Iowa native and one-man band William Elliot Whitmore opened his set with a banjo and foot drum-based dirge that sounded as if he was channeling a spirit of the Delta that had one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. His vocals sounded like what I imagine Tom Waits would sound like if he'd had less whiskey and cigars in his younger days.
Whether strumming his banjo or guitar or pounding out the beat with his foot drum, Whitmore's stripped-down, stark sound accompanied his lyrics of love, loss, prison, hard work and crooked cops and politicians perfectly. Good bluesmen don't play the blues, they live it. If I'd have closed my eyes, I could have easily been at a dusty road stop in the deep South, listening to a drifter playing to get enough cash to make it to his next stop.
Trampled by Turtles hit the stage next, starting with a slower ballad that highlighted their fantastic vocal harmonies and skill with their instruments. Shortly after, they opened into their trademark sound, what to me sounds like the bluegrass equivalent of speed metal. Their playing was technically flawless, their hands a blur of strumming, picking and fretting away at high speed.
I'm not sure if it was my location in the venue, the overall mix coming out of the speakers or a combination of the two but when the band kicked it into overdrive it became hard to hear what was going on. You could see that very complex pieces were being played, but the finesse was overshadowed by the massive sound coming out of the PA. I also found that the lack of detail coming out through the system made a lot of their faster songs sound like the last 30 seconds of the Who classic "Baba O'Riley." That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I think a little less volume would have done just to the band's sonic palette.
Despite my complaints about the sound levels, Trampled by Turtles put on a great show. They changed between fast and slower tunes enough to keep everyone on their toes. The sheer talent of those five guys was abundantly clear. I especially enjoyed Ryan Young's fiddle playing on the slower tunes. I've seen some great fiddle players this past year, but I haven't seen many who were that expressive with their instrument.
Highlights of the show for me were "Victory," "Wait So Long" and their encore which consisted of fantastic covers of the folk tune "Sloop John B" and the Pixies classic "Where is My Mind."