Nick Woods knows how important it is to diversify musically.
“I never wanted to just play one kind of sound over and over again,” the Direct Hit! frontman recently told the Shepherd Express. His band headlines the Wisconsin Punk Fest at the Majestic Theatre on Saturday, Jan. 5. Listening to the Milwaukee quartet’s recent album, Crown of Nothing, it’s clear Woods isn’t repeating himself.
The album’s punk ethos can’t be ignored, but its core concepts of heaven and hell are depicted almost conversationally, through Beach Boys harmonies and Napalm Death growls, respectively. Woods says this kind of chaotic eclecticism is a necessity. Because Direct Hit! is his only band, he told the Shepherd Express, any song idea must become a Direct Hit! song. “That’s why there are so many different sounds on our records. They don’t have anywhere else to go.”
A punk band at heart, Direct Hit! will only be playing the punk wing of this year’s Wisconsin Fest series. But showcases will also be held for bluegrass (two nights!), hip-hop, funk and metal. From lo-fi rap to NOLA-flavored funk to instrumental metal, some of the best and most diverse music Wisconsin has to offer will appear at the Majestic throughout the month of January. Let’s take a look:
Wisconsin Bluegrass FestFor fans of: The Punch Brothers, laying in the grass, patchouli. Originally from Stevens Point, Armchair Boogie plays a progressive hybrid of bluegrass and jam music (“jamgrass,” if you will). Their old-timey sensibilities are married to driving bass and drums, bringing an undeniably funky undertone to a genre normally not described as “funky.”
Kind Country (Minneapolis) For fans of: Grateful Dead, Carl Sagan, edibles. Self-described as “Cosmic American music,” Kind Country is part of a growing tradition of Americana artists — Sturgill Simpson and Margo Price, to name a couple big ones — who are reshaping the genre through a more psychedelic lens. The five-piece last released the spacey EP Mountains in 2017.
Also playing: The night will be hosted by Sarah Vos (Dead Horses) and Adam Greuel (Horseshoes and Hand Grenades), who will also perform as Rucksack Revolution. Other artists include Black River Revue, which features members from Superior and Duluth, Minn., and Madison’s Oak Street Ramblers.
Wisconsin Punk FestFor fans of: NOFX, Hunter S. Thompson, Doomsday Preppers. The aforementioned quartet released their fourth LP, Crown of Nothing, on the legendary Fat Wreck Chords in 2018. Like much of the band’s previous work, it deals with raucous existentialism — in this case, the concepts of heaven and hell. And when he’s not doing punk stuff, bandleader Nick Woods is refurbishing the Cudahy venue The Metal Grill, which he bought last year with his wife.
The Hussy (Madison) For fans of: Jay Reatard, controlled burns, the devil’s lettuce. Perennial Madison favorites The Hussy are back in the studio it seems, probably preparing to set forth upon the world another set of blistering garage punk jams. The duo of Bobby Hussy (Cave Curse, Fire Heads) and Heather Hussy (Proud Parents, Heather the Jerk) last released Galore in 2015 and recently backed Nobunny at Turkeyfest.
Also playing: The blue collar Avenues from Milwaukee, as well as a pair of Madison acts: the emo-tinged Coasting and the queer punk duo Gender Confetti, which features Clean Room’s Elyse Clouthier.
Wisconsin Funk FestFor fans of: Trombone Shorty, jazz funerals, making white people dance. Despite hailing from Madison, Mama Digdown’s Brass Band sounds very much New Orleans. The 10-member group plays a jazzy funk hybrid that it’s impossible to not, at the very least, tap your foot to. No matter how rhythmically challenged you are, these funky white boys will make you want to get up and dance.
Nooky Jones (Minneapolis) For fans of: D’Angelo, The Roots pre-Jimmy Fallon, Dave Chappelle’s Block Party. If their name worried you, have no fear: Nooky Jones has nothing to do with Limp Bizkit. In fact, this Minnesotan soul band is quite the opposite of those homunculus rap rockers, playing a virtuosic mesh of hip-hop, R&B and soul music. Nooky Jones will have you believing that the unquiet spirit of Prince has found itself to six guys from the Twin Cities.
Also playing: The Mama Digdown-adjacent Rare Element, Madison funk-fusion outfit Wurk, and Merchant’s resident DJ Phil Money.
Wisconsin Hip-Hop FestFor fans of: Joey Bada$$, NASCAR jackets, Illmatic without Nas’ baggage. Some in this city still have a generally antagonistic relationship with rap music. That’s a shame, because there are some amazing rappers in Madison, and chief among them is Trapo. On his 2018 EP Oil Change, Trapo’s wizened rhymes bring an east coast swagger to the midwest. At times, his voice is a dead ringer for Joey Bada$$.
Bird’s Eye (Madison) For fans of: Kids These Days, extended jam sessions, effects pedals. Doing rap-rock well is no easy feat, but Bird’s Eye seem to found the formula. With the cutting rhymes of Ra Fury married to crying guitars and harmonized vocals, Bird’s Eye doesn’t sound like it’s trying to play two genres of music. It’s sounds like it’s playing something completely new.
Also playing: Rising Madison-via-Minneapolis rapper/singer Lucien Parker, legendary Madison polymath CRASHprez, Chicago natives Sincere Life and Broadway Muse, the Sun Prairie-born Chris Jewson, and platinum producer and Madison native DJ Pain 1.
Wisconsin Metal FestFor fans of: Animals as Leaders, Guitar Hero, this scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Who’d have thought that metal’s latest prodigious shredder would be a Madisonian? Sarah Longfield makes music that’s hauntingly uplifting, which is dope, but what really stands out is her guitar work. A master of two-hand tapping, Longfield makes music that challenges its listener to follow along with every winding note and not, like, melt their brain.
Growing (Madison) For fans of: The Devil Wears Prada, radical pitch changes, Taste of Chaos. Thanks to bands like Bring Me the Horizon and The Color Morale, metalcore is one of the most popular offshoots of headbanging. Growing are Madison’s masters of that, pummeling the listener with shrieks before lulling them back in with clean vocals that are downright angelic in contrast.
Also playing: Heavier than hell Madisonians Casket Robbery and Archers, plus Milwaukee thrashers Conniption.
Wisconsin Bluegrass Fest, round 2For fans of: Pabst Blue Ribbon, Mermaid Avenue, bands of brothers. Them Coulee Boys take their name from the region the hail from: the Coulee, or Wisconsin’s gateway to the west. Featuring brothers Soren and Jens Staff, plus Beau Janke and Neil Krause, the Eau Claire group combines folk with indie and punk rock in a way that brings out its sneering edge. In fact, it’s not totally unlike Wilco and Billy Bragg’s update of Woody Guthrie on Mermaid Avenue.
WheelHouse (Madison) For fans of: Cross Canadian Ragweed, whiskey, more whiskey. Ubiquitous in Madison, WheelHouse is the area’s premier red dirt country purveyors. It’s that whiskey-soaked take on the genre that will transport the listener from the Majestic to the back roads of Oklahoma. And presumably they’re doing this with a designated driver, because WheelHouse also makes their own whiskey.
Also playing: Appleton jamgrass unit Feed the Dog, the wonderfully-named Milwaukeeans Chicken Wire Empire, and Kaukauna’s traditionalist Monsters of Grass.