Halloween meets historic Americana at the 4th annual Hangtown Halloween Ball from Oct 24 to 26 at the Eldorado County Fairgrounds. This three-day festival once described as the “High Sierra’s hotter younger sister” by a fan brings some of the country’s best bluegrass and Americana music to the region along with spooky costumes, pumpkin carving and family friendly activities to celebrate Halloween. Hosted by the bluegrass jam group Railroad Earth, Hangtown Halloween Ball is sure to capture the spirit of the West.
“It always seems to turn the corner so quickly,” said John Skehan, who plays mandolin, bouzouki and piano with Railroad Earth.
The group recently released their seventh studio album, “Last of the Outlaws,” which includes the first recording of “Hangtown Ball,” a musical tribute to the festival. After a busy summer promoting the album and a busy tour schedule including three weeks with Yonder Mountain String Band, Skehan is taking a breather and tending the home fire before heading out West.
Railroad Earth was the product of a lot of cross collaboration between musicians. After realizing a similar fondness for a sound that was not quite bluegrass but definitely acoustic, the group began working on writing songs together. They hit the road in 2001 touring every little joint across the country and ending at the High Sierra Music Festival. After the festival, they realized that they had nothing to do but turn around and come home, so they decided to finish their first album, “Black Bear Sessions,” and head back out on the road.
“Four years ago promoters approached us regarding Hangtown Halloween Ball and it perked our interests. We have a thing for Americana. Placerville is a classic Old West town. It’s off the beaten path a bit, but close enough to head into civilization.”
As with many things in life, the growth of Hangtown Halloween Ball has been slightly unintentional.
“We’ve been lucky each year to have people pitch in to create a fun, Halloween place for people to get away,” said Skehan.
More than 30 artists make the line-up for this year’s festival. In addition to three nights of performances with Railroad Earth, the Buffalo, N.Y., quintet moe. brings a taste of their dynamic improvisation to the stage.
Get a taste of some original New Orleans funk flavor with The Meter Men. A group who launched their career in the last 1960s, The Meter Men made their name playing original funk hits and providing support for artists such as Dr. John, Robert Palmer and Lee Dorsey. They’re legacy continues with rap luminaries such as LL Cool J, Run DMC and Public Enemy sampling the band’s tracks.
Look for a preview of “High Country” during the festival from Colorado slamgrass pioneers Leftover Salmon. ALO, Poor Man’s Whiskey, Dead Winter Carpenters, The Brothers Comatose and Good Luck Thrift Store Outfit are just a few other bands the round out the line up.
Late night jams and local craft vendors also help to build the festival’s historic atmosphere with campfire jams and themed décor. Skehan also hints at a special collaborative set in the works, but says he’s not at liberty to reveal any details just yet.
“It’s always fun coming home to Hangtown,” Skehan says.