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Flannelbacks prepare to play their Bethel swan song

September 11th, 2017

by Sam Bertholf

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – The weekend gets off on a sad note when Bethel College’s student bluegrass band, The Flannelbacks, plays their farewell concert.

Of course, maybe it’s only their audiences who will be mourning.

The Flannelbacks have been playing together since 2014. However, says Braden Unruh, Goessel, a 2016 Bethel graduate, “‘Playing together’ is an overstatement.

“We have been playing at the same time in the same place occasionally for about three years. Any harmonic or rhythmic correlation during that period was purely coincidental.”

At any rate, the group will join together April 21 at 8 p.m. on the Green for their last hurrah, which is free and open to the public (bring your own blankets or lawn chairs).

The other band members are Tim Regier, Newton, another 2016 graduate, along with Chase Stucky of Moundridge and Matt Graber of Freeman, South Dakota, who will both graduate from Bethel this May.

This is a group of musicians with obvious talent, as collectively they play French horn, trumpet, percussion, piano, electric guitar and ukulele, among other instruments, and all are alumni or current members of the Bethel College Concert Choir and the men’s ensemble Open Road.

However, at the farewell concert, The Flannelbacks (named for their trademark uniform of flannel shirts) will stick mostly to bass, guitar, banjo, fiddle, harmonica and vocals.

Certainly, these four friends have enjoyed spending time with each other in this fun and relaxing way. But Regier believes the best part has been the renown that has come with being a Flannelback.

“The most rewarding part is definitely the fame,” he says.

“I met my wife [Michelle] just before the band started in 2014. She didn’t seem too interested in me at first, but the band’s skyrocketing journey to the top of the North Newton bluegrass scene pushed her over the edge.”

To all appearances, The Flannelbacks have been close friends for a long time and have enjoyed playing together. As a chemistry major, Stucky has been particularly attuned to the band’s special properties.

“Some bands are friends when they start,” he says, “but after a long, successful career, the stress of touring and performing night after night while never getting a break from your bandmates can really drive people apart.

“Our band has never been like that. We hated each other from the start. The chemistry that people may think they see on stage is just a part of our carefully crafted performance art.”

The April 21 gig is billed as a farewell concert for The Flannelbacks due to the fact that some band members will be moving away after college, making it more difficult for them to play together.

Graber notes, “We are not bringing it to an end [just] because some of us are moving away, [but] because we realized we have achieved more than most people can dream of. So it is time to throw in the towel and start hanging out with people we actually like.”

The farewell concert promises to be an exceptional event, made extra special by the fact that it will likely be the final concert The Flannelbacks perform together.

They hope friends and fans will come out for what might be their last chance to support “the band that has given North Newton so much great bluegrass music through the years.”

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2016–17 analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

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As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.