LIVE: Jim Gaudet & The Railroad Boys @ Johnstown Mid-Summer Concert Series 7/23/20

The 3rd annual installment of the Johnstown Mid-Summer Concert Series started off with a bang as the organization brought in Albany are heavy hitters, Jim Gaudet & The Railroad Boys.  Due to the pandemic, the series was in doubt from the beginning, but thanks to the areas low infection rate and a grant from Saratoga Arts, it was rescued.  Also, due to the widespread thunderstorms predicted, the show was looking at the possibility of moving inside, which, also because of the pandemic, would have been audience free and streamed online.  Luckily a confluence of circumstances led to it being presented outside in the Charles Jenner Memorial Park band shell on a beautiful night with a very appreciative audience.

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Photo by Ed Conway

If you haven’t seen the Railroad Boys, they are a mix of bluegrass, country with a bit of folk thrown in for good measure.  They are anchored by the band’s namesake, Jim Gaudet, who is the main singer, as well as songwriter.  Gaudet has a very homespun voice that immediately puts the audience at ease as he weaves his prodigious storytelling abilities through his own well-crafted songs.  As he sings, the listener is transported to the time and place suggested in songs, such as the chilling tale of a man who meant to only scare someone with an unloaded gun that led to that person being killed by the police through an unfortunate set of circumstances in the song, “The Wind Blows Cold.”  Other songs are much lighter and show the humorous side of Gaudet’s storytelling like “Handle The Truth” which uses several very familiar punch lines as punctuation to each of the verses, that always brings a smile.  Even the few cover songs such as the reworked Johnny Horton classic “Battle Of New Orleans” and the Dire Straits’ “Walk Of Life” are done in the band’s own inimitable style making them completely owned by the RR Boys.

Helping Gaudet attain this unique sound are the exceedingly talented musicians who make up the RR Boys.  Bobby Ristau, the upright bassist and high harmony singer, has been with Gaudet the longest, starting out jamming together in his basement before starting out to record an album.  When they showed up at the recording studio, they so enamored the recording engineer, Sten Isachsen, that he picked up his guitar and mandolin and joined them from then on.  During their tenure, they have had a few different fiddle players, all of whom have the perfect blend of talent and personality, that help make the band’s tight sound.  Currently, when she’s not busy with other projects, Amsterdam’s Sara Milonovich has been filling those duties, although it did lead to an embarrassing anecdote when once Gaudet introduced her as Mr. Sara Milonovich at one of her earlier gigs since she is obviously not one of the RR “Boys.”  The naming convention aside, it is not just their prodigious instrumental talents that highlight the band, but also their spot on harmonies that give the songs their punch.  Not to say that the jaw dropping duels between mandolin and fiddle don’t always lead rousing ovations, and the combination of Isachsen and Milonovich was no exception.  It’s no wonder they are highly sought after for festivals all over the US.

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Photo by Ed Conway

Opening the show was Johnstown native Jonathon Blake.  It seemed very fitting to have a solo singer/songwriter to open up the show as Gaudet spent many years in that role himself before the RR Boys.  From the time he sat down until the end of his set, he wowed the audience with his lightning quick, but tasty, guitar riffs and fills, demonstrating a command of his instrument.  He made good use of swells, where he could build to a crescendo before coming back down throughout his songs, all while building to the finale.  He also possessed the slightly raspy voice that many singer songwriters would love to have, which he also used to the same level of control, and understanding, as his guitar.

All in all, it was a very nice evening of music.  Both Blake and the RR Boys presented very polished shows with the rawness of Blake making a nice counterpoint to the smoothness of the RR Boys.  Gaudet’s between song patter was both funny and relaxed as he weaved his way through his litany of jokes and stories with the rest joining is as either foils or the punchlines along the way.  While Blake didn’t have the luxury of sharing the stage to play off, he did use the audience, as well as, his wife and daughter, to good effect.      

Coming up next for the Johnstown Mid-Summer Concert Series is Hanzolo (a Funk/Soul Band from Cooperstown) on Thursday July 30 at 7PM.

Photo Gallery by Ed Conway

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