Trampled by Turtles's Palomino: A Hard-Earned Victory

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By Alex Rice
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For a band of quasi-bluegrass musicians from the freezing climes of northern Minnesota whose idea of a big break was playing the local pizza joint every Wednesday night, Trampled by Turtles had grown impressively by the end of the 2000s. Four albums of quirky, punk-infused banjo and mandolin tunes - most notably 2008’s hometown ode Duluth - had made them a known quantity in acoustic music circles, but as frontman Dave Simonett tells it, they were approaching a fork in the ice road.

“All of us were really struggling financially and I was looking at having my first kid, so there was a question of, ‘Can we do this anymore?’ explains the singer/guitarist, whose only motivation for founding the initially-unplugged project was having his electric gear stolen in 2003. “I was having the best time of my life on tour, but I was about to turn 30 and there was this point where I thought, ‘This is great, but is it killing me? Am I enjoying it like I used to? Is this the last record we’re gonna make?’”
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Turns out 2010's Palomino was a whole new beginning. His quintet’s career arc wasn’t quite crawling along at a tortoise-like pace before their breakthrough LP, but relatively speaking, that fifth full-length took off like its titular steed. Palomino became something of a Thriller for the bluegrass crowd, reaching the top spot on the genre’s Billboard chart and remaining in the top 10 for 52 weeks straight.

Fueled by the endlessly energetic, string-laden “Wait So Long” - the group’s signature tune, having amassed over 40 million spins on Spotify - the record forced the members of Trampled by Turtles out of their respective shells and onto some of the country’s most prestigious stages, from bucket-list venues like the Ryman and Red Rocks to prime-time spots on Conan and Letterman.

Still, Palomino’s 12 tracks are rooted in Midwestern modesty, from lines like “I’m just a raindrop in a river” in “Wait So Long” to a shout-out for the only fans who showed up at an early Kentucky gig in “Feet and Bones.” The kind of "aww, shucks" ethos that could only come from a string band who were just as happy getting down with the couple dozen Duluthians willing to brave Arctic conditions to show up at Pizza Luce on a weeknight. “It’s a hard-earned victory,” goes the album’s wisened and wistful second track, “Victory.” “Grown from a moment… and a million miles.”