Frank Turner with Shovels and Rope

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The musical duo Shovels and Rope hit my radar a few years ago when I saw them on Bluegrass Underground. When I found out that they’d be playing at The Sylvee in Madison, WI, I ordered a pair of tickets. Then I got an email saying, “You’ve just scored tickets to see Frank Turner with Shovels and Rope.” I didn’t realize the two acts were co-headlining the show, but we have friends who really like Frank Turner, so we were happy to have the opportunity to see him as well. In fact, our friends were also going, so we made plans to carpool up to Madison and grab some dinner before the concert. (Unfortunately, Lisa got sick on the day of the show, so she stayed home.)

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The Sylvee

The Sylvee is a relatively new venue in Madison, WI, just a few blocks from the Capitol building. There’s a parking garage right next door and several restaurants within walking distance. We parked, walked over to The Brass Ring for a pre-show meal and a beer, and then headed to The Sylvee.

The Sylvee
Image Credit: The Sylvee

Tickets were $27 (plus about $15 in fees) for general admission, which put us on the floor in the standing area. If you want a seat, it’s at least $50 to $100 more to sit in the balcony. My friend Rob and I staked out some territory right behind the soundboard, which not only has the best acoustics in the room, it also gave us a good view of the stage and a railing to lean on … because we’re not as young as we used to be. The place has a bar with a good selection of “regular” and craft beers. I got a pint of Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale for $8 – not a bad price for a concert microbrew.

Trapper Schoepp Opened the Show

Trapper Schoepp
Trapper Schoepp. (Image Credit: Rob Clark)

Folk-rock singer/songwriter Trapper Schoepp opened the show with a nice acoustic set. He reminds me of a young Arlo Guthrie, singing songs about life and telling stories along the way. The most interesting was the tale of how he co-wrote a song with Bob Dylan. Well, co-wrote might not be the right term, since Dylan began the song about Shoepp’s home state in 1961, long before Trapper was even born. When Dylan’s unfinished lyrics were discovered more than 50 years later, Shoepp saw a picture of the hand-written notes and he took it upon himself to finish the song, which he named “On Wisconsin” after the state’s motto. Dylan agreed to let Schoepp record the song with co-writing credit.

Video credit: Trapper Schoepp

Shovels and Rope Rocked the House

Shovels and Rope co-headlined with Frank Turner
Shovels and Rope (Image Credit: Rob Clark)

Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent make up the “Mom and Pop” duo Shovels and Rope, and listening to them makes me wonder how two people can sound like a complete band. Both are multi-instrumentalists, as they demonstrate by trading off between guitar and drums throughout the show. As we were watching them, a guy came up from behind us and said, “She’s playing the drums in high-heeled shoes.” I said, “You know what’s even more impressive than that? While she’s playing the drums in high heels, she’s also playing a keyboard with her right hand.”

Shovels and Rope co-headlined with Frank Turner
Shovels and Rope (Image Credit: Rob Clark)

After a few songs, they swapped instruments so Michael could show us that he, too, can play drums and keyboard at the same time. (He wore flats, though. Advantage: Cary Ann.)

Best When Seen Live

I’ve seen a lot of bands who sound much better live than on a record; Shovels and Rope is one of those bands. Their albums are very good too, but wow – when they’re on stage, something powerful takes over that simply can’t be reproduced in the studio. I hope they release a live album or concert DVD. In the meantime, you owe it to yourself to see them the next time they come to your area. Until then, you can check out their Tiny Desk Concert on NPR:

Video Credit: NPR Music

Frank Turner

I’m not sure how to describe Frank Turner. His music seems to be a blend of folk and punk, if you can imagine such a thing. The first time I saw The Avett Brothers, I thought they sounded like a punk band playing bluegrass instruments. In both cases, the combo works! (That shouldn’t be surprising, as all forms of American music have a common ancestor: the blues.)

Frank Turner
Image Credit: Rob Clark

Turner opened the show with Get Better, which features a chorus reminds us that “We can get better because we’re not dead yet.”

Video Credit: Frank Turner

A Frank Turner Show Is a Participation Sport

I’m not sure anyone in the place was having more fun than Frank Turner himself, and trust me, the audience had a blast! The show was filled with energy from start to finish. Early on, he mentioned that he considers his concerts to be “participation sports,” and the crowd was happy to take part in the event. At one point, he asked us to raise our hands if this was our first time seeing him. Quite a few hands went up, and at random, he selected a young lady from the audience and invited her on stage. Here’s how it went:

Video Credit: Music Fest Fans

Be More Kind

Not everything he did was hard-and-fast. Like Trapper Schoepp, Frank talked to the audience in between songs, at one point reminding us to “Be More Kind” (the name of his most recent album) and encouraging us to show compassion to people, even if those people don’t show compassion for others.

Video Credit: Frank Turner

Surf’s Up!

Near the end of the show, Turner demonstrated that he has far more faith in his fellow man than I have: he body-surfed through the audience. About two weeks earlier, he fell six feet and landed on solid concrete after he was dropped while crowd-surfing at his show in Birmingham, Alabama. Here he was in Madison, getting back on the horse, so to speak:

Frank Turner crowd-surfing
Image Credit: Rob Clark

Frank Turner, Shovels and Rope, and Trapper Schoepp all delivered great performances, and The Sylvee is a very cool venue. I recommend them all!

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