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I wasn’t sure what to expect from Trampled By Turtles. Considering that up until I mapped it, I thought Brooklyn Bowl was an amphitheater (assuming it was Brooklyn’s answer to the Hollywood Bowl), I was already set up for a night of surprises.
Brooklyn Bowl is a fantastic venue. As soon as you step through the big red doors, the rustic warmth envelops you into the buzz of people having a good time. Cheers swell after every thwap of scattering pins. Goodhearted moans rise at the thunk of every gutterball. People are there to bowl, drink, lick Blue Ribbon fried chicken grease off their fingers, and sometimes see their favorite band.
That was the most astounding thing about last night, something I’d expect from a Taylor Swift concert, but not the kind of shows I normally go to. This 600 person at-capacity crowd was rabidly, die-hardedly, there for Trampled By Turtles. Not twenty seconds in to the first banjo pickings and Mumford-style harmony build, people were screaming like the members of One Direction were hiding inside the bodies of these bearded Duluth-bred dudes. The crowd sang every word of the first song. I haven’t seen that happen since the Taylor Swift concert I never went to. Even the band seemed surprised, in that patented understated Mid-western way. Lead singer and guitarist Dave Simonett would occasionally look over at bassist Tim Saxhaug with a raised eyebrow and shrug. They’d both grin and go back to what looked like trying to shred their instruments into angel dust to snort after the show and what sounded like a maniacal mastery of anything with a string.
Speed can be a great party trick in bluegrass music, but these guys had a way of balancing auctioneering tempos with sustained vocal lines that added up to some really great songs. And every so often, presumably to let the bones of their hands mechanically repair, they’d launch into a beautiful tune like “Midnight on the Interstate” with slow heartfelt harmonies and devastatingly simple lyrics. The lights cooled to blue as couples wrapped their arms around each other and sang along. If you took a second to look up at the open, barnlike ceiling and breathe in the dusty air, being in the room with Trampled By Turtles felt like all the best carefree summer nights of your life.