Minnesota's highwaymen: Six days on the road with Trampled by Turtles

Payless gigs, cramped quarters, Tiny Desk Concerts and giant festivals. Trampled by Turtles gives us an intoxicating taste of the summer tour life.

Pre-show jitters? Not when there’s a constantly replenished supply of beer and whiskey. Even the public-radio brunch in Louisville, Ky., was sponsored by a bourbon company.

Not when there’s an experienced five-man crew that stays on top of the six musicians’ every move — from the puddle-soaked stage lighting in Black Mountain, N.C., to the wham-bam turnaround in Rochester, N.Y., when a calamity halfway around the world made them hours late.

Not when there are far worse gigs to remember. As with any band that has spent nearly a decade working its way up the venue ladder only to get to the break-even rung a few years in, there’s a war story in nearly every city. Like one of the members’ Odysseus-like adventure trying to score pot for the band in Washington, D.C. Or the time in Philadelphia when the promoter paid them with a carton of cigarettes.

“And that’s still not our lowest-paying gig ever,” the band claims.

Most Minnesotans like to spend their summers outdoors, close to home. Minnesota musicians, however, do the opposite. With the summer festival circuit calling, they hit the road — only to spend most of their time cooped up in a bus, van, backstage trailer or greenroom.

Trampled by Turtles, the Minnesota band with the busiest schedule outside Minnesota these days, hit the East Coast last month for the release of its seventh album, “Wild Animals.” The summer foray culminates back home with Festival Palomino, the band’s own daylong bash Sept. 20 at Canterbury Park in Shakopee.

It gets easier, but it’s still not easy. Standing behind the giant stage at Louisville’s Forecastle Festival with 10,000 fans getting restless on the other side, the band’s sandy-haired, blue-eyed frontman, Dave Simonett, quietly conceded between his last pre-show cigarette drags that he still sometimes feels rattled by the rush. “You just learn to kind of dive in,” he said.

Dive in we did. Starting the morning after a “Late Show With David Letterman” appearance, Trampled took us along for six days of myriad promotional gigs, a headlining set in hard-core bluegrass territory and a finale at the Forecastle Festival, where Minnesota’s elder road legends the Replacements also played.

Hardly the salacious, sordid, soggy adventure that a Replacements tour would have been 30 years ago — although these guys are no choirboys — a Trampled by Turtles tour nonetheless proved disorienting and crazed in a whole other way.

The insanity comes simply from the ping-pongy schedule, hitting two cities in one day and waking up in a third city whose name you’ve forgotten. It comes from days dictated by the bus driver’s legally stipulated sleep schedule, and such sign-of-the-times music industry to-dos as a Reddit Q&A and Billboard’s newly invented Twitter chart.

It was easy to see why many bands wind up hating the rigmarole, and one another. It was also easy to see why this particular band thrives on the road.


• • •


“We own our own record label. We fund everything ourselves through touring. We get a little bit through record sales, because those have gotten better for us over the years, but it’s 2014. We don’t have a lot of money coming in on the record side.”

Dave Simonett, singer/guitarist


Wednesday, July 16

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    Touring can be stressful but the band members describe it as essential to their identity.

  • Video: Eclectic taste, fans define Trampled by Turtles’ style

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    Trampled by Turtles attributes their diverse fan base to a love for music of all styles.

  • U.S. Senate staffer Jamie DeAtley, right, staked out a spot to greet singer Dave Simonett and the rest of Trampled by Turtles as they arrived at National Public Radio’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.

  • Eamonn McLain demonstrated his own kind of pre-show ritual — and the fact that he’s about a decade younger than the rest of the band at 26 — before the big festival gig in Louisville, Ky.

  • Carroll found his own quiet if not quaint corner behind the Pisgah Brewing Co.’s outdoor stage to warm up his fingers, a pre-show ritual for most of the band members.

  • Dave Simonett on the band’s tour bus before their show in Black Mountain, N.C.

  • Trampled’s frontman took a last-minute smoke break before a WXPN-FM broadcast at World Café Live in Philadelphia — where he remembered a prior show that paid only in cigarettes.

  • The bigger the crowd, the shorter the sound check: Trampled by Turtles hit the stage running in front of about 10,000 fans at the Forecastle Festival in Louisville, Ky., playing before fellow Minnesotans the Replacements. From left: Dave Simonett, Dave Carroll, Ryan Young and Erik Berry.

  • String tech Dave Feirn tuned Dave Simonett’s guitar a few minutes before Trampled by Turtles played to a crowd of 10,000 people at the Forecastle Festival in Louisville.

  • Before they began the sound check for their show in Black Mountain, N.C., the band ironed out the kinks in their rendition of the Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”

  • As guitar tech Dave Feirn and tour manager Mike Tholen stood by, Dave Carroll cleared his eyes and Dave Simonett, Tim Saxhaug and Eamonn McLain tested their gear at the Forecastle Festival.

  • Trampled by Turtles’ taping of a segment for “CBS This Morning” at a studio in Manhattan was delayed and then postponed as the story of a Ukrainian airliner being shot down unfolded.

  • Erik Berry’s well-traveled mandolin.

  • Simonett dug out his luggage from the bus cargo hold to find a fresh T-shirt.

  • Who says kids don’t buy records anymore? A mostly young crowd filled the aisles for Trampled by Turtles’ in-store set and album signing at the Sound Garden in Baltimore.

  • Cellist Eamonn McLain finished his sound check for a “CBS This Morning” taping in New York as the story of a downed Ukrainian airliner unfolded onscreen behind them. The band’s appearance ultimately got bumped by the breaking news.

  • Trampled’s two Daves got to unwind during Beck’s set at the Forecastle Festival before flying home the next day, capping off a two-week stretch with a three-day break.

  • Engineer Kevin Wait adjusted the microphone during sound check for Trampled by Turtles’ “Tiny Desk Concert” taping at NPR’s offices in Washington, DC.


    Playing: The Festival Palomino Sept. 20 at Canterbury Park in Shakopee. With: The Head & the Heart, Low, Charles Bradley, Hurray for the Riff Raff, Field Report, Spirit Family Reunion, more. Tickets: $34, FestivalPalomino.com.


    At startribune.com/turtles: See a full photo gallery and video feature with Trampled by Turtles as well as their archived Letterman TV appearance.

    Tiny Desk Concert: NPR.org. WXPN Free at Noon: Archived at XPN.org.

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