The Avett Brothers, Trampled By Turtles bring the strings to Minnesota

September 26, 2019
Slide & Banjo

The Avett Brothers/Trampled By Turtles
Treasure Island Amphitheatre
Welch, Minnesota
September 21, 2019
Words/photos by Josh Mintz

Treasure Island Casino is nestled in the green hills of Welch, Minnesota, along the banks of the Mississippi River – a short drive from Minneapolis. On September 21, the casino’s amphitheatre hosted an acoustic/bluegrass pairing – Avett Brothers and Trampled By Turtles – and over 17,000 music fans were treated to a gorgeous evening of stringed music.

The closest major city to the casino is Red Wing, home of the namesake famous boot company. Red Wing’s population is 13,500 and change; by showtime, the city’s population was overtaken by the concert crowd. Trampled By Turtles hails from up the road in Duluth and it was clear from the concert-goers attire that they were a huge draw – the concession stands were even selling a TbT/Bent Paddle Brewing Company beer. Trampled by Turtles had opened for the Avetts the few nights prior, but this was the first sell-out crowd.

The Welch show was a true co-headlining gig, as each act had nearly the same amount of stage time. Someone had to be first though, and the honors went to the native Minnesota sons. TbT came out and was immediately in command of their home state. There are bands who play around each other, and bands who play with each other, and it was clear from the beginning that these guys are a finely-tuned ensemble.

Much of the set was comprised of tracks from 2018’s Life is Good On the Open Road. “The Middle” featured a blistering fiddle solo from Ryan Young, and set the tone early in the set. A downright filthy “Annihilate” gave Erik Berry a chance to shine on mandolin. The band did a great job on all of the tunes from the newest album; the songs are road-tested, and it shows.

Guitarist Dave Simonette’s droning vocals on “Methodism in Middle America” had the entire throng of concert goers in a trance, but the song really took off behind the most valuable player of the night, cellist Eamon McLain. His string work was breathtaking at times, frenetic at others. Bassist Tim Saxhaug took lead vocals on Loudon Wainwright’s “Swimming Song,” which was quite the treat as well.

Down the road from the venue in Red Wing sits Kelly’s Tap House, a spot that’s featured in the opening lines of the song “Kelly’s Bar.” The tune got a big response as the band broke into it, as lord knows how many in attendance had sidled up to the bar much as the opening verse states: “I was sinking like a stone in Red Wing, Minnesota…At a bar called Kelly’s right next to the train.”

All in all, it was a stellar set. Trampled By Turtles did their friends, family, and neighbors proud. They set the stage for the Avett Brothers, making a statement that maybe they should have been the ones playing second.

At setbreak, the Avett Brothers’s road crew put a folding chair at the stage lip, and when the house lights went down, brothers Seth and Scott Avett emerged at the stage front. Seth sat down, and the band broke into the instrumental cover, “Black Mountain Rag,” followed up by “High Steppin'” one of the tracks from their forthcoming album Closer Than Together. The tune has a great beat and is certainly a fun track live, but it’ll be interesting if they continue to include the spoken word portion of the tune, because while the message is great, it kills the momentum.

Setlist imbalance seemed to be a theme of the early portion of the Avett’s set. The band built a head of steam with classics like “Die Die Die,” “Shame,” and “Live and Die,” but then dropped in newer, slower nuggets like “Tell The Truth” and “Bang Bang.” The new tracks may have had great messages – “Bang, Bang” especially – but the setlist ebbed and flowed from fast-tempo song to slow songs, which didn’t lend itself to cohesion.

Things seemed to right themselves once the band got to the acoustic portion of the show. Seth came out for “Ballad of Love And Hate,” and had the thousands in attendance hanging on his every word and Scott’s “Murder In the City” is one of the band’s stronger lyrical outputs, and it never disappoints.

Things took off from there. “Laundry Room” may show up on nearly every setlist, but there are few tracks that can induce a crowd to frenzy like it does. The disco ball drops, the band picks the pace up, and the crowd goes wild. It may be formulaic, but it works every time. Then, they followed it up with “Talk On Indolence,” which kept the energy at a high pace.

“Left On Laura, Left On Lisa” used to be a semi-rarity but 2019 has seen a return to regularity, and a welcome one. The set closed with two stand-out tracks, “Head Full of Doubt” and “I and Love and You.”

After Seth Avett and bassist Bob Crawford did a spot-on cover cover of Jim Croce’s “Operator,” the entire band re-emerged. For a band that is string-driven, it’s kinda rare for a tune to stand out for percussive reasons, but drummer Mike Marsh really pushed “Slight Figure of Speech” to absurd heights. His drum solo was the most memorable part of the evening. He went from kick drum to tom to snare drum, but then started looping his electronic drum pad, and it was truly something special. With an acoustic instrument-based band, the drummer is often the overlooked musician. Marsh made sure that wasn’t the case here.

The show closed as pretty much every Avett Brothers show has for the last two years has, with “No Hard Feelings,” the house lights went up, and the crowd went on their way. It was an evening of great acoustic music from start to finish, and a night to remember. Trampled By Turtles put a stamp on their ownership of Minnesota roots music, and the Avett Brothers proved, yet again, why they are one of a few bands capable of drawing over 10,000 people no matter what stage they headline.

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