Trampled By Turtles @ Knickerbockers
Sometimes the weather in Nebraska can change almost instantly. One minute you’re wearing shorts, the next you’re in thermals, chattering your teeth under a mound of blankets. This was definitely the case this past weekend, as it seems to be every time Duluth, MN natives Trampled By Turtles (TBT) make their way to the Star City. I spent most of Saturday in bed, recuperating from an extended booze-induced festival that had kicked off for no reason other than it was the weekend. Finally, no day job! Pulp Fiction and Friday were my best friends, as I took myself back a few years enjoyed a lazy day. But when I finally got moving at about 6pm, I found out that it had been about 60 degrees all day, and I’d missed it! I In a moment of extreme optimism, I hoped to be greeted by similar weather the following day as TBT made their way into Lincoln to take over the stage at Knickerbockers on December 14, 2008.
No such luck with the weather. The high on Sunday wound up being about 10 degrees with a severe wind advisory (bet you Texas folks haven’t even heard of that). Oh well, when it comes down to it, everyone will stay plenty warm shaking their asses to some traditional bluegrass, right? At least they are from Minnesota and are used to the cold, I suppose.
The crowd was slow to fill in, and initially it seemed as if it would be a light one to boot. Attendees were lazily swilling down brews while the opener, Hobo Nephews of Uncle Frank, did sound check. The Holyoke, MN-based Hobo Nephews proved to be a capable opening act with one of the most interesting names I’ve heard to date. They provided an upbeat show consisting of two acoustic guitars, a harmonica and a very simple drum set. They rambled through several songs, drawing people in from the bar next door, finally making the venue look less deserted.
Their sound is best described as rock & roll with a bit of a twist, and sounds like something you might pull out of your dad’s vinyl collection. The highlight of the set for me came when TBT mandolinist Erik Berry and fiddler Ryan Young sat in with the group, adding a more bluegrass approach to their sound. Other than that, I can’t say too much about these guys. While their performance was entertaining, it is nothing I would make a habit of seeing. Not that they were bad, but their pseudo-acoustic folk rock sound lost its luster rather quickly. In summary, they make a good opener and warmed the crowd up thoroughly, but I think it was obvious that we had all came for some pickin’.
By the time TBT hit the stage, the venue had filled in nicely as everyone prepared for a non-stop hoe down provided by the fast-paced bluegrass about to overtake Knickerbockers. The giant cutout of the state of Minnesota behind the band with a red star on it marking Duluth made it easy for the band to explain where they were from. This still didn’t keep a few smart-ass fans from asking where Duluth was and if it was a cutout of Iowa. The Turtles came out with fury, warming up the frigid venue rapidly, causing everyone to start stripping off their bulky winter wear.
A few tracks in, guitarist/vocalist Dave Simonett announced that they had a special request from someone in the audience. The song sounded eerily familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it. Finally, toward the end, I had an epiphany. It was the song “Something in the Way” by grunge icons Nirvana. The interaction of the two types of music fused together very well, leaving me with a smile on my face.
The remainder of the evening consisted of several TBT classics, including “Silver and Gold” and “Dyin’,” just to name a couple. Several tracks off of their latest effort were mixed in, and one that stuck out, prompting yet another geographical lesson from the stage, was the title track of their most recent studio effort, Duluth. The energy inside the dingy bar never let up as the band skipped from song to song with little hesitation. There is something about them that just gets me every time. Perhaps it’s Simonett’s crisp vocals, or the fact that just when it seems like they’re playing so fast that the earth is about to swallow itself whole, they turn it up a notch.
Regardless, they’re one of my must-see recommendations to any bluegrass lover. TBT went at it until close to bar time, which unfortunately is 1am here (but hey, at least I can buy a beer until 1am at the liquor store in NE). Everyone appeared to disperse into the now well below zero temperature quite happily – not always an easy feat. The Turtles offer up one of the most rowdily entertaining forms of bluegrass that I have ever laid my ears on, and they never disappoint. One thing that I would like to see from them is more exposure at festivals this summer. I think they would be a blast, be it a mid-afternoon show or a late-night set. I’ll keep my fingers crossed until June, which will be easy as they are basically frozen that way.
The evening proved to be an blissful mixture of Minnesotan music to start off the week. TBT seems to make it a habit to stop in Lincoln on their tour, and until we get bored of them – which will more than likely be never – I see no need to sever that relationship. I’m hoping that they will take off a little more, as I feel they are one of the most unique and talented forms of bluegrass styled music out there on the road today. And I thank them for that.
Nice to meet ya Arthur,
P.S. My apologies to Tim Sauxhaug from TBT for not having any photos of him. Don’t know why, but none of them turned out. Could have been the Old Style.