Walking into a music venue, the first thing that strikes you is the atmosphere. And as Trampled By Turtles, a five-piece string band from Duluth, MN, took the stage Monday night at The Middle East, the whirlwind of bluegrass and dancing that erupted in the room was electric.
‘That was a bluegrass earthquake,’ said Ronnie Cavalieri (SMG ’11) as he exited after the concert. And he wasn’t the only one who felt that way; the hour-long set that was jam packed with lightning-quick bluegrass romps, and interspersed with a few soft folk ballads, left many yelling for more after the show ended.
The band, consisting of Tim Saxhaug on bass, Dave Simonett on guitar and vocals, Dave Carroll on banjo, Ryan Young on fiddle and Erik Berry on mandolin, took the stage around 11:30 and sat down in chairs lined up in front of the audience, creating an intimate, family atmosphere that spread infectiously throughout the crowd.
But as soon as they started playing, the room exploded. While bluegrass traditionally has an element of speed to the music, few bands could match the velocity and intensity at which Trampled By Turtles opened their show.
And they didn’t let up for a long time. Simonett offered his vocals so quickly that it was hard to keep up, and Carroll and Berry unleashed banjo and mandolin lines, respectively, that had jaws hitting the floor and everyone in the room dancing frantically. Had the music been played with electric guitars, some of the blistering riffs could have fitted in nicely at a metal concert.
Of the entire band, however, it was the newest member Young, only added full time in 2007 that was the most impressive. Seeing him fiddle so fast was breathtakingly impressive, and his enthusiasm for the music was palpable, often getting up from his chair in the midst of a typically absorbing solo.
It is Young’s presence, perhaps, that has made Trampled By Turtles into a more complete package. His flowing lines contrast with the staccato picking of the banjo and mandolin and the driving backbone of the bass and guitar to create an extra element and provide more texture to the band’s sound.
His addition to the band began with a guest appearance on their 2007 release Trouble and was cemented with their most recent album, 2008’s Duluth. Unusually prolific for these days, the band has released an album every year since their inception in 2004.
Duluth itself is a great accomplishment. Released on October 30th on Banjodad Records, it captures the laid-back attitudes of the musicians as they unleash their quick and well-rehearsed riffs in what was largely a live studio setting.
This attitude is even more pronounced in their live show. During the encore break that was extended by technical difficulties, Berry started up a rendition on his mandolin, soon joined in by Young and Saxhaug, of ‘Do Your Ears Hang Low’ that kept the crowd laughing and entertained.
As the house lights came on and the band packed in their equipment, many in the crowd lingered, relishing and rehashing the ‘bluegrass earthquake’ they had just witnessed. With an extensive touring schedule ahead of them that stretches long into the summer, Trampled By Turtles will continue storming the country, leaving breathless converts in their wake wanting more.