For two decades Twin Cities band Trailer Trash have been making the rounds, playing their special brand of “honky tonk” to people of all ages. Their annual Christmas show, A Trashy Little Xmas, has garnered a devoted following and become a fixture in and around the metro area. This holiday season, they’ll play ten holiday shows in Northfield, St Paul, Minneapolis, Rochester, Mankato and St Cloud, spreading holiday cheer throughout the state.
Formed in 1992, Trailer Trash is made up of seasoned musicians who have all played in a multitude of bands. Nate Dungan is the lead singer and appointed band leader, however he says band decisions are made based on the collective opinion. Holding a regular residency at Lee’s Liquor Lounge downtown Minneapolis, they started out playing classic (or alt) country and swing. From there they also expanded to blues, rock-a-billy and rock. Their bread and butter is a mix of hits with some mashups, blending old and new. For Christmas, they like to take a popular song and put a holiday spin on it. As these genres have stood the test of time, so has the band, acquiring new generations of fans, as younger folks continue to discover the magic of these classic tunes.
Given their knack for classics, it’s easy to see how Trailer Trash have widespread appeal. It’s a show your mom and your grandma would enjoy. This makes their Christmas shows a perfect way to celebrate with family. It also gives families an opportunity to do something a little more out of the box than a sit-down turkey dinner. Their performances are high energy, joyful, interactive fun for every man, woman and child (at their kid friendly earlier shows). They encourage audience participation by bringing the infamous “Jingle Stick” which is a Ford hubcap fashioned to a broom stick with bells screwed into it. This “instrument” is passed around the crowd where Nate says they try to find someone to play it “preferably in time with the band as [they] play music.” Where did the Jingle Stick come from? Well, one day long ago, the Ford hubcap washed up on Nate Dungan’s boulevard and he “took is as a sign from Heaven that he should make the Jingle Stick.” It definitely adds an extra element of fun to their rambunctious shows, more so, as the night progresses and the egg nog supply dwindles.
Trailer Trash are the epitome of the anti-commercial band. The name originally thought up as a way to present themselves as “anti-image” rather than to anoint themselves as kings of sleeveless white T-shirts, trailers and lawn ornaments. They meant it more as a way to let people know they don’t take themselves too seriously. They’re here for the fun of it and their main objective at every show is to make sure the audience is responding to their music. From day one, they aimed to play to their audience. As seasoned musicians, they are well-versed in language of reading a crowd. If people want to swing dance, they play swing. If people want to line dance to some country, they play that. They’re always flexible, always aiming to get every last butt out of their seat and onto the dance floor.
It’s this energy that keep self-described superfans Tom Wiggins and his wife coming back year after year. Tom describes their catalogue as “vast” playing everything from country to The Ramones. Tom loves the chemistry and mastery of guitar wizards Randy Broughten and Randy Anderson. Tom’s wife loves the Trailer Trash Christmas show because “everyone dresses up” in holiday themed garb. And while dressing up is not a show attendee requirement per se, the other audience members may frown on lack of participation. Tom’s wife describes the show as “the funniest thing you will ever do at Christmas” and it’s a “must-do” for anyone in the Southern MN area. For anyone near Austin, band member Randy Broughten is native to that town and brings in a enthusiastic hometown crowd.
The Wiggins aren’t the only ones singing their praises. Tom Hilgren, General Manager at the Chatfield Center for the Arts is also a big fan. Trailer Trash will be playing there for the 3rd time this year, and Tom reports that he would have had them there every year, except one year they were renovating the space and were unable to host them. “From the moment they take the stage until the last song the audience is tapping their foot, smiling and laughing. Besides being excellent musically, they are - simply put - fun”.
There are a lot of great Christmas shows that grace Minnesota but Nate likes to think theirs is one of a kind. By doing things like dedicating “Proud Mary” to the blessed Virgin and refusing to let anything get too serious, he says their show is a release from all the other pressures of the holidays. The Trashy Little Xmas Show is a place devoid of emotional platitudes, forced pleasantries and most importantly, bad holiday music. It’s a place where you can let loose, forget about all the gift cards you have to buy so someone can get you a gift card for the same amount, resulting in a pointless transaction. You can send all your holiday blues and stress into the universe via the dance floor and possibly with a little help from the Jingle Stick.
Over the years, the band has seen various members come and go but the center of the band has remained intact. When asked what the secret was to their longevity Nate said “don’t break up.” He makes it sound as though following that advice has been easy for them the same way he can’t pinpoint what makes it easy to read a crowd. That drives home the point that what makes Trailer Trash special cannot be put into words. The show can only be experienced in person.
We here at SouthernMinn Scene fully endorse all of our readers to take part in the Trashy Little Xmas Show in a town near you this season. From what we’ve heard it is the perfect way to get in the holiday spirit. So find that ugly Christmas sweater that’s been hiding in the back of your closet, grab your mom, your grandpa and your kids, and get to a show. Remember to wear your dancing shoes and leave any bashfulness at home. Because the Jingle Stick is going to be calling your name, and you want to be able to answer that call! Don’t limit yourself to traditional holiday music or plays this year. A Christmas Carol will still be playing at a theater near you. Spice up your holiday routine and warm up by shaking your booty with Trailer Trash. We can promise you, you will not regret it.
Trailer Trash will perform A Trashy Little Xmas on December 7 in Chatfield, December 9 in Northfield and December 14 in Rochester. Other show dates and locations can be found via the band’s website www.trailertrashmusic.com.
Sarah Osterbauer is the SouthernMinn Scene music columnist and critic. She loves to meet the people who make the city’s heart beat (and sometimes break). Follow her on twitter @SarahOwrites.