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Live: A Peaceful Night with the Turtles

Nothing short of memorable.

Adam Shay

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Remember the scene in Titanic when Jack invites Rose to a “real party” down in the ship cellars? Imagine that eight minute scene turning into an hour-and-a-half long concert.

It’s uncommon to describe a concert as peaceful, relaxing, and wholesome, but all three adjectives accurately portray the Trampled by Turtles concert in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Saturday night. The audience danced freely to upbeat jams, then stood shoulder to shoulder during slower ballads.

Trampled by Turtles was nothing short of memorable.

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Photograph: Adam Shay

YBuilt in 1928 with a Victorian style interior, the Riverside Theater was the perfect venue for the band to perform. A near sold-out audience of 2,460 people turned out and with an added pit in front of the stage, followed by hundreds of seats at ground level and an overhang with over a thousand seats, the cushions remained cold.

Trampled by Turtles is a six-man group, consisting of all string instruments and no percussion. The chemistry between the members is astounding, specifically between mandolinist Erik Berry and fiddler Ryan Young. They both boasted long beards with shaggy hair as they alternated solos and complimented the rest of the band. One song they perfect was “The Middle,” the third track off of their 2018 album Life Is Good on the Open Road.

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Photograph: Adam Shay

The other four band members were fantastic as well: Dave Simonett on lead guitar and vocals, bassist Tim Saxhaug, banjo player Dave Carroll, and Eamonn McLain on cello. Fingers were pickin’ so fast, it’s surprising no one lost a digit. But when a band is classified as bluegrass and alternative country, nimble and tireless fingers are essential for creating clean and precise notes.

Some aspects of the show needed work. Instead of rolling from one song to another, the band took a little too long getting set in between songs. Granted, they needed to rotate their instruments, plus tune them to play each song accordingly, but the lost time between songs was noticeable. After an upbeat song where fans were dancing, the time in between songs brought a stop to the crowd’s energy instead of smoothly transitioning into another hit song, like “Ain’t No Use in Tryin’.” 

Feeding on the crowd’s energy, Trampled by Turtles played more than enough slower songs, causing the crowd to wander away from the show. During their ballads ,when Simonett was the lone guitarist, the auditorium was filled with conversations rather than singing along.

The band made no attempt at getting the crowd involved, as in being cliche and asking, “Everybody sing along” or “Everybody put your hands together.”

Finally, an hour and a half show was not enough time for Trampled by Turtles. In a special environment like Riverside, ending the show by 10:45 did not due the band or fans justice.

Still, Trampled by Turtles is worth seeing because of their unique sound. Bluegrass does not receive airtime on the radio  creating a more selective fan group. For those looking to expand their musical horizons, seeing a Trampled by Turtles concert is a perfect transition into the world of bluegrass, whether at a festival or a more intimate setting.

The band has been a leader among the bluegrass genre for over a decade and if there is one big takeaway from the concert, it would be Trampled by Turtles is still one of the best bluegrass groups around.

If you obsess over singers and bands, and are one of those people who make a playlist for every occasion, join CMN’s Music Journalism Course and get real-time experience, intense feedback on your writing, exposure to music industry insiders, and a great place to display build your portfolio. Get all the details on the Music Journalism Course here.

Adam Shay is a graduate from Eastern Illinois University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, During his four years at EIU, he wrote for the Daily Eastern News for two and a half years, covering multiple sports, news events, and writing feature stories. He was also on the rugby club team for two years, a member of the Society of Collegiate Journalists, and finished third in applying for his commencement speech. Currently, he runs a public relations system for a bar in Palatine, Illinois, and in his free time, he is always learning about music, sports history, and American history.

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