Railroad Earth lights up the Babcock Theater

The Babcock’s historic art deco style is highlighted as Railroad Earth performs.

Amongst the flying glowsticks and wafting pot smoke, the New Jersey jam band Railroad Earth took the stage at the Babcock Theater last night.

It’s been a while since the Babcock, located on Second Avenue North in downtown Billings, has seen such action. Sure, it’s been sweated upon by boxers for years, but only recently has the theater been available for live musical performances.

Since 2008, when the city of Billings purchased the building from the late Ruth Moss, who reportedly refused to allow live music in the venue, the historic theater has been under renovation. The approximately $4 million restoration project will restore the building’s exterior and surrounding commercial property, as well as improve the interior of the theater, including restoring the stage to its original size and repairing the art deco highlights, damaged by years of neglect and water damage.

So, when the swarm of dancing contempo-hippies were unleashed on the theater, it finally felt whole again. Audience members young and old were singing and noodling along to the Railroad Earth’s Dead-inspired tunes.

Though this performance was Railroad Earth’s first in Montana, the jam/bluegrass band commands a following all its own. Two individuals I met had traveled from Pennsylvania and New Jersey to follow the band through Montana, and plenty of locals made up the more than 500 concert attendees.

The band is performing tonight at the Grand Targhee Festival in Alta, Wyo., and returns to Montana Saurday to play at the Hemp Hoe Down in Lolo Hot Springs.

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