Show Review with Interview: Flannel Fest 2019 – A Warm Celebration of Americana Music on a Frigid Wisconsin Night

Interviews Show Reviews

It’s not everyday you go to a show with a dress code.  But when the dress code—flannel—fits right in with a mission to help friends and neighbors in need as the weather takes a turn for the worst, you know you’re going to have a great time.

Entering its 6th year, Flannel Fest 2019 is a tribute to the best of Americana roots music.  This year’s festival occurred over two nights beginning with Flannel Fest South in Madison, Wisconsin at the High Noon Saloon on Friday, November 8.  Flannel Fest North occurred the following night at Gibson Music Hall in Appleton, Wisconsin.

Flannel Fest featured six bands—each bringing their unique styles and rhythms to the stage and playing to packed houses on both nights.  The Festival, co-organized by Madison-area singers, Beth Kille and Erik Kjelland, is intended to highlight local, regional and national bands that are considered among the best in their craft.  And looking at the accolades and awards won by the performers, one would be hard pressed not to agree!

Giving back to the community was one of Beth and Erik’s original goals in organizing the festival.  Flannel Fest 2019 once again supported the Keep Wisconsin Warm/Cool Fund, a statewide nonprofit charity that assists those most vulnerable in need who cannot afford to survive Wisconsin’s bitter cold and increasingly hot summers.  Founded in 1996, KWW/CF has successfully provided over $32.5 million in aid to more than 111,300 households facing energy related crisis situations.

KWW/CF also partners with local county agencies assisting low-income households by arranging more affordable energy payment plans, offering budget counseling, and teaching ways to conserve energy.

Let’s take a look at the bands as they appeared on Friday at the High Noon Saloon.

The Listening Party – Constantly Evolving

The Listening Party opened Flannel Fest.  The trio, comprised of Milwaukee area artists, Weston Mueller, Joshua Hester and Jacob Wood, provided their unique mix of folk and soul, with a bit of bluegrass added in.  They describe their style as constantly evolving and take great pleasure in mixing up their songs, jumping genres and changing up their instrumentals.  Exhibit A evidencing this was their song “Train”, which was accompanied with a playful train whistle and a rhythm imitating the sound of train wheels.

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The North Code – Inevitable Comparisons

Hearing Madison-based The North Code for the first time draws one to think of The Head and the Heart or Bon Iver.  Others have compared them to The Lumineers and Mumford & Sons.  Yet, such comparisons don’t begin to fully define or limit the breadth of the band’s music.  Their music has been described as “indie-folk music with a twinge of Americana,” which was plainly on display in their set at Flannel Fest.

They sing about the subjects closest to their hearts—warm relationships with loved ones and the beauty of nature—accompanied by driving guitars, a winsome violin and a rather unusual Peruvian cajón box drum.  The North Code includes Josh Pankratz, Adam Prinsen, Craig Hoffman, Ben Strohbeen and Rin Ribble.

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Beth Kille Band – A Force of Nature

You know you are in for something special when the band’s playlist is titled “Facemelting Set”!  Led by (quite literally) high-kicking Beth Kille, the band virtually exploded on stage from the beginning with an in-your-face set.  The band definitely represents the hard-driving rock side of Americana.

The band is made up of stars of Wisconsin music, beginning with Beth herself—the recipient of 22 awards over the last 20 years from the Madison Area Music Association (MAMA), and the 2019 Wisconsin Area Music Association (WAMI) President’s Award.  In addition to Beth, the band includes Michael Mood on bass, Michael Tully on guitar and Tony Kille on drums.

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The Mascot Theory – Folk-Rock in Four Part Harmony

Together for 8 years, the members of The Mascot Theory perform like a well-oiled machine.  The band brings together a perfect balance of folk music with rootsy bluegrass and touches of gospel and country to create their unique sound—high-energy, toe-tapping folk rock that kept the audience up and swaying in appreciation.  Towards the end of their set, Trapper Schoepp joined the band as they covered Tom Petty’s “Walls.”  Beth Kille also came on for the band’s “Part-Time Valentine.”

Winners of 18 MAMA awards, including back-to-back Artist of the Year awards in 2016 and 2017, The Mascot Theory is Erik Kjelland on guitar, Corey Mathew Hart on guitar, Nick Fry on bass, and Paul Metz on drums.  Shawndell Marks sat in with the band on the keyboard and providing accompanying vocals.

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Trapper Schoepp – Moving Out from Dark Places

Rounding out the evening, Milwaukee-based singer-songwriter Trapper Schoepp has been making big waves nationally.  Receiving accolades as one of America’s most gifted new singer-songwriters, Schoepp has toured extensively in the US and internationally over the past several years.  He brought to Flannel Fest his songs reflecting heart-felt personal experiences, personal loss, and characters he describes as being on the fringes of society.

Before playing one of his best-known tunes, Trapper relayed his experience with “On, Wisconsin”—a song he credits with revitalizing his career and reenergizing his writing.  In 2017, he came across an auction featuring three unpublished verses titled “On, Wisconsin” written by Bob Dylan in 1961 before Dylan left Madison, Wisconsin to begin his professional career in New York City.  After the lyrics failed to sell at the auction, Trapper set the lyrics to music and added some of his own.  Shortly after putting the song on You Tube, Trapper was contacted by Dylan’s attorney who said that Bob Dylan was so pleased with the song that he would agree to share a song-writing credit.  Trapper readily said yes, with the song then being featured on his 2019 album, Primetime Illusion.  The result is a co-writing credit with one of the best-known singer-songwriters that would be the envy of every artist.

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Prior to the show, I had an opportunity to pose a few questions to Erik Kjelland, a co-organizer of the Festival with Beth Kille.

AH:  This is the 6th year of Flannel Fest.  What led the two of you to organize the event originally?  

Erik Kjelland: Yes, this is the 6th year of Flannel Fest in Madison, and it will be the third year that we have also held the festival in Appleton, WI. Beth and I began writing songs together many years ago, and at one of those sessions we discussed the idea of putting on an event that showcased talented local and regional (and sometimes national) bands including our own bands, The Mascot Theory and the Beth Kille Band. We knew that we wanted to find a charity to work with as well, and after considering many national charities, we found out about the Keep Wisconsin Warm/Cool Fund and realized they were a perfect fit for our event(s).

AH: Has the Festival supported The Keep Wisconsin Warm/Cool Fund since the beginning?

EK: Yes, KWW/CF has been the Flannel Fest charity since the beginning. Every year they have a presence at the festival with a staffed table giving out information about how they help our friends and neighbors in need. We appreciate that, with this charity, ninety-five cents of every dollar contributed goes directly towards helping those most in need. We honestly couldn’t have found a more perfect charity to work with as the weather turns colder and people start digging into the back of their closets for warmer clothing.

AH: What are your future plans for Flannel Fest? 

EK:  We are so humbled by the generosity from the Madison and Appleton areas as they continue to support Flannel Fest and KWW/CF and the local and regional music scenes, year after year. We definitely plan to continue the festival for years to come. We have discussed adding a third Flannel Fest event in a different area of the state at some point in the future and will continue to keep our eyes and ears open for a perfect situation to expand.  But for now, our focus is to make sure we put on the best quality festival we can and to continue to introduce attendees to amazing musical acts and to support our charity with funds and awareness.


Erik Kjelland reported that the two nights of Flannel Fest 2019 successfully raised $5,300 in contributions to the Keep Wisconsin Warm/Cool Fund.  Madison Gas & Electric Company, which provides electricity to Dane County, Wisconsin, gave a 2-for-1 match, which raised the total contribution KWW/CF to $15,900!

Not bad for a couple fun-filled nights in frigid Wisconsin listening to warm, friendly music.

Not bad at all!


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