What: Hangtown Halloween Ball
Who: Railroad Earth, Hangtown Halloween partners Ryan Kronenburg and Adam Northway of Pet Projekt Events, and Roy Carter of High Sierra Music Festival
Where: El Dorado County Fairgrounds, 100 Placerville Drive in Placerville
When: Friday, Oct. 26, 1:45 p.m. through Sunday, Oct. 28, midnight
Cost: 60 for a single day or $160 for a three-day pass that includes camping. Kids 5 to 12 are $10 per day, late night events are $20 per night. There is an extra charge for overnight and RV parking.
Information: Tickets are also available at the fairgrounds or at Placerville Natural Foods Co-Op, formerly Noah’s Arc.Ticketing and concert package information at hangtownhalloween.com
It was arguably the most ambitious music festival ever staged in El Dorado County.
The phenomenon known as Railroad Earth descended on Placerville over two days and three long nights on Halloween weekend 2011 along with 25 other bands, many that would headline a lesser event.
They turned the El Dorado County Fairgrounds into a Halloween-themed netherworld for an estimated 2,000 attendees, many who traveled great distances for the chance to see Railroad Earth three times.
The Hangtown Halloween Ball is back at the El Dorado County Fairgrounds, 100 Placerville Drive in Placerville, in 2012 — bigger, smarter and freakier than last year, with an extra full day of music, another big stage and more bands — 31 and counting.
The main stage action kicks off on Friday, Oct. 26, at 1:45 p.m. with the high-energy roots-rocking Dead Winter Carpenters, North Tahoe’s resident superstars-in-waiting.
On the new Gallows Stage, located in the meadow between the Organ Room and the Blue Gate, the second line stomping California Honey Drops will drop the raucous N’awlins swing/gospel/soul bombs that killed in Coloma the last two summers.
Shorter “tweener” sets play all weekend on the All Souls Stage, located in the courtyard near Placerville Drive.
Railroad Earth headlines Saturday and Sunday on the main stage, located in the natural amphitheater east of the fairgrounds’ famous beer tree. They’ll also provide a more-or-less improvised soundtrack to the 1925 silent horror classic “Phantom of the Opera” in the “Hanin’ Hall,” aka the Forni Building on Friday night, a reprise of their memorable accompaniment of “Nosferatu,” the classic 1922 German expressionist horror film last year.
The music plays nearly non-stop through midnight Sunday, with a separate admission for the late night indoor shows.
The fairground has become an even weirder shop of horrors this year, thanks to an advance team that worked through a rainy week to create Halloween ambiance.
Late Grateful Dead bandleader Jerry Garcia’s four and a half fingered handprint was all over last year’s lineup, which featured some of his stage mates and diligent noodling from several other bands he influenced.
The second incarnation of the ball cuts back on the noodles and jam, plating up large portions of high protein rock and roll, with generous sides of leafy bluegrass, sweet soul, spicy hot funk and some hip hop finger food.
The festival is again produced by Railroad Earth and their Hangtown Halloween partners, Ryan Kronenburg and Adam Northway of Pet Projekt Events, who handled most of the local details last year.
They have some help this year from Roy Carter, the face of the popular High Sierra Music Festival in Quincy, who signed on as a third partner.
“Bringing Roy in makes us better,” said Railroad Earth Manager Brian Ross, who provided the glue for the original partnership and also invited High Sierra to the table.
“We could have grown this thing on our own, but High Sierra has infrastructure and vision we don’t,” said Ross.
Railroad Earth came together as a bluegrass band in 2001, anchored by Todd Sheaffer’s songwriting and the band’s stellar musicianship on core bluegrass instrumentation — banjo, fiddle and mandolin. The strength of Scheaffer’s arrangements and the band’s musical prowess allowed them to layer elements of world music, folk, Celtic, jazz, and rock over their bluegrass foundation.
See Railroad Earth genesis story.
Strong songwriting, seamless arrangements and stellar improvisation have made Railroad Earth one of the most prominent figures in the American roots music scene. The band’s freewheeling acoustic-based sound has a multigenerational appeal, earning the group a spot in the hearts, minds and iPods of legions of loyal fans who call themselves “hobos,” and flock to live performances for extended versions of their favorite songs.
In a live environment, Railroad Earth freely crosses into the improvisational, multiple-genre jam band tradition started by the Grateful Dead, and later by Phish and String Cheese Incident.
The band members soon found themselves sharing a stage, an audience and a genre with those bands.
Their music is often called progressive bluegrass, a label they’re OK with, but don’t call them a jam band.
Ross concedes that his guys can catch a groove and launch into a good jam better than most, “but so can Pearl Jam and so did Jimi Hendrix, and so does almost every rock band out there, and nobody calls them a jam band.”
Mandolin/vocalist John Skehan explained, “We can improvise all day long, but we only do it in service to the song. There are a lot of songs that, when we play them live, we adhere to the arrangement from the record. And other songs, in the nature and the spirit of the song, everyone knows we can kind of take flight on them.”
Ross suggests that the jam label applies more to the audience than the band: “The jam scene is made up of people who really enjoy live music.”
They’re going to get plenty of it this weekend.
See Halloween Ball lineup story.
Ticket prices are lower this year: $60 for a single day or $160 for a three-day pass that includes camping; kids 5 to 12 are $10 per day; and late night events are $20 per night. There is an extra charge for overnight and RV parking.
A Kidzzone will host activities for the youngens from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily with face painting, stories, games, crafts and giant puppets that are rumored to appear later in the festival.
For bigger kids, Railroad Earth multi-instrumentalist John Skehan will lead his “Pumpkin Carving with Power Tools” workshop again this year. Attendees are encouraged to bring pumpkins, power tools and creativity. Their efforts will be displayed on the main stage Saturday night.
At press time festival organizers were scrambling to arrange a satellite feed in the Hangin’ Hall for World Series games three and four.
Festival food options include pizza, gyros, falafel, Mexican, salads, strudel, frozen stuff on a stick, coffee, fancy chocolate and shaved ice. Beer and wine are also available.
No alcohol is allowed in the performance venues. No dogs are allowed other than ADA assistants.
Last year attendees donated 1,500 pounds of food for the Food Band of El Dorado County. Patrons who contribute 10 nonperishable food items to the Conscious Alliance Art That Feeds drive this year will receive a retro-1960s Halloween Ball poster by Richard Biffle.
At press time the weather forecast called for a sunny Halloween weekend, but neither rain nor sleet will hamper the Hangtown Halloween Ball, so dress appropriately.
The Hangtown Halloween Ball provides a shot in the arm to local businesses. In addition to the estimated 1,500 to 2,000 festival attendees, hundreds of musicians, crew members, plus a horde of volunteers will all be in town and spending.
For ticketing and concert package information check the Website: hangtownhalloween.com.
Tickets are also available at the fairgrounds or at Placerville Natural Foods Co-op, formerly Noah’s Ark.