By Jan Mercker

The popular jam band Railroad Earth should have been playing their annual show at the storied 9,500-seat Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado this weekend. But COVID threw a wrench in those plans. Instead, they’ll be returning to live gigs for the first time since March with three days of outdoor shows at a low-key venue in rural western Loudoun.

Railroad Earth is slated to perform at Loudoun’s B Chord Brewing Oct. 1-3. It’s a huge booking coup for the farm brewery and music venue outside of the small town of Round Hill—and a gig that wouldn’t even have been on the radar screen for this national touring act a year ago. But with the coronavirus shutting down the live music scene around the country, B Chord’s wide-open spaces are pulling in big acts who are down with playing for much smaller crowds.

“Fish swim, birds fly, musicians play music. … It’s largely about having the band go play some music because it’s important,” said Tim Carbone, Railroad Earth’s violin and electric guitar player and a founding member.

The band hasn’t had an opportunity to play together since March, Carbone said, and they’re thrilled to be able to reconnect—and get back in front of their devoted following.

“We’re looking forward to seeing each other and playing music together again. Right behind that is to play music in front of our fans because they’re a big part of our lives,” Carbone said.

B Chord owner Marty Dougherty said the brewery has worked hard to build a reputation as a COVID-safe venue. With safety in mind, more national acts are eager to play outdoor venues, and they’re ready to be flexible.

“They’re not making the kind of money they would at other venues [before COVID],” Dougherty said. “But musicians are feeling a need to get out and play.”

In another big score for the venue, bluegrass legend Sam Bush plays a sold-out show at B Chord this Friday. And on the heels the Railroad Earth shows, the iconic bluegrass musician Del McCoury plays a sellout at B Chord on Sunday, Oct. 4.

Dougherty has built a relationship with McCoury and his family and has hosted the Del McCoury Band offshoot, the Travelin’ McCourys, launched by Del’s sons Ronnie McCoury and Rob McCoury at the brewery. But hosting Del in the flesh is a huge accomplishment for a relatively small rural venue.

“He’s royalty,” Dougherty said.

Carbone says Railroad Earth has taken a big financial hit from missing the usually packed summer festival season and are looking forward to a solid paying gig. But it’s mostly about being out under safe circumstances and reconnecting with fans—and each other.

“We have a really great, friendly crowd. Our following is super sweet and positive,” he said. “We miss playing for them. I’ve been playing music all my life. I’m 63 years old. I started playing percussion when I was 16, and I’ve never looked back.”

Railroad Earth was launched in 2001 in New Jersey as a folk-rock, bluegrass-influenced jam band. They quickly became festival circuit favorites, with a devoted following who call themselves Hobos. And those fans were clearly hungry for a show. Railroad Earth’s Friday and Saturday shows at B Chord sold out the day tickets went on sale last week. The band and venue have added a show Thursday, Oct. 1—an opportunity for locals to catch this big time act. As of press time, there were tickets available for that show.

Carbone is expecting fans from around the Mid-Atlantic and beyond, with Hobos driving in from as far away as Denver. Dougherty confirms that B Chord’s partner hotel for the Railroad Earth event is booked, but they’re working to help out of towners find alternate accommodations if needed.

“I think they’re going to come from wherever they feel safe getting to the venue from,” Carbone said.

For Dougherty, B Chord’s brewer, the venue has always been a brewery first, and he’s proud of a strong local fan base who simply come for the beer. But music was always slated to be at the heart of B Chord’s mission. Doughterty and business partner Aaron Gilman opened the brewery on a 64-acre farm west of Round Hill in 2018 with a professional sound stage. The venue introduced ticked shows—previously unheard of in western Loudoun—featuring top regional talent. At the same time, B Chord continued to offer laid-back, free shows with smaller acts aimed at locals.

After shutting down for Phase One under Virginia’s COVID protocols, Dougherty and his staff looked at ways to make the venue safe for live outdoor shows. They spent the spring building picnic tables and clearing additional lawn space at the farm brewery to allow for social distancing. The venue has hosted a series of top-notch shows since June and has also developed a partnership with the Berryville-based nonprofit music venue the Barns of Rose Hill.

With the barns’ indoor venue closed, its staff has worked with B Chord to book a series of ticketed shows featuring favorite performers, providing an important income stream for the nonprofit. The latest BORH/B Chord collaboration features Loudoun-based musicians Juliana MacDowell and Chris Timbers on Thursday Oct. 8 at the brewery.

For Dougherty, the new interest in the venue from national touring acts is directly related to its reputation for safety, plenty of room for social distancing and enforcing mask compliance. It’s all about keeping audience members safe and also making musicians feel safe. 

“A lot of musicians saw what happened to John Prine and they’re worried,” Dougherty said.

The death of the legendary country/folk songwriter of COVID-19 complications in April hit the music community hard. Carbone agrees that safety is a big priority. His management team vetted the venue before setting up the gig, and band members will do a rapid COVID test before traveling. The precautions have Carbone and his bandmates feeling at ease and excited about next month’s gigs. 

“We’re doing the best we can. The venue seems to be doing the best they can,” he said. “We feel pretty comfortable with the situation.”

Tickets for the Oct. 1 Railroad Earth show at B Chord Brewing are $50. They are available via the B Chord Brewing Facebook page at facebook.com/bchordbrewing. To learn more about Railroad Earth, go to railroad.earth. 

Tickets for the Juliana MacDowell/Chris Timbers show Thursday, Oct. 8 are $20 in advance and available at facebook.com/barnsofrosehill.