Molly Tuttle: “My backyard is an Indiana farm, Bloomington is alright”

On Thursday night, Grammy-award winning artist Molly Tuttle and her band Golden Highway delivered more than an hour and a half of bluegrass bliss in Bloomington’s Switchyard Park.

The temperature of 92 F degrees, combined with a relative humidity of around 66 percent, made for a heat index of 109 F.

Opening for Tuttle were the Chicago-based Henhouse Prowlers, featuring Bloomington native Chris Dollar.

After filling more than 90 sweltering minutes mostly with songs from her two most recent albums—”City of Gold” and “Crooked Tree”—Tuttle closed out her show with ”White Freightliner Blues,” which is an old Townes Van Zandt tune.

In the voice of Van Zandt, “going out on the highway, listen to them big trucks whine” sounded like a lament. Tuttle delivered it as a celebration of sorts.

Van Zandt’s iconic lyric “New Mexico ain’t bad, lord, people there will treat you fine” got a geographical tweak to suit the occasion. Tuttle sang it like this: “Bloomington’s alright, some people there will treat you fine.”

That’s a standard kind of nod that performers will give to a local audience, even when they’re from here. When Hank Ruff covers “Folsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash, in a venue like People’s Park on Kirkwood Avenue,  he swaps out San Antone for the natural choice: “But that train keeps a-rollin’ on down to Bloom-ing-ton.”

Tuttle’s next-to-last song featured a similar geographic tip of the hat. Her “Big Backyard” starts off like this: “My backyard is an Illinois farm…” On Thursday, Tuttle moved it one state to the east.

Earlier in the set, as the band was prepping to play John Hartford’s “Up On The Hill Where They Do the Boogie” Tuttle’s banjo player, Kyle Tuttle, spotted a young man in the crowd, who had brought his mandolin to the show. The youngster, whose name turned out to be Vance, was invited onstage to jam with the band.

Even if he did take up a spot next to Dominic Leslie—that’s Golden Highway’s mando player—Vance appeared content to just soak up the moment. But during an interlude, Molly Tuttle coaxed him along a bit: “This part is just a D chord,” she said.

Vance then did what probably any kid would do, if Molly Tuttle told them to just play a D—he whaled on a D chord with all of his might.

The audience at Switchyard Park included a mix of ages. A few slices of the crowd looked like they could have fit right in at a Grateful Dead show.

Their response to Tuttle’s “Down Home Dispensary” was extra enthusiastic. Earning special applause were a couple of lines. One goes like this: “So all you politicians up on Capitol Hill / Would you choose a side, step in, and spark up a bill?”

The other line goes like this: “Hello, legislators, the voters have spoken / There’s too much poli-tickin′ and not enough tokin’.”

In Switchyard Park on Thursday, the level of tokin’ would have been not enough or too much, depending on who was asked. It was, in any case, a non-zero amount.

Towards the end of the show, Tuttle performed the title track from “Crooked Tree.” She led into it by telling the crowd the song’s origin.

I wrote this song thinking about growing up as a little kid and losing all my hair when I was three years old. I developed something called alopecia areata, which basically means your body stops growing hair. So it’s been a lifetime of feeling like a crooked tree. I love wearing wigs—they’re really fun. But you know it’s so hot out tonight, I thought I’d just let my hair down.

Then she lifted off her wig, and launched into the song.

The chorus goes like this: Oh, can’t you see? / A crooked tree won’t fit into the mill machine / They’re left to grow wild and free / Oh, I’d rather be a crooked tree.

The Golden Highway lineup is: Kyle Tuttle (banjo), Bronwyn Keith-Hynes (fiddle), Shelby Means (bass) and Dominic Leslie (mandolin). Kyle Tuttle is apparently no relation to Molly.


Photos: Molly Tuttle with Golden Highway (Bloomington, Aug. 24, 2023)

(This set includes several from the mid-afternoon sound check. Click on any image for full size, then arrow or swipe through a slide show with the rest.)

3 thoughts on “Molly Tuttle: “My backyard is an Indiana farm, Bloomington is alright”

  1. Some great looking pictures, David. Duty called or I would have been in attendance for this for sure.

  2. Now I’m going to have to figure out what issue Van Zandt had with New Mexico. That’s my ancestral home. Went to high school in Alamogordo (Class of ’86 Rox! Go Tigers!). Consequently, I’ve got a list of issues with The Land of Enchantment. I wonder what his were.

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