Trampled by Turtles Fire Up Live on the Green

It seems like every concert audience includes two idiots determined to make a mosh pit “happen.” But at Trampled by Turtles’ headlining set Thursday night (Oct. 4) at Nashville’s Live on the Green, they were sort of justified. This band makes people move.

The Minnesota-bred string band injects a heavy dose of punk-rock fire into their sound, and at this free concert in front of a few thousand fans — not just attendees — they almost played the strings right off their instruments.

It was a perfect night for an outdoor show, and as I stood in the back of an excited crowd, the band slid into “Alone.” Front man Dave Simonette waited through the first few subdued verses to address the audience, saying hello just before his group slammed into overdrive for the second half of the song. From then on, the party never really stopped.

The Turtles proved to be engaging showmen, especially fiddle player Ryan Young, who seemed to convulse through each manic solo. Combine that with the frantic banjo plucking of Dave Carroll and the percussive acoustic bass of Tim Saxhaug and you’ve got a dangerously high-strung bluegrass band. To be sure, Erik Berry on mandolin and Simonette on guitar are no slouches, either.

No less than four instrumental songs were played over the course of the show, and these are where the musicians really pour gas on the fire. But for all the horsepower and speed, the five members are actually very gifted technical players.

Even if you couldn’t see the band, an avid listener could tell it was Tramped by Turtles right away, and I think it’s because the group frequently mixes short snippets of familiar bluegrass motifs with their own dark, twisted melodies. Imagine the first few recognizable notes of “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” followed by a descent into a Charlie Daniels’ styled fiddle solo.

Indeed, at one point, the stage lights went down, leaving only red and gold illuminating the band from behind and below through the fog of a smoke machine, making them look like they were jamming at the edge of a volcano or maybe even hell itself.

The set list was filled with tunes off their albums Palomino and Stars and Satellites. Highlights of the night included “Walt Whitman,” “Widower’s Heart,” “Help You,” “Midnight on the Interstate” and a special appearance of Jonny Fritz (formerly Jonny Corndawg) for a full-band version of his trucker’s lullaby, “Night Rider.”

Of course, they tried to close the night with their signature breakthrough song, “Wait So Long,” but were called back for a well-deserved encore and three more songs.

Legislative Plaza, where Live on the Green is held, is built on top of a parking garage — meaning there’s nothing underneath the grass but a concrete slab and empty space. When “Wait So Long” kicked in, I seriously wondered if we were going to break through.

Check out Trampled by Turtles on Concrete Country for a taste of their live show.