Mumford & Sons Reveal What to Expect from Railroad Revival Tour

Keyboardist Ben Lovett tells Rolling Stone they'll be trying out new songs at each show

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Since performing at the Grammys with Bob Dylan and the Avett Brothers last month, London’s Mumford & Sons have sold more than 300,000 copies of their debut Sigh No More – but the band are characteristically modest about becoming Top Ten mainstays. “It doesn’t mean anything as of yet,” keyboardist-accordionist Ben Lovett tells Rolling Stone. “We haven’t seen any of it through our own eyes.”

But it might be hard to stay that way for long. Next month, Lovett and the rest of the band will join Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes and Old Crow Medicine Show on the six-show Railroad Revival Tour, which kicks off April 21st in Oakland, California and wraps up April 27 in New Orleans. At each stop, the bands will play outdoor venues where the train is visible to the audience. “The train is at the core of the American musical experience,” says Old Crow Medicine Show’s Ketch Secor. “It’s really great that’s going to come again.”

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The trek is reminiscent of 1970’s Festival Express tour, where performers including Janis Joplin, the Band and the Grateful Dead shared a train on a weeklong Canadian tour. It was a financial disaster, but produced a 2003 film with memorable drunken jam sessions among Jerry Garcia, Janis Joplin and the Band’s Rick Danko.

Expect a similar camaraderie on the Railroad Revival tour. “I’m expecting little pockets of people playing and sharing songs with each other, having some drinks,” says Lovett. “The idea of this train tour is to make stories to tell our kids about it, and even though it’s for only a short time, I think it’s going to feel a lot longer than those seven days.”

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The bands are already familiar with each other – Mumford & Sons and the Magnetic Zeroes both played at Colorado’s Telluride Bluegrass festival last year, and Old Crow Medicine Show and Mumford performed onstage at last year’s Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tennessee. “Growing up in London, they’re probably some of our biggest influences,” Lovett says of Old Crow. “When their manager came up to us and asked if we wanted them to join us onstage, you should’ve seen our faces.” The bands toured Europe later in the summer. “We found ourselves playing after every gig, just playing old songs. Our after-parties turned into picking parties.”

Bands will eat and sleep on the train, and at least one of its 15 cars will be reserved for jamming and recording while a film crew documents the festivities. “It’s an obvious opportunity to collaborate,” says Edward Sharpe frontman Alex Ebert. “I think that’s one of the things we’re really looking forward to, just kind of hanging out, recording, playing and just having a silly good time.”

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Adds Lovett, “It’s a dream to make a record of it so we can put it on our stereos when we get home.”

The shows will be an opportunity to try new songs, as all three bands are working on new albums. “We want to play as many as we can,” says Lovett. “We’d like to test them out. We’ll play a couple each night and see how they go, or pick up some on the train, and see where the boat takes us. But I think the way to do it is on rotation. Us novices, [we’ve learned,] ‘Oh yeah, let's maybe not play all of the new ones on each night.’ It’s something that every band goes through but we haven’t yet, so we’re just learning.”

The idea originated in the Edward Sharpe camp. “ I was trying to push for us to play on a boxcar, you know, one of those empty freight cars that’s just a flatbed,” says Ebert. “Obviously there’s all kinds of red tape to cut through to get that to happen. But I think we got pretty fuckin’ close.”