Hailing from Duluth, Minn., the members of Trampled by Turtles signed on to the band one by one, but they sound as though its been playing together their entire lives.
“I was the last to join,” Ryan Young, the band’s fiddle player said. “Trampled by Turtles was opening for my band, and afterwards, they asked if I would sit in for a few songs during their next set. A few songs turned into sitting in for the whole set.”
Young, who was playing with Pert Near Sandstone at the time, left that project to round out Trampled by Turtles as a bluegrass-inspired five-piece.
“I shy away from calling us a bluegrass band,” Young said. “Bluegrass purists don’t agree. But to the average person, I guess we play bluegrass. Really, we think of ourselves as a rock band that plays rock music, but with acoustic instruments.”
With this winter tour, the band brought a little of that not-really-bluegrass music to the Marquee Theatre in Tempe last Saturday night. It returned to Arizona after having played here only once before, according to Young.
But the purpose of this tour has a second purpose. The band is partnering with a nonprofit organization called WhyHunger to raise money for its mission to end instances of hunger and poverty here in the U.S. WhyHunger representatives were stationed at tables at the Marquee to promote the group’s mission and to collect donations, as they will be at every venue on this tour.
Trampled by Turtles’s work with nonprofits extends beyond WhyHunger. It has worked with the organization Vega Productions to raise money for public school music programs as well. Last year, the concert benefit it participated in raised $27,000, which provided the band’s hometown schools in the Duluth Public School District with new instruments.
But when the band isn’t committing itself to bettering the world, Trampled by Turtles is racking up sometimes-outrageous tour memories just like any other band.
“On the first tour where we rented a bus, a few of the guys in the band went back to it one night after a show, and they found a random guy sleeping in one of the bunks,” Young said.
After the band members asked the man to leave, he went on to knock on every door in the Lake Tahoe hotel attached to the music venue, looking for a place to sleep. Eventually, he incited a hotel guest to stumble out of his hotel room waving a gun around and looking for whoever was knocking on doors in the middle of the night.
What he found, instead, were the members of the band.
“We were like, ‘No, we promise it wasn’t us!’” Young said. “It was crazy.”
Although there weren’t any guns involved at the Marquee on Saturday, the show was plenty exciting enough. Folksy two-piece honeyhoney opened up for the group, impressing the crowd with their musicianship and energy.
Several songs into honeyhoney’s hour-long set, Trampled by Turtles joined their opener for a duet that included solos on the part of Young and his band mates, banjo player Dave Carroll and Erik Berry, who plays the mandolin.
It was just a taste of the high-energy, lightning-speed headlining set that would follow. Kicking the night off with “Victory,” from the group’s 2010 release “Palomino,” Trampled by Turtles showcased some prodigious talent over the remainder of the evening.
It’s impossible to name any single band member who stood out, because between Carroll’s fingers flying across his banjo’s frets and Young’s no-holds-barred approach to the fiddle, there wasn’t a dull moment.
Saturday night’s show was the kind that seems to end too soon and leaves audiences thrilled and exhausted – a process no doubt helped along by the exuberant dancing taking place in little pockets across the crowd. Tempe came out, decked out in its best checkered flannel, to welcome Trampled by Turtles and honeyhoney with open arms.
The result was one hell of a party.
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