Trapper Schoepp headlines July 4 concert in park

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Trapper Schoepp, whose music career has taken him from small-town Pierce County to international stages, returns to Red Wing July 4 as headliner for an Independence Day concert in the Central Park Bandshell.

Sponsored by Red Wing Arts, the party starts at 5 p.m.; he will perform at 7:30 p.m.

BMX bike racing, a concerned mother and Bob Dylan all played important roles in his decision to become a musician.

Born in Red Wing, he grew up in Ellsworth, the son of Melanie and Scott Schoepp. After he got into an accident while bike riding, his mother signed him up for guitar lessons.

"I heard Bob Dylan's 'Hurricane' in a movie," Schoepp said. "It shook my world," and gave his music direction. The ballad tells the story of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, including alleged acts of racism and profiling that Dylan describes as leading to a false trial and murder conviction.

That early influence is evident today, more than a decade after he first picked up a guitar. Schoepp has been called a "tunesmith and teller of tales," an original who creates musical vignettes involving "a strange and diverse cast of characters."

He admitted, "I do use themes" in many lyrics, but he doesn't call them stories because they may not have a beginning, a middle and an end. "I try to show and not tell," he added.

The Shades

But the story begins in Ellsworth with Trapper Schoepp and the Shades, a band made up of local musicians and friends. After high school he followed brother Tanner to Milwaukee to get a college education and came away with a certificate in rock 'n' roll studies.

Schoepp spent some time working on public radio in Milwaukee while continuing to perform. Because his music has elements of folk, rock, country and soul, it's often labeled Americana.

In 2012 the band released "Run Engine, Run," which led to a record deal and a tour with Jakob Dylan and the Wallflowers. Next came "Rangers & Valentines" on Xtra Mile Recordings in 2016.

Most recently he released "Bay Beach Amusement Park," a six-song concept album based on the site of Elvis Presley's favorite roller coaster, the Zippin Pippin. The band commemorated the album by performing it at the amusement park, which is in Green Bay, Wis.

Schoepp, a singer-songwriter who also plays guitar and harmonica, and Tanner, who provides bass guitar and vocal harmonies, are at the heart of the band, but the other members change.

"The band is constantly evolving," he explained. "People's lives change."

When he performs in Red Wing on Independence Day, the band will include Riverside Horns, a three-piece horn section from Minneapolis, and Twin Cities drummer Lars Larson.

In the past couple of years Schoepp has toured widely through the United States with bands including the Wallflowers, the Jayhawks and the Old 97s. In addition, he has performed about 60 shows with other artists at European venues in Sweden, Germany, Italy and other countries.

In Sweden's capital city earlier this year, he entertained listeners with a story from his Scandinavian heritage. His song "The Ballad of Olaf Johnson," recounts how an ancestor emigrating from Sweden got trapped in South Dakota.

When the blizzard hit, Olaf dug a hole in the earth, flipped his wagon over it and lived out the winter there with his wife.

"He embodies the spirit of the immigrant," Schoepp said. "I use (these) stories to sort of make people think about where we come from and show some sympathy for immigrants."

Also this year, Schoepp joined the BoDeans as an opening act on a U.S. tour and returned to Red Wing for a show.

The first gig

Local fans had a chance to connect with him during the Big Turn Music Fest, which took placed downtown in February. He played to a full house at the Sheldon Theatre that night.

"It was really great," Schoepp said. Growing up, his first real "gig" was playing at the Blue Moon Café, just down the street from the Sheldon, and he thought that performing at the historic theater would be "the really big show."

That event connected him with Red Wing Shoe Co. Now, he said, "I'm a Red Wing Shoe partner. I'm helping them with some content creation." Naturally, he'll be wearing their product when he comes to town.

Schoepp plans to perform his entire "Bay Beach Amusement Park" album and other favorites at the July 4 concert. He introduces his songs to give people context.

As his music career continues to build, Schoepp is creating a new full-length album. Recorded in Milwaukee and produced by Pat Sansone of the band Wilco, it will be released in 2019. And he'll be back on the road next year, touring the United States and Europe again.