resurrected!” Happy Easter indeed.

Mumford & Sons revealed two new songs to the jovial crowd: the “tentatively titled, ‘Lover’s Eyes’” and “Lover of the Light.” “Lover’s Eyes” is more of a ballad, and is sung in the tender, hint-of-heartbreak fashion familiar to lead singer Marcus Mumford. The (unusually) drum-heavy “Lover of the Light” is a raucous sure-to-be-hit that’ll have fans jamming out at full volume.

“I think we’re going to have a beautiful West Texas sunset. You have a marvelous town,” said Mumford as the dusty sky turned pink. “Or should I say, Marfa-lous?”

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros came on at nightfall. Lead singer Alex Ebert spent more time down with the audience than on stage with his band. “We played our third show ever in Marfa,” said Ebert. He went on to tell the story of how the Magnetic Zeros played to an audience of 200 and violated a city ordinance, causing the only two police officers in Marfa to insist the show be shut down. “So I said, ‘Are y’all willing to go to jail? Or should we stop?'” To that the crowd had responded with chants of “Jail! Jail! Jail!”

There was no fear of violating ordinances this night, and the Magnetic Zeros played a super-charged hourlong set often inviting “anyone allowed on stage and can play an instrument” to join them. When the band finished their set, the crowd didn’t budge. They started with the usual chant of “One more song!” but that soon turned to “Jail! Jail! Jail!” until all three bands, yes all three, returned to the stage to perform an upbeat version of “Amazing Grace” and then had a jam session to “This Train Was Bound for Glory.”

The Railroad Revival Tour is something very special, and completely different from anything else happening in music, a throwback to the way musicians used to travel. All three bands are eating, sleeping, and recording music on an old-school Amtrak train making its way from Oakland to New Orleans. The goings-on inside the train will be the subject of a documentary due out sometime next year. I feel privileged to have been a part of it, and honored to have it stop in my native West Texas. This was without a doubt the most fun concert I have ever attended, and any other musicians will be hard pressed to beat it.

The show was indeed Marfa-lous.

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