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Duluth band prepares for Europe after rolling through Letterman

FARGO -- An interesting thing happened to Trampled by Turtles two years ago. The members of the bluegrass band discovered how freeing it was standing up for themselves -- literally.

Well, they always could stand, but the string group had always played concerts sitting down.

Banjo player Dave Carroll recalls the group's last seated show, a date in a small room in Colorado on a stage only about a foot off the ground.

"We stood up afterwards and a lot of the crowd had left," Carroll says from his Duluth home. "I assumed they hated us or they couldn't see us."

The next night they ditched their chairs, and two nights later, Fargo fans saw the group's most energetic local show at The Venue.

"After that first night it was fun," Carroll says. "We were thinking we would do some standing, some sitting. We just never went back. It's definitely a freer experience. I feel like we have more energy."

The quintet sets out for their first European tour next week.

Europe is a long way away from where these Turtles were a year ago, or even seven months ago.

Last fall, the group was recording its sixth album, "Stars and Satellites," in a cabin just outside of Duluth. With the album in the can, the group played a handful of shows, including their debut opposite Garrison Keillor on "A Prairie Home Companion."

All was quiet and steady until "Stars" hit shelves in mid-April, and Trampled's schedule took off. Shortly after the release, the group was on tour in the South when they got a phone call: A scheduled music act had to postpone an appearance on "Late Show with David Letterman" and Trampled was offered the spot. It was short notice, but the band couldn't turn it down.

"It was stressful but great," says banjo player Dave Carroll, recalling how their schedule had to be re-worked, so they could play North Carolina, drive through the night to New York for Letterman the next day, then turn around and head south to resume the tour.

"We played the show, and 21 minutes later, we were on our bus on our way to New York," Carroll says.

Letterman kicked off a busy year filled with big buzz and even bigger gigs. They followed Letterman with a July spot on "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson" and played nearly every major rock or bluegrass festival in America, from the Newport Folk and Austin City Limits to Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza, where the quintet played a main stage in front of its biggest crowd yet. (The three-day festival drew more than 160,000 fans to seven stages.)

"A lot of the festivals were pretty memorable," says Carroll, known as Banjo Dave. "There weren't a lot of bluegrass bands on (the lineups), so we were a different genre."

Bluegrass and similar string bands have seen a boom in popularity over the past few years, but Carroll isn't concerned with an oversaturation of strings.

"With the popularity of the Avett Brothers and Mumford and Sons opening the ears of a lot of people, it might get people to come out and see us, so I think it's good for our band, for sure," he says.

Closer to home

Despite big festivals, a couple of shows closer to home are among the band's highlights, including playing before a Twins game and a June benefit concert to help people after massive rains flooded parts of Duluth.

"The money that's needed, we didn't even come close to, but it's something we can do," Carroll says, noting that no one in the band was directly affected by the flooding.

Another favorite show was opening for rockers My Morning Jacket in Somerset, Wis. The group stuck around and was invited to back singer Jim James on the acoustic ballad "Wonderful," with lead singer Dave Simonett taking a verse.

"That would be one of his most memorable moments," Carroll says of Simonett. "That hasn't happened at every festival we've gone to."

But another Minnesota show is up in the air. The group is scheduled to play A Scandinavian Christmas with the Minnesota Orchestra on Dec. 22, but the orchestra has been locked out in a labor/management stand-off and performances have been canceled through Nov. 25.

Another unusual pairing came together with hilarious results when the folks behind the Cartoon Network comedy "Squidbillies" released a video of Trampled's "Walt Whitman" in August.

"Doing music videos isn't one of our favorite things to do, being on camera and all that stuff," says Carroll, adding the show's creators are fans. "When they came up with the idea of them doing the video and we don't have to do anything, we were all for it."

In true "Squidbillies" fashion, the band is seen playing before in an Appalachian bar, the Jigglehut, before the show's stars -- hillbilly squids -- but mistakenly introduced as .38 Special. The group finds themselves under the jealous eye of the patriarch who challenges fiddler Ryan Young while Simonett gets attacked by a squiddy female.

"It's funny to see the other guys and see what the Squidbillies characters do to them, Ryan getting nailed and Dave (Simonett) getting molested. It was hilarious," says Carroll, whose avatar mostly shrugs or rolls his eyes through the action.

While Carroll laughs at the video, he was careful to tell his sister the clip wasn't safe for his young nephews to watch. If they want to see their uncle on TV, they'll have to settle for seeing him play on Letterman.