BEMIDJI -- Touring smaller regional communities has become an end-of-year tradition for Trampled by Turtles, a six-piece bluegrass/folk-rock band from Duluth that has become a national powerhouse since its inception 16 years ago.

The band will perform for a nearly sold-out crowd of 2,500 at Bemidji’s Sanford Center at 8 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 15. As of Tuesday, about 85 percent of the tickets had been sold, according to the center’s marketing manager, Evelyn Halvorson.

It will be the band’s second appearance at the Sanford Center. They performed here in March of 2014. This will be part of a three-day, three-stop fall tour that includes concerts in St. Cloud and Mankato.

“Almost every year we do a little tour at the end of the year around to smaller towns around Minnesota, Wisconsin, and sometimes Iowa,” said Dave Simonett, the group’s lead singer. “It’s more comfortable for us. We started touring in smaller cities. We didn’t start going to major metropolitan areas until a couple years in. So it’s really fun for us to get back into what most people might consider to be smaller communities. It’s definitely a different vibe than say going into to play Manhattan. We can be a little more personal with the crowd.”

Simonett and three others formed Trampled by Turtles in 2003 as a side project. “All of us were playing in rock bands,” Simonett said. “We wanted to do kind of an acoustic, folky bluegrass. We were going to the record store and buying albums. Since it became our full-time project, I wanted to think of us less like a traditional string band, because that’s not what any of us are.”

The original band includes Simonett on guitar and lead vocals, Tim Saxhaug on bass, Dave Carroll on banjo and Erik Berry on mandolin. Fiddler Ryan Young and cellist Eamonn McLain joined later.

They’ve gone on to tour around the nation, including five concerts at the famous Red Rocks Amphitheater outside of Denver.

“Red Rocks is a trip,” Simonett said. “Coming up it seemed kind of unattainable to play there. I’ll never forget the first time I walked out on that stage, there’s nothing quite like it. I still get nervous as hell before that show.”

They recently completed a tour with the Avett Brothers. The next national tour begins in January.

Simonett, 39, has written virtually all of the band’s music, except for their instrumental songs. He said as a teenager he was mesmerized by the songs of Bob Dylan, and he began writing his own songs before he turned 20.

“When I look back to some of the songs I wrote as a 19- or 20-year-old kid, it almost seems like a different person sometimes,” he said. “I’m so fascinated with songwriting. It’s my favorite art form. And all of the songwriters I know are just as mystified by it, because you can never really seem to find out what’s going to happen or how it works. After a couple years I figured out for myself. It still seems really hard and really great at the same time.”

Frankie Lee, a singer-songwriter from Minneapolis, will open for Trampled by Turtles.

If you go:

What: Trampled by Turtles with Frankie Lee

When: 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 15

Where: Sanford Center

Tickets: $29 to $39, available online at or at the Sanford Center ticket office