Trampled by Turtles at Southgate House, July 27
By Benjamin Dale
In the early 2000s, it was the garage rock revival that saw the most innovation, with bands such as the White Stripes, the Strokes, the Hives and the Vines taking over the indie music charts. These bands were innovators in their style, attracting new listeners to rock ‘n’ roll for the first time when the genre appeared to be on life support.
The same thing is happening today, albeit in a style that could only be classified as Americana. Bands such as Avett Brothers, Mumford & Sons, Old Crow Medicine Show have come to prominence as leaders in this new genre, blending vocal harmonies, lightning-fast guitars, banjos and mandolins to create a wall-of-sound experience that is as fresh as it is deeply rooted in the folk music of the ‘30s and the folk rock of the ‘60s.
Looking back at history, this new wave of bluegrass/Americana/folk revival seems perfectly on time. Whenever the nation undergoes tough economic times or trying overseas wars, music gets back to the roots. This time, the subject matter may not be quite so political, but the songwriting brilliance and feeling evoked by this new stream of music has certainly struck a chord with many Americans.
Trampled by Turtles is an up-and-coming bluegrass outfit from Duluth, Minn. who have found fortune recently, riding the success of their album Palomino, which debuted at number one on the Billboard bluegrass charts in 2010 and has remained in the top 10 for over a year now.
After years of struggling in obscurity, Trampled by Turtles have arrived.
“Fortunately and unfortunately,” said mandolinist Erik Berry, “We have a lot of people working for us now.” But it wasn’t always that way.
Except for banjo player Dave Carroll, the members of TBT all started out in various bands in and around Duluth, receiving middling attention in local bars and clubs. It wasn’t until guitarist Dave Simonett met now-bassist Tim Saxhaug, and began playing music together within 10 minutes of meeting each other, that the first incarnation of Trampled by Turtles was born. The band now consists of Berry, Carroll, Saxhaug, Simonett, along with Ryan Young on fiddle.
“Before, we played in a bar band for some beer money and had some hassles along the way, and we were poor,” said Berry. “Dave [Carroll] must think it’s not hard being a musician, since this band has been really lucky, and things have gone more better than worse.”
Success is not without its hassles either, a classic example of the Catch-22 cliché of the grass always being greener on the other side.
“When you’re a bar band, it turns you into bar entertainment,” said Berry. “I can remember playing three gigs a week and missing cookouts in the summer because my old band had to play.”
After making their bones locally in Duluth, the band started to venture further, across the nation and sonically, into unexplored territory. Many bands learn early on that playing the same songs week after week in the same bars in the same town can exhaust an audience. So TBT took it on the road.
“We played our first tour in Colorado,” said Berry, “and the first gig we played to six people — two of them were college buddies and the rest were employees of the bar.” Now the band’s Colorado following is one of their biggest.
“I think we’ve played there more than crossing the bridge and playing Wisconsin, though we play there a lot too,” Berry said.
“After a couple of years, tours started not to be money losers,” said Berry, “and on our fourth tour, we didn’t make money, but we really didn’t lose it either.”
The band learned early on to retain this method of touring by keeping themselves scarce, and leaving the audiences wanting more — meaning not playing shows in a particular region more than once a season.
Success finally came, but like everything, it’s bittersweet.
“There’s consequences,” said Berry. “I gotta go on tour and leave my wife and kid, they would rather I didn’t, but the music is what pays the bills now.”
The musicians love the music they play and so do their fans, keeping Trampled by Turtles perpetually on the road.
“Nothing ever felt forced or contrived with this band,” said Berry. “It always felt really natural, and we try to keep it fresh to remind ourselves why we started playing music in the first place.”
Don’t miss this one.
Trampled by Turtles will play at Southgate House in Newport, Ky. on Wednesday, July 27. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $12 pre-sale and $15 at the door.
Reach DCP freelance writer and editorial intern Benjamin Dale at BenDale@DaytonCityPaper.com