This chilly, rainy Chicago winter night was not a waste if you went to Lincoln Park and saw The Railsplitters at the Elbo Room. A bluegrass band from Boulder, CO, I was expecting some soothing, easy-going music. I, however, was not expecting such soulful storytelling, which made me wish I could speak to Johnny Cash through a Ouija Board. Wherever he is, I’m sure a part of him was in that room on Wednesday night.
The Railsplitters warmed up their fingers and instruments on their tiny stage. The bar was dimly lit, with small red spotlights facing the band. Little riffs of “Oh, He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” spewed out in a joking fashion. I sat there wondering how each musician in this band was going to have enough space to jam out with each of their respective instruments. As their set began, I realized that not only did they play as one band, but they acted as though each one of them were a finger on one hand. And fingers are never spread too far apart!
Their first song was called “Everyone She Meets,” and right away, I was drawn in by lead singer/guitarist Lauren’s voice. Not only beautiful, but haunting and fleeting. Like a feather in the wind, her voice either lifted or fell to each note with grace. The song painted a picture of a girl who was a light in people’s lives—spreading positivity throughout the room.
As their set went on, each finger on the hand was introduced and found some way to display their personality. Each of the band members had a distinct and important contribution to the group, and they were definitely on the same page when it came to music. They played more songs that had the audience yelping and stomping. Another song that stuck out to me was the fiddle player, Joe’s, composition called “To Do.” He introduced the song (roughly) as “what my tiny little peanut brain thinks about the things that women have to go through on a day-to-day basis.” A melancholy tune, the instruments fused phenomenally as Lauren sang, “What’s a girl to think when every man she meets thinks he knows exactly who she should be?”. During the break of the song, the stand-up bass, fiddle, mandolin, banjo, and guitar emphasized the downbeats in unison. This created a stomping sound, implying an almost infuriated sentiment. Even though Lauren sang the song, it was refreshing to know that this statement of empathy came from a man.
They continued their set with a fully engaged audience. Too soon, however, we reached the end, and The Railsplitters led us out with a bang. Their last song was an old time-y foot-stomper that Dusty, the banjo player, sang along to. His voice was a country-styled holler that pumped energy throughout the bodies in the room. This one made me feel like I was dancing around a campfire in the dead of summer instead of wearing a heavy winter coat. Forgetting our sorrows, we all finished our beers and were magically less tired than we were when we entered the Elbo Room that night.
The Railsplitters have just finished recording their third album. Check them out and get excited for its release.