By Kevin Alan Lamb
“Wisdom tells me I am nothing. Love tells me I am everything. And between the two my life flows.” ― Nisargadatta Maharaj
It was the Wednesday before Mother’s Day (2023) when we lost our mom; I found myself walking the trails on Hilton Head Island, SC listening to Trampled by Turtles, thinking of lyrics from “Wait so Long” which I’ve always held close to my heart.
You know that I help you if I can
But I’m just a raindrop in a river
Just a little itty-bitty grain of sand
Our time here is limited, but with that time we have the ability to use our gifts to encourage, empower, and help one another stay afloat, especially when the river rages. Celebrating 20 years together, the rock band that plays their distinct flavor of bluegrass from Duluth, MN continues to draw inspiration from the outdoors, using light, weather, and imagery to paint introspective, cinematic scenes that are easy to lose yourself in.
Anchored by frontman Dave Simonett’s songwriting, the six-piece beloved roots ensemble has released 10 full albums, with three reaching No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard bluegrass chart. Their latest, Alpenglow (2022) was recorded live in a single room, giving their raw chemistry space to breathe, play, and flow. Produced by Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy, and true to Trampled by Turtles form, the songs are vulnerable, introspective, human, melancholy, and somehow still hopeful. Alpenglow is an atmospheric optical phenomenon which makes mountains appear to glow in a light pink or red hue. It occurs just after the sun sets or just before it rises. From track nine on Alpenglow, “We’re Alright”:
Pine trees swaying like hula girls
You woke up in another world
The sky was purple in the worst possible way
A flying pheasant with razor wings
A small green house what a joy it brings
I can only hope for one more day with you
And we’re alright
Like the tortoise who finds freedom in its leisure, look to nature and let her be your teacher. Our time here will come to pass, only memories of how we treated others, and what we offered to the world will last. Onward and upward upon their trampling ways, the darlings from Duluth join a roots-grass-bash in Cumberland, MD for the 15th annual DelFest on May 25. Held in the beautiful Allegany County Fairgrounds, DelFest was born from the desire to create a family-friendly music festival celebrating the rich legacy of McCoury Music; creating a forum for world-class musical collaborations, and showcasing fresh new talent with a down-home feeling. Nestled along the Potomac River in the scenic Appalachian Mountains, the grounds were chosen by none other than Del himself.
The DelFest Foundation was established in 2010 to raise awareness and funds for deserving local non-profit organizations related to homelessness, music, social justice and the environment. For more information and to make a tax deductible donation, please visit delfestfoundation.org.
Trampled by Turtles will be joining The Del McCoury Band, The Travelin’ McCourys, St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Sam Bush, The Infamous Stringdusters, The California Honeydrops, Sierra Ferrell, Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway, Rising Applachia, Keller Williams, Kitchen Dwellers, and Lindsay Lou to name a few.
From one raindrop in a river, and itty-bitty grain of sand to another, here’s my conversation with Dave Simonett ahead of Trampled by Turtles’ DelFest 2023 performance.
TBT is celebrating 20 years as a band. If you could make a Top 10 (pivotal moments) what would they be?
I like the spirit of this question, but after a good long sit thinking it over, I can’t seem to rate any of it. We’ve had an unlikely and seemingly serendipitous run and I am so thankful for all of it. How could I know if breaking down for three days in Lawrence Kansas was any more or less pivotal than playing on late night television? Maybe that food poisoning I got in Washington saved us from an unknown catastrophe and skipping that show saved our career and our lives! I’d hate to inject my ego into the process by pretending to know what moments in our band’s life were more important than others.
If someone had 24 hours to spend in Duluth, what should they see, where should they eat, and what do they need to experience?
This depends on the season. Let’s assume it’s summer because most people reading this probably aren’t making plans to visit Duluth in the winter (though I think they’re missing out). Park Point Beach is a must-visit in the warmer months. Make yourself jump in the big lake while you’re there. The water is very cold, but you will be reborn. I would get breakfast at the Duluth Grill, go for a swim (see above), grab a coffee at Back Alley, buy an amazing canvas backpack at Frost River, then go get a beer across the street at Bent Paddle before heading up the shore a little ways for wine and dinner at the New Scenic Café. After dinner I’d find some live music somewhere in town and then get some pizza at Pizza Luce for the walk home. I have followed this exact itinerary before with positive results.
Twins are two games up. How are we feeling about their chances to win the Central this year? Any plans to sing the National Anthem again? If you were a professional ball player, what would be your walk up song?
I am cautiously optimistic. I am lucky to be old enough to remember two Minnesota Twins World Series Championships but that has come with a lot of years of not getting anywhere near that. They’re a good team and I like the direction in which they’re heading. I’d give them a solid chance to win the AL Central. I don’t have any plans as of now to sing the National Anthem at a game again. That was a super cool experience for us, but holy hell is that a hard song to sing! I feel like I survived it once without any horrible mistakes so I probably shouldn’t push my luck. If I was a ball player, my walk-up song would be Badlands by Bruce Springsteen.
My family and I are taking care of mom in home hospice care. They say God’s the best author, having us say goodbye in the days leading up to Mother’s Day. Any message or extra love you want to send to the mothers in your life?
Damn that must be tough. I’m happy you get to be with her as I feel that is the way any of us would want to go. There’s nothing I could say that could adequately describe the importance of our mothers. An unconditional love is born in that relationship about which the rest of us can only vaguely guess. The only thing I can think to say to the mothers out there is “Thank you. Thank you for everything.”
Are you hopeful that love and music can help heal humanity and the earth?
I think music and love constantly heal humanity. I think as humans we will always cause ourselves loads of trouble. It’s part of our nature. But I think that as long as we’re here there will also always be love and music, and all art really, to come to the rescue when most needed. I think if we piss off the earth enough, she’ll just kick us out.
You recorded your 10th album “Alpenglow” without rehearsing prior. Is this typical to your process, or an evolution in your effort to stay loose?
To be honest, rehearsing for anything is atypical for us. There are a lot of conditions that cause that behavior, some creative, some practical. I will say that I do really like spontaneity and what may be described as “rawness” in recording. We mostly record live in a circle, all playing together. On Alpenglow I recorded most of my vocals live during these takes too. I feel like the bleed between us is such an irreplaceable sound it’s worth whatever loss of polish results from that method.
Name an artist or artists on the DelFest lineup that you share a particularly strong bond/chemistry/history with.
I would say the Infamous Stringdusters are the folks on the bill with which we’ve spent the most time. We’ve done a lot of shows with those guys over the years and we always have a good time together.
Who would you be most excited to see at DelFest ‘23?
Del! It’s always a treasure to see that guy.
If a UFO landed during your set at DelFest, and you had the mic along with the opportunity to be ambassadors to humanity, what would you tell them?
I would tell them that not all humans grow older as well as Del McCoury.
If you could spend two months on a ship co-creating an album with any artist (living or dead), who would it be and why?
You couldn’t pay me enough money to spend two months on a ship.
Like the turning leaves which burst into color before letting go and falling from the trees, there is beauty in our passing, and blessing in descending to the earth; enriching the soil from which we’ve grown. Our voices echo in the ripple of eternity, if we retrace our origin, by charting our stars. Like falling leaves alongside the river, your vibration and ability to shine your true colors, is the guiding light for another to find their way home. But to shine, we must flow; and to flow, we must let go of what’s heavy. It’s alright if you’re not ready or don’t even know what it means to be; your time will come. Be quiet, be still, and remember our friend the tortoise: authentic, slow, steady. Just in case you were listening for one, This is a Good Sound.