Flatfoot 56 brings Celtic punk to Yukon's Iron Thistle Scottish Festival 

click to enlarge Flatfoot 56 - ANTHONY BARLICH / PROVIDED
  • Anthony Barlich / Provided
  • Flatfoot 56

Thousands of educators crowded Chicago streets. A one-day teachers’ union strike culminated in an all-out rally as protesters plugged up rush-hour roadways in one of the nation’s busiest metropolises.

In the middle of it all was Tobin Bawinkel, a substitute teacher by day and frontman for upbeat Celtic punk act Flatfoot 56 by night. Bawinkel and his band headline Iron Thistle Scottish Festival with performances 5 p.m. April 30 and May 1 in Yukon.

Illinois has been operating without a budget for several months. Chicago Public Schools was forced to shut down some schools in recent years due to lack of funding, and the city and teachers’ union are at heated odds in contract negotiations.

“It’s a bad situation, so everyone was kind of like, ‘We need to put our foot down and say, ‘Hey, listen. This is no good,’” Bawinkel said in a recent phone interview with Oklahoma Gazette.

Flatfoot 56 has been active for 16 years. The band, known for its jovial brand of bagpipe-backed hardcore punk, is unconventional.

Many of its moshing fans might not consider that the man behind the microphone spends his days filling in for absent history teachers. But few things encapsulate the punk ideal more than participating in a thousands-deep teacher strike. On top of that, there might not be an instrument more punk than bagpipes.

“It is an instrument of war,” Bawinkel said. “It’s kind of a good one for the aggressive styles, for sure.”

The act owes its format partially to the fact that Bawinkel, who formed the band with his brothers Justin and Kyle in 2000, happened to be friends with a bagpipe player.

The Bawinkels grew up on Chicago’s southwest side, an area known for its strongly Irish neighborhoods. The city is also home to a proud lineage of hardcore punk acts.

“[Irish culture] was all around us all the time,” he said. “We loved Celtic music in general, and we wanted to play it. We found a way to take our two favorite kinds of music and mix them together.”

After shows, fans approach the musicians and ask what part of Ireland or Europe they’re from.

“The first bands to do this style are American,” he said. “Celtic punk didn’t really come from Ireland; just traditional Celtic music.”

Iron Thistle is not the first Celtic fest Flatfoot 56 has played, but Bawinkel said he would like to book more. Many festivals hire classic pipe and drum acts.

“I’ve had guys in almost their 70s stage-dive at shows, which is really interesting,” he said. “It’s a blast.”

Above all, the musicians try to be a positive, fun-loving band without any clear agenda or anger.

“Our biggest joy is to make people laugh and have a good time,” Bawinkle said.

Print headline: Piping dreams, Chicago’s Flatfoot 56 brings punk flair to Yukon’s Iron Thistle Scottish Festival.

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