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The Lowdown:

Southern Culture on the Skids

Dave Hartman (drums), Mary Huff (bass/vocals), Rick Miller (guitar/vocals)

Based In:
Chapel Hill, NC


Americana, country,, surf rock, cowpunk


The Beachland Ballroom, Cleveland, OH

Concert Date:
June 5, 2011

Opening Acts:

Southern Culture on the Skids at the Beachland Ballroom

Rating: 6 out of 10



June 14, 2011


Southern Culture on the Skids: Beachland Ballroom, 6/5/11

by Alan "Pender" Pendergrass

photos by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad


Southern Culture on the Skids performs at the Beachland Ballroom. (l-r) Dave Hartman, Rick Miller, Mary Huff.

Formed in Chapel Hill, NC in 1983, Southern Culture on the Skids (SCOTS for short) has created a musical niche all their own, perfect for people who like their country with a side of crazy. Combining Southern country roots with surf rock and a bit of a punk attitude, they've gained a reputation as one of the most unique, strange, and spontaneous bands in the business. They brought their road show into the Beachland Ballroom Sunday, June 5th, complete with pre-show barbeque party and on-stage chicken toss.

Recently celebrating its 11th anniversary, the Beachland Ballroom has become a Cleveland music institution and one great place to see a show. It was originally built in 1950 as the Croatian Liberty Home, with a large dance hall and adjoining tavern. Fifty years later—with both the building and the neighborhood long since past their prime—it was purchased by local entrepreneurs, repurposed, and soon became host to the best music in Northeast Ohio. The counterintuitive name (What beach? After all, “there’s no surf in Cleveland.”) comes from its location about half a mile from Lake Erie and the former site of the Euclid Beach amusement park. The whole neighborhood was once known as Beachland; hence, the name.

The stage at the Beachland Ballroom, featuring an improvement, four new laterns framing the stage: the best $250 the owners ever spent.

It’s a neat old building, for sure, with an enormous (and seemingly original) hardwood dance floor, elaborate moldings on the ceiling, and terrific vintage paintings on the walls. The Ballroom and the adjacent Tavern are separate venues, each with its own stage. Larger acts play the Ballroom while smaller ones perform in the Tavern, where tickets are generally $12 or less. Each also contains its own well stocked bar, featuring many specials, most notably PBR tallboys for $3.50 apiece. This Way Out, a vintage clothing store, is located in the basement and is open throughout the shows. It also sells records, one of three Waterloo establishments providing vinyl delights in the slowly rejuvenating, arts-centered neighborhood. But it’s the music that brings the crowds to the Beachland and, in fact, the venue is almost solely responsible for the thriving live music scene in Northeast Ohio.

I mean, everybody comes through there.  In just the past few years I’ve seen The Old 97’s, Ha Ha Tonka, Robbie Fulks, Wayne Hancock, Raul Malo, the Drive-By Truckers, The Bottle Rockets, The Boxmasters, The Gourds, James McMurtry, Shooter Jennings, Todd Snider and many more… and hell, I miss half the shows with a baby at home. 

I get to the Beachland as often as possible, but one band I hadn’t seen before is Southern Culture on the Skids. I really didn’t know what to expect going into this. I was only loosely familiar with their music, and didn’t have any first- or even second-hand experience with their live shows.

Here’s what I knew: their 2007 cover album, Countrypolitan Favorites, is outstanding, putting a surf rock, hillbilly punk spin on classics like “Oh, Lonesome Me,” “Muswell Hillbilly,” and “Funnel of Love.” They have hilariously intriguing song titles like “Too Much Pork (For Just One Fork),” “Mexi-Melt,” and “My Neighbor Burns Trash.” And last, they are crazy looking, with their own unique style, and have a reputation for raucous live shows. Armed with this limited but promising information, I set out fairly optimistic for the first of many North Coast Nights at the Beachland Ballroom.

Whiskey Daredevils singer Gary Miller makes a general fool of himself while guitarist Gary Siperko tries to hang on to his artistic credibility.

Cleveland’s own Whiskey Daredevils opened the show with the farewell performance for their bassist of 15 years, Ken Miller, who is off to the University of Texas to pursue a Ph.D. You read that right – quitting rock ‘n roll to go get a doctorate. It seemed weird to me too.  But whatever, best of luck to him.

In retrospect, I wonder if the Ph.D. thing was just an excuse to get away from his brother Greg, the lead singer. Greg is a walking stereotype, the personification of every generic fraternity joke you’ve ever heard. I think the word I’m really looking for to describe Greg Miller’s style is inauthentic. I was going to give him shit for wearing one of those $150 Rockmount shirts on stage, but let’s face it, those shirts are pretty awesome, so I’ll give him a pass on that. Although, I’ll admit brother Ken’s tastefully understated version is more my speed—he skipped the elaborate rose-themed embroidery.  But anyway, the shirt is the least of Greg’s problems.

He comes across as an arrogant, egomaniacal douchebag on stage. My first reaction was that it’s quite possible he should die, as was my second reaction and my third. In a forgettable song ripped off from the Drive-By Truckers’ classic “Let There Be Rock” there’s a lyric about Johnny Cash, wishing that he “rest in peace,” where Miller literally crossed himself (as in “spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch”) and looked heavenward as he sung. I threw up in my mouth a little. Every action he takes, from his wide-eyed faux reverie to smacking his brother on the ass during instrumental breaks, comes off as a highly (yet badly) choreographed attempt to draw attention to himself. He preens. He does the Twist. He acts out the lyrics to his songs. He paces like a caged tiger during instrumental breaks, annoyed that he (who plays no instrument) has to take a back seat for 15 seconds.

The other Gary, guitarist Gary Siperko, is the lone bright spot in the band. Looking unsettlingly like Javier Bardem’s character in No Country for Old Men, he shreds on the guitar with a blank, expressionless stare that makes you think he might just break a string and garrote Frat Boy Gary if he takes one step closer and/or attempts to smack him on the ass again.

The low point was the closer, in which the band managed a medley of “Bo Diddley,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” and “Pinball Wizard” without even once actually changing the music. As they left the stage, I stared at the small army of loyal fans in attendance, completely bewildered by what was going on. I still don’t get it. They were a train wreck.

The general insanity of a SCOTS show includes amateur dancers and, apparently, drunk fogeys in cheesy Hawaiian shirts who think a live performance is a perfect time to get a walk-on audition with the band.

Southern Culture on the Skids promised to be much better. And in fact, they were, though their performance wasn’t without its own issues.

As they took the stage, I was struck by how genuinely hillbilly the three of them appear, in stark contrast to the opening act.  Lead singer Rick Miller wore a straw hat that looked like it had been chewed by a goat, with holes in the brim patched by one of those clear-green plastic visors. Bassist and sometimes-singer Mary Huff rocked her trademarked bright red “big hair,” and weirdo drummer Dave Hartman wore his fedora and generally looked insane.

They moved quickly through the first part of their set. Highlights included the rollicking “Liquored Up and Lacquered Down,” an homage to the timeless redneck image of the drunken, big-haired girlfriend,  “The Wet Spot,” which features great surf guitar solos and “King of the Mountain,” which Rick described as a song about a guy selling “illegal alcohol and sorta pornographic Christmas cards out of the trunk of an ’85 Monte Carlo.” It was awesome.

Then things got a little out of hand. They invited people on stage to dance during a few songs. Anyone who’s ever been to a college party can imagine the drunk-girl idiocy that ensued. The difference is that college girls are usually somewhat attractive, while these were… well, let’s just say they weren’t bussed in from the Case Western dorms. But what really threw a wrench in things was when some guy proposed to his girlfriend on stage. Now, people capable of real, human emotion don’t work at No Surf, but I suppose such creatures may be among our readers—for you folks, this could have been a nice little moment, where two weirdoes bonded over their love of each other and hillbilly surf-punk hybrid music. And then got the hell off stage. Instead, it lasted half an hour. There was the proposal. Then the slow dance. Then an encore slow dance. Then banter with the crowd. This went on forever.

It was the beginning of the end, but far from the actual end. From there, everything unraveled, getting a little more jam-bandy, a little more rambling and incoherent, and generally less enjoyable. As they hit the first bar of “8 Piece Box,” their fried chicken opus, an insane fat guy in a Mexican wrestling mask, jewfro wig, and Elvis costume took the stage. He carried with him a bucket of KFC, which he handed out to the now-returned on-stage dancers. They each proceeded to take a piece, dance with it for a while, gnaw on it, and finally shred it with their fingers and fling it into the audience. It was gross. By the end there was chicken skin and grease all over the ballroom floor. One drunken old man, having gone on stage to dance with the ladies, demanded a guitar and insisted on playing with the band until he was thrown off stage. The bride-to-be kept staggering up through the side door and chatting amiably with Mary, who despite her best efforts could not convince the woman that she was trying to play a concert and it wasn’t the best time for girl talk.

The COMPLETE insanity of a SCOTS show includes Luchador Elvis and chicks throwing fried chicken from the stage. If you can explain anything going on in this picture, you're a better man than I.

Does it sound like they were trying too hard? ‘Cause, they were trying too hard. And at the same time, they weren’t trying hard enough. I can barely remember anything after about the 25th minute of the proposal fiasco. I think about this time I glazed over, developing that same dead-behind-the-eyes look R.P. McMurphy had after his lobotomy and which the Kardashians display in real life. The set list blur that followed was totally lost on me as I stood there, glassy-eyed and confused, trying to comprehend the point of the wrestler gimmick and the continued existence of Frat Boy Gary of the Whiskey Daredevils.

The bottom line is Southern Culture on the Skids is a fun band, with occasionally brilliant song titles and rocking surf guitar. But they played a two-hour set with only about an hour of material. The rest was filler composed of marriage proposals, Elvis impersonators, and of course the requisite flinging of the chicken skin on “8 Piece Box.”  I know these guys are energetic, fun, and genuine, but tonight it felt pretty forced and anything but spontaneous. Still, they’re a band with a sound all their own and worth a look whenever they pass through town.

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For a taste of SCOTS live (without the chicken grease), buy Doublewide and Live on Amazon!
mp3 cd vinyl


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