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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    All aboard: Music train comes to Southwest

    Ah, the locomotive. The old fashioned way to travel. Usually, it simply means taking one from point A to point B. Yet for five musicians and 60 passengers, there’s a certain train that has a completely different meaning.

    Roots on the Rails, dubbed “”North America’s moving music festival,”” travels aboard the restored Sierra Madre Express. The sold-out train will depart Nogales and head through Mexico’s Copper Canyon country for a week after the kickoff concert tonight at Tucson’s Berger Performing Arts Center.

    The artists coming aboard include folk music singer-songwriters Tom Russell, Andrew Hardin, Peter Rowan, Eliza Gilkyson and Steve Young.

    According to Charlie Hunter, a representative of Roots on the Rails, it’s like a folk festival on a train. Roots on the Rails usually plans three or four of these types of trips a year, but usually these “”moving music festivals”” are in Canada and go from Toronto to Vancouver.

    “”All of the music is lyric-based acoustic music, but there is a wide spectrum within that,”” Hunter said.

    He came up with the idea to travel in the Southwest with Tom Russell.

    “”Tom’s audience is half cowboy music and half singer-songwriter. He had a fascination with the culture of Mexico,”” Hunter said.

    So the Sierra Madre Express came about. All passengers will eat, sleep and listen to music on the train. The close proximity and relatively small number of passengers allows for informal interaction with the artists.

    “”There are two special things about (the Sierra Madre Express). People love the close proximity to music, and it’s a terrific way to see land they would not be able to see,”” Hunter said.

    Each of the artists who will be performing is accomplished in his or her own right. For one, Tom Russell has been dubbed the John Steinbeck of Western song. Many of Russell’s songs have been recorded by Johnny Cash, k.d. lang, Dave Alvin and Nanci Griffith, to name a few.

    Rowan is a Grammy award winner and best known for performing with Jerry Garcia. He also played with Billy Monroe, the father of bluegrass music. Gilkyson has appeared on Austin City Limits and the Bob Dylan tribute album. Young has made 12 albums and is a popular songwriter as well.

    Most of the artists still live in the American Southwest and embrace the region’s sound and culture. Their music and their imagery is rooted in the desert Southwest.

    The intimate experience mixed with the Southwest countryside provides an inspiring and exhilarating way to experience music.

    Tom Russell and Andrew Hardin, Peter Rowan, Eliza Gilkyson and Steve Young will be performing in the Roots on the Rails kickoff concert at the Berger Performing Arts Center, 1200 W. Speedway Blvd., tonight at 7:30. $27 in advance or $30 at the door. More information is available at

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