How ironic that after naming their new album “Life Is Good on the Open Road,” Minnesota’s acoustic rock stars Trampled by Turtles are having their best summer ever right here at home.
After selling out and breaking an attendance record at Duluth’s Bayfront Festival Park in early July, the bluegrassy Americana sextet turned in what’s bound to be the biggest concert of the year at this year’s Minnesota State Fair. It was also Trampled’s largest gig ever in their native state, and you could tell by their ultra-focused and swiftly paced performance they knew this was a big one.
Final attendance for Saturday’s show was listed at 15,627. No homegrown act has brought that many people to the State Fair grandstand since Duluth’s other semifamous musical son, Bob Dylan, played there in 1993 with Santana when the venue had a larger configuration.
With no seats on the grandstand’s plaza level Saturday, the sprawling crowd in front of the stage looked like a giant version of a fair popcorn stand, with fans bouncing around excitedly whenever Trampled kicked up one of their rowdy, manically paced crowd pleasers such as “Codeine” (one of three oldies that kicked off the set) and “Wait So Long” (the pre-encore finale).
A true indicator of both the enormity and the gaiety of the audience: Beer stands off to both sides of the stage sold out of a majority of their stock even before the headliners took the stage. (According to sources, of course.)
Booked under the banner of 89.3 the Current’s annual Music on a Stick fair package, Trampled had a little help in packing the place. Iowa-based powerhouse singer/songwriter Lissie and Los Angeles’ cosmic indie rocker Lord Huron each earned a warm reception in their opening sets, as the late August day perfectly cooled down near the end of what was also one of the fair’s biggest days ever attendance-wise.
Lissie (full name: Elisabeth Maurus) could have been easily ignored in the opening slot amid the festive vibe, but her booming, soulful voice demanded otherwise. Playing with an all-Twin Cities-based band, including Rogue Valley drummer Luke Anderson and impressionable guitarist Toni Lindgren, she amped up the rocky side of her singles “Don’t You Give Up on Me” and the hopeful “Best Days.” One of her standouts, though, was the slower-burning, more vulnerable new gusher “Blood & Muscle.”
Lord Huron’s hourlong set limped along at first but consistently picked up as the skies darkened and the stage lit up, emphasizing the atmospheric, candescent vibe of the soft-rolling “Wait by the River” and gustier “Hurricane.” Frontman Ben Schneider’s soft, oaky voice isn’t as smooth on stage as on his richly produced records, but his live band captured all his dramatic inflections, especially in the passionate rocker “Fool for Love.”
Trampled didn’t waste any time getting to full-tilt mode in their 90-minute set. Instead of opening with new songs — as they’ve done for other shows this summer — the visibly excited string pickers picked out the fan-beloved oldie “Victory” to start it off. Then when the new material did come around, the crowd stayed with them and even sang along with impressive consistency.
“That all of you came out here just blows our mind,” frontman Dave Simonett said before launching into the title track of the new album, a song about getting in motion to move out of a down period.
Returning this year from their own downtime — a nearly two-year hiatus while Simonett focused on his rockier and more personal solo project Dead Man Winter — Trampled seems like as much of a group effort as they ever have in their 15-year life span.
Mandolinist Erik Berry and fiddler Ryan Young each took impressive turns soloing in the barnburner closing-time song “Kelly’s Bar” and another new gem, “Annihilate.” And instead of Simonett’s more downbeat singer/songwriter showpieces such as “Midnight on the Interstate” and “I’m Not There Anymore” — fantastic songs, mind you — Saturday’s set leaned more on lively string workouts such as “Repetition” and “Burn for Free.”
There were two quieter moments amid the rowdy mayhem, though, which felt all the more majestic outside on a cool night with the Minnesota fans: The first half of “Alone” found all 15,000 of them singing along in unison like a giant campfire chorus, while “Winners” had them cheering loudly at the lyrical references to “Charlie on stage” (an ode to Duluth folk hero Charlie Parr) and “city built on a hillside” (about Duluth itself).
Even — or especially — for a road-hounding touring band like Trampled, there’s still no place like home.