Yesterday, Festival Palomino returned to Canterbury Park for its second annual celebration of Americana, faced with the challenge of facing the dreaded sophomore slump. Fortunately, the effort and planning behind the Trampled by Turtles’s festival was apparent.
Having the Stars Stage and the Satellites Stage next to each other was a blessing for every fan looking to do as little tromping around as possible. The food vendors were even better, with everything from Pinup Paninis to Ben & Jerry’s, plus some of the best cheese curds you’ll find west of Wisconsin. In the short space between sets, wandering over to the vendors and perusing the beard oil, cigar-box guitars, and R-rated cross stitch for sale proved endlessly entertaining. Another new addition was the social-media-friendly giant “Palomino” sign that greeted concertgoers upon walking into the festival grounds, providing endless amounts of selfie opportunities for the flanneled hordes throughout the day.
The event’s folk focus was apparent from the very first act of the day. The Lowest Pair charmed the early arrivers with a docile duet of acoustic guitar and banjo, punctuated by lovely vocal harmonies from Kendl Winter and Palmer T. Lee. Winter, armed with a trucker hat, enchanted the crowd with her whispery vocals, while Lee’s old-school charisma extended to graceful hat tips. They ended their set with “a song about the present,” reminding the gathered crowd of the importance of soaking up every moment of the festival.
Lydia Loveless brought her brand of outlaw country to the stage soon after. Her backing band featured some of the best musicians of the day, with one enthusiastic bass player and a guitar player who dangled a cigarette between his lips the entire time. Still, this was Lydia’s show, and she and her embroidered “Loveless” guitar strap took the crowd on a wild ride. Her vocals—moans and groans about lovers who have done her wrong—went in tandem with one of the more feedback-filled sets of the day. Her performance helped inject the crowd with a much-needed dose of punk and energy, but still appealed to the true folk junkies. She successfully brought her bar-band sound to the bluegrass masses.
Calexico’s southwest flair went over surprisingly swimmingly for us denizens of the north. Shaking up the traditional folk formula with some backing horns, this was the first performance of the day that got the ever-growing crowd really shaking and moving. Importing music made closer to south of the border than north could have easily gone wrong, but the crowd truly embraced the band’s Latin-infused sound, even (poorly) attempting to sing along with a song sung entirely in Spanish towards the end of the set. Calexico also held the award for most band members on stage, including two trumpet players and an accordion player, for the majority of the festival—to be bested only by the headliner. Together, the band seamlessly worked to play one of the most polished sets of the day.
The afternoon continued to fly by as Laura Marling graced the stage with her elegance. It’s worth noting that both female performers of the day arrived onstage wearing scarves, possibly anticipating the notorious Minnesota chill that was nowhere to be found in the mid-afternoon heat. She began strumming her first melancholy song, begging some unknown lover to “let a little lady be.” Still, she insisted that she would not be “a victim of romance” during “I Was an Eagle”. Her soft vibrato and narrative lyrics had the crowd’s rapt attention. Her words flowed like a waterfall, consistent and unrepenting, only pausing to repeat particularly emotional truths, crying out pained phrases like, “How could I live without you?” Her simple backing band and the sound of her acoustic guitar proved the perfect medium for Marling to keep the spectators thoroughly hypnotized.
Shakey Graves stormed the stage soon after. The stage was adorned with a Texas flag, perhaps the only prop all day, and the performer’s wild stage presence did his home state proud. Guitar wailed through the festival grounds, bringing back some much-needed feedback and noise to rile the crowd right back up. Formerly a one-man act, his backing band helped accentuate his natural talent. The man born Alejandro Rose-Garcia cried, moaned, and yelled his way through his set, displays of unfiltered emotions perfectly coupled with the howls of his guitar. He asked the crowd to sing and clap along during the uber-catchy “Dearly Departed,” reveling in the crowd participation. His last act onstage involved him alone, strumming and smiling, thrilling the crowd with his guitar expertise. He was most definitely not the only one left smiling after the pure raucousness of his performance.
Benjamin Booker continued the loud, guitar-driven portion of Palomino’s act with his dirty brand of rapid-fire rock ’n’ roll. Booker was easily the loudest act of the day: any soul within 100 feet of the stage could easily confirm that. The incessant pounding of the drums synced up with the rhythm of the crowd’s collective heartbeat. Booker was a man of few words, but many riffs: he let his cherry-red guitar speak for him. His gravelly, experienced-sounding vocals sounded entirely misleading, conjuring visions of a grizzled blues icon with a voice addled from years of boozing and smoking than the reality of the 26-year-old prodigy gracing the stage. The fast and furious onslaught only let up a few times, with small interludes of fiddle allowing the crowd to catch their breath.
The excitement throughout the crowd reached a new climax as Minnesota welcomed Father John Misty for the third time since the release of his sophomore effort, I Love You, Honeybear. Dressed in a sleek black suit and his eternally deadpan facial expression, he led singalongs of such ironic hits like “Bored in the USA” and “I’m Writing a Novel.” Almost immediately, the lucky few very closest to the stage found that J. Tillman had every intention of jumping into the crowd as frequently as he could, assisted by a very quick and nimble stagehand who assured that his microphone would not fall off the stage.
Tillman gave a shout-out to Marling, claiming to have tried to dance with her offstage during “True Affection,” but found himself too short on time. He then introduced a “horrible little folk ballad” before strumming the acoustic intro to fan-favorite “The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apt.” He spent a large portion of his set either writhing about onstage or adventuring out into the crowd, before having to end that portion of his set after someone, quote, “literally just bit my ass.” His enormously entertaining set ended with “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” and a gracious helping of the view of his pants split down the back in the middle, a small sacrifice in the name of showmanship.
The sunset was soundtracked by the always charming Dr. Dog. There are few national acts that have such a devoted Twin Cities fan base as Dr. Dog, and the crowd relished every single harmonious singalong the band could offer. More than a few of the band’s signature “Dr. Dog” winter hats could be spotted on heads during the still-warm September evening. It was hard to believe that the Philadelphia band have truly been down “the lonesome trail to victory” that they sing about during “That Old Black Hole” as they triumphantly played the second-to-last set of the day. Much more danceable and considerably more family-friendly than Father John Misty, Dr. Dog’s folky indie rock vibed consistently well throughout the grounds.
Finally, Festival Palomino’s headliners and curators took the stage. With no new music under their belt since last year’s release of Wild Animals, concerns that Trampled by Turtles’ live act would seem at all stale or old were quickly dismissed as Duluth’s finest started strumming their banjos. Absolutely furious fiddling caused joyous jigs, standing or otherwise, from the front of the stage to the many spectators relaxed on blankets. Standard banjo music mixed with some fantastic harmonica helped remind the sizeable crowd of an important reason the festival exists: the celebration of fantastic local music.
After musing about how the band had been listening to a lot of the Band as of late, they threw in a cover of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” before closing out their set with classics off Stars and Satellites like “Midnight on the Interstate” and “Alone,” the latter involving an assortment of bagpipe players to add an unexpected twist. At that point, the band’s five members, a small orchestra of violins, and the bagpipe players caused the festival stage to seem visibly cramped, absolutely overflowing with folksy folks.
Festival Palomino continued to stay true to its focus by showcasing the variety of forms of American locally and nationally, from Lydia Loveless’s outlaw punk to Father John Misty’s biting commentary to Benjamin Booker’s furious shredding. Trampled by Turtles will always serve as the star of their festival, still able to get Minnesotans dancing and moving like almost no other band out there, but using their influence to shine a light on their peers shows that the band truly enjoy nothing more than providing the eager masses with a wonderful day full of camaraderie.
Writer Hannah Hron is a student at Hamline University. Photographer Bridget Bennett is a student at the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities.