Be prepared, a herd of string-strumming turtles is on a steady march. Trampled By Turtles returned familiar territory when it played a sold-out show in the Crystal Bay Casino’s newly expanded Crown Room on Saturday, June 25, during a busy summer of performances across the country.
The Minnesota string band recently has come off of a long touring break, heading home from the first week in October through early April.
“We took most of the fall, all of the winter, and a lot of the spring off, about seven or eight months off. It was our longest break we’ve ever taken,” said mandolin player Erik Berry. “I think it’s been a lot of rediscovering how much we enjoy playing the music.”
Trampled By Turtles is Berry, Dave Simonett (guitar), Dave Carroll (banjo), Ryan Young (fiddle), Tim Saxhaug (bass), and Eamonn McLain (cello).
The band formed in 2003 in Duluth, after Simonett had his electric guitar and amplifier stolen from a gig.
“He was forced to become an acoustic artist because that was the only instrument he still owned,” Berry said. “He was opening for my band, one of our last shows, and I invited myself to play mandolin with him and he was too polite to tell me no. It wound up working out pretty well, so he invited me to do some duo shows.”
Carroll joined the two after seeing a performance; Young and Saxhaug were introduced by way of acquaintance, and Trampled By Turtles was born. The band has attracted a devoted nationwide following over the years, with its growth signified by venues such as Crystal Bay Casino. Trampled first appeared at Crystal Bay in 2006, in a modestly-attended appearance at the Red Room. A few years later, it sold out the larger Crown Room in a midweek show.
“There’s a handful of places around the country that we’ve kind of grown up at, and Crystal Bay Casino is definitely one of them,” Berry said.
After 13 years of hard work and long hours on the road, Trampled by Turtles is proud of its success.
“I always kind of felt like something was going to work,” Berry said. “I hate to say that I’m not surprised, because I am, but on the other hand I had a lot of faith and drive that something was going to work out.”
One of the band’s main identifiers is a laid-back, no-boundaries approach to string music composition and performance.
“I think what sets us apart, is that we act like we’re in a rock band,” Berry said. “If I have an idea for trying something musically, I’ll try it, and it will or it will not work, but no one’s going to sit down and tell me afterwards, ‘Hey, that’s not something Mr. (Bill) Monroe did so maybe you shouldn’t do that.’ That sort of boundary or restriction or guidelines just simply isn’t present.
“We are still playing all those instruments, so how far away from that string-band sound can you actually get?” Berry said, noting that he incorporated a number of effects pedals into a recent show.
“I think that’s kind of a tension, a push and a pull,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s a string band, but we don’t have a set of rules or boundaries that a lot of string bands do.”
Berry’s mandolin influences include Monroe, Mike Compton and David Grisman. He also has a soft spot for iconic-voiced banjo player Ralph Stanley.
“As a mandolin player, I really like the way Ralph Stanley plays the banjo,” Berry said. “I’ve actually learned a lot of instrumental work from Stanley.”
His other influences include classical music, jazz and metal.
“I spent a lot of time as a kid listening to heavy metal,” he said. “I feel like a lot of that influence comes in the way I hold a pick and when I pick really fast. It can be hard to escape that.”
Trampled by Turtles is geared up and enjoying its return to the road. The group’s schedule includes venues and festivals all across the Western United States, including its own homegrown festival in Shakopee, Minnesota.
“We’ve got our Festival Palomino this September up in Minnesota, which is really coming together to be a sweet little lineup that we’re excited about,” Berry said.
As far as other highlights of the upcoming schedule, Berry’s mind is made up.
“We’re going to go to Alaska in August, which is always a super fun time, and we’re also playing in Red Rocks,” he said. “Between those two, I mean with all apologies and respect to everywhere else we’re playing, I’m really looking forward to those.”