6 days on road with Trampled by Turtles

CHRIS RIEMENSCHNEIDER | Updated 8/25/2014

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 in Louisville, Ky., 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

NYC > WASHINGTON, D.C. > NYC

Wednesday, July 16

Gigs: NPR’s “Tiny Desk Concert,” Reddit Q&A

Everyone was still smiling over how the fiddle player got his back scratched by Letterman on national TV the night before.

“Let me get that for you,” the late-night host said as the burly, thickly bearded Ryan Young reached to relieve an itch at song’s end. Banjo player Dave Carroll later quipped, “He’s never going to wash his back again.”

While the rest of the band hit a Chelsea watering hole to watch themselves on TV after the late-afternoon taping, the singer went back to their rented bus to crash.