By Samuel Wigness
Seven bands carefully chosen by Minnesota’s own Trampled by Turtles outperformed the violent thunderstorm that threatened, but failed, to cancel Saturday’s Festival Palomino.
Hours before the storm, the lush Canterbury Downs infield was kissed with sunlight and carried the mixed aroma of fried food and cut grass. While a few dozen fans gathered to watch Field Report open the concert, others let the music find them on laying on blankets, conserving energy for an event that would endure for nearly nine hours.
As fans trickled in and sipped their first local craft beers, Erik Koskinen’s rich, deep voice was as warming as the sun. Koskinen’s version of country blends blues, rock and American folk – a much needed counterweight to “Top 25” country/pop that dominates the airwaves. The Chuck Berry-like guitar riffs and smooth Waylon Jennings style vocals introduced the high standard of musical quality for the festival.
Hurray for the Riff Raff, beginning seamlessly across the field from Koskinen, kicked the tempo up a notch with hits “Blue Mountain Ridge” and “Here it Comes.” Lead woman Alynda Lee Segarra lifted fans to their feet and toward the stage with her commanding stage presence and pure, wide ranging voice. With a sound from New Orleans, the bass drum-infused folk had the crowd swaying and high stepping as Apache Relay prepared on the other stage.
As impressive as the bands at Festival Palomino was the stage and sound crew. Two outdoor stages faced each other, 150 yards apart, and just as one act ended another began at the opposite side. Amid the tennis match of alternating stages, there was no more than 45 minutes of dead air – much of which came during an unplanned transition from the outdoor venue to a make-shift stage inside Canterbury Downs.
While half of the fans traveled from stage to stage, others lay content on blankets in the sea of turf. Dave Carroll of Trampled by Turtles wandered aimlessly through the crowd, enjoying the bands he selected for the event.
As prevalent as the sun, beer and denim was great music. Not just good folk and bluegrass music, but quality music of several varieties. From Nashville, TN, Apache Relay brought soft rock with hints of 50’s doo-wop, and Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires brought the soul of James Brown. But with the funk came the storm.
The first few sprinkles were ignored, and as it picked up the rain was even celebrated. But with lightning flashing in southwest the crowd was asked to mosey their way inside – and they did.
The wind picked up and the rain became uncomfortable. Thunder bellowed, lightning flashed nearby, but they concert goers smiled and laughed their way into the casino. There was no panic, no harsh words; just a simple migration toward safer ground.
Much to the delight of the soaked fans, Sprit Family Reunion was already set up on a jerry-rigged stage inside, and played a set featuring Trampled by Turtles fiddle player Ryan Young that rivaled the headliners. The members’ attire, blue jeans and white t-shirts, matched their music: earthy and powerful in its simplicity. It seemed like the group just wandered down from the Appalachian Mountains and found Festival Palomino in time to escape the storm. As the band commanded the fans attention, the storm’s 30 mile per hour winds and heavy downpour went largely unnoticed, and Spirit Family Reunion ended their set with an announcement that the sky was clear and the concert would resume outdoors.
With little delay, the concert resumed outside to a welcome from The Head and the Heard on the east stage. The Seattle band mirrored the beauty of the deep red sunset with their flawless guitar and fiddle play and vocal harmonies.
At dusk, Low took the west stage and lulled the crowd into the only low point of the festival. Throughout the day, the crowd grew larger as each band played, but Low was only able to hold the attention of a hundred or so fans. While talented, the Duluth natives slow, grungy tunes hindered the long endured build up to Trampled by Turtles.
Nevertheless, with a final screech of Alan Sparhawk’s guitar, the band that put Palomino in Festival Palomino took the east stage.
“In most places people would have left after a storm like that passed through,” lead singer Dave Simonett claimed. A split second later the band jumped into their set in perfect harmony.
Through new songs including “Wild Animals” and “Are You Behind a Shining Star,” and older hits like “Wait so Long” and “Victory,” TBT displayed uncanny synchronization, dynamics, tempo and talent.
While several fiddle and banjo players graced Palomino, Ryan Young and Dave Carroll left no doubt that the day was in their band’s honor. The group doesn’t have a drummer to keep time, and doesn’t need it. Each note from Tim Saxhaug’s bass was meaningful and timely, and his voice, especially during “The Swimming Song,” was outstanding.
Around 11 pm the last notes of “Codeine” rang out, and the festival ended with a roar from the elements-enduring audience. For a $37 ticket, festival goers were treated to eight varied and well-performed sets and left the Shakopee venue with the things that make for an awesome day: good beer, great people and outstanding music.