Reunited, Trampled by Turtles to headline Belly Up Aspen and Red Rocks
The Aspen Times
IF YOU GO …
Who: Trampled By Turtles
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Wednesday, July 18, 8 p.m.
How much: $60-$90
Tickets: Belly Up box office; bellyupaspen.com
After a yearlong hiatus and a four-year break between albums, Trampled By Turtles is back together and on tour with a new album.
Despite a large and loyal following, the Minnesota-bred, six-piece progressive bluegrass band decided to split up in the fall of 2016 after 13 years as one of the most acclaimed live acoustic bands on the road.
Last fall, after a year apart, they spent a few days together at a northwoods cabin and decided to give the band another shot. The result is the album “Life is Good on the Open Road,” released in May, and a much-anticipated tour that brings Trampled By Turtles to Belly Up Aspen today and Red Rocks Ampitheatre on Thursday.
The idea of the band spending a few days in the cabin last year was to see whether they still liked each other, as mandolin player Erik Berry put it, and whether they wanted to keep playing music together.
“If there were unresolved issues about the break, we were going to talk about them, like ‘Now is your chance,’” Berry recalled last week from Virginia, where the band was playing the Red Wing Roots Festival. “That’s why we did it as a sort of retreat, with an emphasis on casually hanging out with each other. The point of that was that it reminded us we are friends.”
Berry said the most important parts of the trip were making dinner together, hanging out, talking, playing cards. They did end up playing some music, though. News of Tom Petty’s death broke while they were in the cabin, and the band surprised fans with an impromptu Facebook Live performance of Petty’s “Wildflowers.” From there, they got back to work as a band.
Berry said all six members returned with fresh energy as they began recording sessions. They’d broken up largely because lead singer Dive Simonett wanted to make his electric rock band, Dead Man Winter, his priority for a spell.
“Whether he knew that would be good for Trampled or not, I’m going to go as far as to say I don’t think he cared,” Berry said. “But it ended up being good for Trampled. That was a really healthy thing.”
All of the band members kept working on music projects outside of Trampled By Turtles. Berry stuck around Duluth, Minnesota, and made music with the community there.
“For myself, there was a great infusion of energy from musicians in Duluth that I respect and that I’m friends with,” he said. “Suddenly I got to work with them and that’s very cool.”
When the band got to work on “Life is Good,” they were flush with new musical ideas and influences. Berry, for example, recalled working with a musician in Duluth who had a knack for song intros and outros, which helped him more thoughtfully craft the beginnings and endings of the “Life is Good” songs.
“I realized that my internal song monologue was no longer very Trampled-y,” Berry explained. “It was different. And I don’t know if Dave knew that would happen, but it’s cool that it has.”
Returning to Colorado — and Aspen, in particular — is a meaningful moment for the band. Colorado, with its boundary-pushing bluegrass tradition, was one of the first regions to embrace Trampled By Turtles when they started touring 15 years ago. And Aspen was the first place they made inroads.
“I love playing Red Rocks, but I’m also looking forward to being back at Belly Up,” Berry said. “That’s one of our favorite clubs.”
As he recalled, Trampled built a fan base in Aspen early on by playing the club when both it and the band were brand new around 2005.
“Until we were able to crack Denver, our prime Colorado shows were all in Aspen,” Berry recalled.
So before the band started topping the Billboard chats and headlining major festivals, while they were starting to build their reputation for adventuresome and rocking live shows, Aspen was their main artery to Colorado. Eventually they’d become favorites at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival and Red Rocks and beyond.
“I don’t know how we lucked into it, but (Belly Up) was our first professional venue in Colorado,” Berry said. “We’d played some Front Range bars and stuff like that. But we hadn’t been a band very long. And we walked into Belly Up and we’re like, ‘Whoa, this is a really nice place.’”