The second annual Festival Palomino took place on Saturday, and it was a gorgeous day for live music at Shakopee’s Canterbury Park. The fest, created and curated by Duluth bluegrass faves Trampled by Turtles, was a seamlessly run series of live sets, with dual stages set up in “right field” of the Canterbury horse track.
Instead of providing set lists and the normal beat-for-beat concert recap, I invite you to crack the bindings of your Palomino High yearbook for 2015.
The Lowest Pair is a duo, and they are a good-looking, talented pair. The Olympia, Washington/Minnesota bluegrass act is a double-banjo danger duo! Just a man and woman onstage with banjos and songs — there is something supremely gutsy about performing so unadorned.
It isn’t my first choice of music, though, and my first note when they took the stage was, “This is going to require beer." Beer was acquired, but in the end it wasn’t required as Lowest Pair gradually won me over.
They were the first musicians of the afternoon, and the crowd was pretty sparse due to the early slot. They had a perfectly lovely set, and switched up the banjos with acoustic guitars, too. Lowest Pair did it with grace and humor, and set the stage for the day. They are soldiers of unadorned Americana, and things may have gotten louder as the day wore on, but the first thread was sewn by the Lowest Pair.
Most Likely to Be Arrested
It’s got to be Lydia Loveless, and, trust me, this is a compliment. She played early on, and her stage presence alone signaled a change, something a little edgy or even dangerous. I have to admit a bias. Loveless was the sole, concrete reason for me being at Palomino. I definitely had musicians/bands that I was looking forward to checking out, but I wanted to see Loveless perform.
The hum and feedback of the band plugging in was welcome, and they barreled through their rootsy rock 'n' roll set. The 25-year-old Ohioan didn’t take off her electric guitar once. There was drinking, heartache, and mountains of beautiful vulgarity.
“It’s a fucking lovely day isn’t it?”
“Up next is Calexico, Laura Marling, and shit, I can’t stop swearing.”
In my mind, Loveless and her band got arrested after their set for stealing some of the Canterbury horses, but the cops let them go when the band played “Jesus Was a Wino” for them.
Most Likely to Bring a Party Wherever They Go
If you were at Palomino this year, you might disagree; you could certainly make a case for Shakey Graves or even Dr. Dog to win this category. I am sticking to my guns. Calexico had a pedal steel, two trumpeters, an accordion, 12 guitarists, and 33 total people on stage (figures estimated).
The veteran Arizona outfit came to party. Their brand of Southwestern, Mexicali-inspired rock was engaging, upbeat, and got the crowd bouncing. Covering the Minutemen was just the icing on the piñata.
Most Likely to Be President
This will take an act of Congress, as Laura Marling is English, but she deserves the honor. She opened with a 10-minute song like a boss, and her fans ate it up. They/we listened to her steady, dignified tension with rapt attention. There was a seriousness to Marling’s performance that will serve her well in her next role as our president.
“I am not a victim of circumstance."
Indeed. She soldiered on, and we all followed. Fans remained respectfully quiet while Marling played her largely subdued songs. A woman behind me wondered if the fair-skinned Marling might be getting sunburned up on stage. Another yelled out, "You’re beautiful!" between songs. The fans were ready to march on her order.
At one point, while swapping guitars, there was a massively loud, Christopher Nolan-esque BWOOOOMP equipment malfunction. After the band regained their composure, the critically acclaimed folk-rocker, 25, switched back to her functional guitar and purposefully continued.
No one should take this the wrong way. Shakey Graves — he of brief Friday Night Lights acting fame — is not the class clown in a pathetic, desperate way. He deserves the attention he gets due to his warm, Texas-sized personality and humor. Shakey doesn’t just get the attention because he is loud.
But boy, is he ever loud! Whether tweaking his gear for maximum wattage, or leaping off the drum riser with a shit-eating grin on his face, the 28-year-old Texan works for his audience. There was pure joy radiating off of the man, and it was infectious.
Most Likely to Succeed
Benjamin Booker. No question. Using the wholly scientific method Twitter followers, I judge Mr. Booker to be less than a household name. This should change. After Saturday’s performance, I think it will — and quickly.
Booker rocks you. Like a hurricane. His cool onstage persona belies the rock 'n' roll cheetah within. When the 26-year-old New Orleans native opens his mouth, you hear Dinosaur Jr.’s J. Mascis, Bruce Springsteen, Dave Bielanko from Marah, and his guitar breathes fire over it all. He and his band played a straight-up rock show. It was a noisy, messy, glorious affair.
As a nod to the general theme of Festival Palomino, his drummer and bassist picked up the mandolin and violin for a song, but then it was right back to guitar heroics. Keep doing what you are doing, Benjamin Booker. I immediately went to a merch tent and bought his album. It is working.
Most Likely to Start a Cult
Easy. Father John Misty. Hell, he might already have done it for all I know. I’m going to admit that prior to Misty’s performance, I wasn’t sold on him as a recording artist. I always thought of him as giving Barry Manilow the Har Mar Superstar treatment — “space lounge,” if that makes any sense.
Then I witnessed the spectacle of a Misty concert. I may not (yet) be buying what he is selling, but glory be, what a performer! Misty and his crackerjack band poured everything they had into their songs Saturday night, and the fans clearly loved every minute of it.
“Wonderful to be here at these historic dog fighting pits… lotta history here," the former Fleet Foxes drummer deadpanned.
If he was winning me over not even halfway through his set, it is nearly a sure bet that he will be shortly adding me to his flock. The dancing, singing, jokes, and just the right amount of furor … the Church of Father John Misty.
Most Likely to Make Everyone Happy, All the Time
This award goes to Dr. Dog. I was concerned when I noticed a kid in a Dr. Dog T-shirt and a Phish hat, but I breathed a sigh of relief when they started to play. The Philly rockers' similarities to the Flaming Lips are striking, and not a bad thing. There was certainly some “out there” noodling, not unlike the Lips or even, dare I say it, Phish, but when Dr. Dog locked on they were a force to be reckoned with.
They came out of the gate strong with a poppy, rocky, positive-y sound that somewhat refreshing in its lack of irony. It was hard not to smile, which might be intentional, might not. They finished every song like Prince does “Purple Rain”— majestically.
And Finally, a Word About the Office Staff of Palomino High
As the creators and curators of Festival Palomino, Trampled By Turtles are not only the principals and office staff, they are the audio/visual club, and the yearbook staff as well. As such, they got to cap the day off with a triumphant performance in front of an adoring crowd.
All day, the sheer number of TBT T-shirt designs was noticeable, rarely a duplicate in sight. TBT are a T-shirt design powerhouse. If this is any measure of success, and I think it is in a weird way, they are killing it.
Everyone was there to see TBT, and it was quite the crowd. It’s weird how big this band has become: A simple Americana bluegrass/folk band from Duluth grows up over 12 years to play on TV shows and create their own yearly music festival.
TBT took the stage with a string quartet, and opened with a plaintive ballad. It wasn’t long before the extra musicians were gone, though, and TBT was back to rollicking through their catalog with reckless abandon. I have never seen nor heard a stringed instrument played faster, and I have been to my share of basement punk shows. It was astounding.
Seeing the crowd sway arm in arm to a ballad the band introduced as being a song about their hometown was beautiful and inspiring.
And then I got a call from my babysitter. Nothing major, but I had to get home. As such, I only caught about half of TBT’s set. If Prince showed up for an encore of electro-funkgrass covers of Thin Lizzy, I missed it.
Let’s do it again in 2016.