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Trampled by Turtles Kick Some Serious Bluegrass at Telluride

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On a day when Bela Fleck got Flecktone funky again, Emmylou Harris continued to age gracefully and Railroad Earth kept the trains running, Trampled by Turtles arrived and kicked some bluegrass ass.

The Minnesota quintet that includes frontman/singer guitarist Dave Simonett, Tim Saxhaug (bass, vocals), Dave Carroll (banjo, vocals), cowboy-hat wearing Erik Berry (mandolin) and Ryan Young (fiddle) put on a dazzling performance that couldn't be topped on Day 2 (June 17, 2011) at the 38th Telluride Bluegrass Festival.

While the group has been together for eight years and has released five albums -- including 2010's Palomino -- its brand of pedal-to-the-speed metal attracts the fast and furious crowd. That included the Friday afternoon rowdies at Telluride, who kicked up a dust storm throughout the 75-minute set as they pressed up against the poseur pit of media and VIPs directly in front of the stage. Trampled by Turtles side(Trampled by Turtles, left to right: Erik Berry, Ryan Young, Dave Carroll, Dave Simonett and Tim Saxhaug.)

"I think is the most beautiful view I've ever had from a stage... and the mountains aren't bad either," Simonett said -- pausing for perfect comedic effect -- after performing "New Orleans," the closest thing to a ballad on the rambunctious Palomino. That's a playful twist on the comments every artist can't resist making whether they're on this main stage for the first time (Sarah McLachlan) or a longtime Festivarian friend (Steve Earle).

Although they were making their Telluride debut, playing a sold-out NightGrass show on Thursday night at the Palm Theater, Trampled by Turtles has been a favorite of college audiences throughout Colorado from Fort Collins to Denver and mountain towns such as Aspen, Breckenridge and Winter Park.

"Denver's been a great spot for us for like two years, but before that... man it was... even in Colorado when we started to do well elsewhere, Denver took forever to catch on," Simonett revealed in my recent interview on the Huffington Post that was part of a "Faces of Telluride series. "And now it's probably the best town we have outside of home."

After Friday's show, he might have to adjust that opinion. Simonett heads up the alt-country side project Dead Man Winter with TBT members Saxhaug and Young that will release their first record in August (and will be touring with them in Colorado this fall). He also revealed in Telluride that Trampled by Turtles is working on another album and tried out some slower-paced numbers that the crowd readily accepted.

But it was the infectious, Red Bull-in-a-band jolt of energy from Palomino -- with 10 of the 12 songs by primary songwriter Simonett -- that kept them on their feet, with many yelling "Play faster!"

Like that was possible after hearing "It's A War," "Help You," "Wait So Long," Carroll's "Sounds Like A Movie," Berry's "New Son/Burnt Iron" and "Nobody Else" from their previous release, Duluth. Saxhaug also provided a nice turn on the cover of an old Faces tune, "Ooh La La," that appeared on the album of the same name.

Trampled by Turtles Dave Simonett shoutSimonett (right), who performed in various rock and punk bands before Trampled by Turtles was formed in 2003, has a respect for traditional bluegrass but obviously he and his bandmates don't adhere to its customary practices.

Their preference for twisting the roots element, he said in the previous interview, "morphed organically" from him initially performing solo shows. "We were sort of playing a little bit together and then really studying the music a lot, like trying to dig and find where original, old-time songs came from bluegrass music." They were "probably into it a lot more than it ended up coming through in our sound," he admitted.

However, he frankly believes the traditional music world, "as a whole ... that's not even on the same planet as Telluride. It's a whole different experience. In that pocket of the music world, there's a lot of rigid personality and a lot of people that like their quote-unquote bluegrass music to be the exact same thing over and over again."

Simonett and Co. are willing to exceed those limits. As long as that explosive genre-bending form brings in a younger and wildly enthusiastic crowd like the one that showed up in Telluride, the industry should enjoy getting Trampled.

Emmylou Harris singFollowing that impossible-to-top performance, Harris and the Red Dirt Boys held their own admirably. The Red Dirt Girl, on tour promoting her new album Hard Bargain, returned to Telluride this season after missing last summer because of other obligations, including a spot on McLachlan's final Lilith tour.

Members of Mumford & Sons, performing late Saturday night and Sunday just Robert Plant and Band of Joy close the festival, were in attendance, including nattily attired Marcus Mumford, who signed autographs and had his photo taken with adoring fans near the front of the stage after Harris' set.

Other than playing coy about her absence ("I don't know what I was doing last year"), the Red Dirt Girl seemed relaxed and in fine voice, ably assisted by Rickie Simpkins (mandolin, fiddle, vocals), Bryan Owings (drums), Chris Donohue (bass, vocals) and Phil Madeira (keyboards, accordion, guitar, vocals) and Will Kimbrough, who added some mandolin, vocals and some slick guitar playing, particularly on the Gram Parsons-penned rave-up "Luxury Liner."

Finishing up with Billy Joe Shaver's "Old Five And Dimers Like Me," Harris, now 64, said, "I always thought I had to reach at least the age of 60 before I would have the credibility to sing this song and ... way past it now. So I'm having a good time. Folks, there are some songs that only old people can sing."

Thankfully, as the billing of these back-to-back acts proves, there is no discrimination placed on age or musical preference at Telluride.

Concert photos by Michael Bialas.

See the slideshow from Day 2 of Telluride.

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