Trampled by Turtles

The Fonda Theatre


Better than … your daddy's bluegrass band.

We've seen some weird things in our time, everything from artist meltdowns to near riots and young punks playing their instruments with their private parts. But never did we imagine a mosh pit at a bluegrass show. That's right. A full blown mosh pit that rode the the steely edge between a dance party and a fight broke out in the middle of Trampled by Turtles' set last night. Possibly the only time folks have moshed to a band that has no drummer. Surrounded by cowboy hats and non-ironic trucker caps, some fans found the siren call of the fiddle and the mandolin too damn powerful to ignore and were sucked into a vortex of sweat and enthusiastic jumping and shoving.

Straight out of the frozen streets of Duluth, Minnesota, Trampled by Turtles didn't seem surprised by the organic outpouring of violent joy on the dance floor. All five members had been in punk bands before ditching the amplifiers for wooden instruments that are far easier to carry. The result?

Lightning fast bluegrass — or speed grass (speed metal + bluegrass) as it's sometimes called.

"Banjo Dave" Carroll; Credit: Molly Bergen

“Banjo Dave” Carroll; Credit: Molly Bergen

Nearly every song was played double time, at speeds that would make most folks' fingers bleed. One would imagine that the hazing to get into this band would involve sticking needles into the pads of their fingertips and seeing how far it could go without them crying. (Either that or standing in the town square being forced to busk for fourteen days straight in the freezing Duluth rain.)

Either way, there were no slackers on the stage. No room for decorative triangle players or tambourine shakers or maracas. Every man on that stage pulled their weight, each responsible for some horrifyingly complicated solos. When his string broke, one almost expected Erik Berry, the mandolin player, to yank one of the long hairs from the fiddler's beard and restring it without pausing for breath.

The nearly two hour set was a smorgasbord of songs from the band's six albums, focused most heavily on their latest, Stars and Satellites. Still, the crowd went craziest for songs off their breakout album Palomino. When their hit “Wait So Long” came on, whoops and hollers peppered the crowd as they stamped their feet in appreciation and threw drinks in the air.

Actually, the air was constantly full of debris, whether it was hats or drinks or glowsticks. It was like people lost control of their arms and desperately needed to flail. For slower ballads — performed with a homespun softness — the lighters came out (yes, actual lighters, none of this cellphone nonsense) and the stage was bathed in light that resembled a campfire with twinkling stars lighting the back wall.

The night ended with a touching rendition of The Band's “The Weight” one assumes was a tribute to the late Levon Helm. The whole crowd joined in for the chorus, belting it out without shame or reservation. Such is the mark of a band that built its reputation on touring and word of mouth. You can always tell because they spent long years forcing unreceptive audiences to pay attention to them. It's a practiced seduction that takes years to perfect, and is unmistakable when achieved. These men from Duluth are not just here to make you dance, they've come for your soul.

Personal Bias: I'm a sucker for a banjo solo.

Overheard in the Crowd: “You broke the cat's leg? I don't even know what to say to you.” One young woman to another. (We don't know what to say to you either, you monster.)

Random Notebook Dump: Lots of things are being thrown, but not panties. That seems a shame.

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