It’s a unique band name with a unique sound.
Flatfoot 56 is coming to Fort Wayne as part of this summer’s Botanical Roots series at the Botanical Conservatory. The August 31 concert will feature music that frontman Tobin Bawinkel describes as being “within the realm of Celtic punk mixed with straight punk rock, folk, and Americana.”
Three brothers formed the group in 2000, when they were in high school. In the nearly 18 years since then, they’ve traveled and played all over the world.
“We’ve been to Europe, Russia, and Japan,” Tobin said. “But lately, we’ve been spending most of our time at home.”
That home is in Chicago, where all but one of the band members grew up. They started playing together in their teens, which Tobin says is how they came up with the name.
“One of the guys was a baseball player and his number was 56. He had really flat feet and ran kinda funny and so we teased him,” Tobin said. “That’s where Flatfoot 56 came from and then it sorta stuck. Once we got more popular, it became hard to re-brand the band, so we kept it. It really just came about because of a silly high school joke.”
Eventually one of the brothers left the group for a full-time career as a mechanical engineer. The remaining brothers, Tobin and Kyle Bawinkel, brought bagpiper Eric McMahon on board, along with Brandon Good (mandolin/guitar/vocals) and drummer Conrad Allsworth.
“A lot of people don’t know much about the Celtic punk scene in general. It’s not necessarily mainstream. It’s definitely unique. I mean — we have a guy in a kilt,” laughed Tobin. “We sometimes will do R&B covers, combining them with our own style. We definitely like to think out-of-the-box.”
“You can always expect an interactive and joyful set that will hopefully bring you to laugh and bond with complete strangers… and also punch and shove them from pure adrenaline,” Kyle added jokingly.
Most of their shows feature original music, but every once in a while they’ll play a cover.
“We’ve done a cover of ‘I’ll Fly Away’ and recently added the song ‘Cotton Fields.’ We never cover modern stuff,” Tobin said. “‘Cotton Fields’ was first recorded in 1940 by a guy named Lead Belly. Credence Clearwater Revival released a cover of it in 1969. Now we will sometimes do it in our shows, with our own twist.
“We do incorporate some traditional elements as well,” Tobin continued. “We just released an independent acoustic record, which was a lot of fun. It was a re-imaging of a lot of our older material.
“Our music feels a little more diverse and lyrically different when it comes to the whole scene of Celtic punk,” Kyle said. “The friends and fans of Flatfoot 56 are incredible. And it’s incredible to see the joy that some of our music has created. It keeps me going. We have had some changes in lineups over the years, but it’s still a good chance to hang with my brother and tour the world.”
These days, Flatfoot 56 plays as much as possible, but most of the members have full-time jobs. Kyle is a ramp agent for Southwest Airlines at Midway Airport. Tobin is a high school teacher.
“We have careers that allow us to leave for periods of time.” Tobin said. “We’ve all really created a life around being able to play our music.
“We have a patchwork spattering of different jobs to keep our families afloat. We do well when we’re playing, but touring full-time wreaks havoc on family. All of us are married except one, and he will be soon.”
The group is looking forward to playing in Fort Wayne again. Tobin recalls playing at the Brass Rail several years ago. He says this performance at the Botanical Conservatory will be high-energy, with very positive vibe.
“It’s intense musically, but there will be smiles and jokes and crowd activity,” Tobin said. “It’s very much a sing-along. We like bringing people together. Get involved – don’t just watch us.
“It’s a unique experience. There’s always lots of diversity in the crowd. Our fan base has 50-year-old guys and 10-year-old kids.”