In a crowd of mostly bikers and 20-something downtown Champaign employees, Rick Miller’s basketball reference was lost.
“Don’t you have a college here,” North Carolina-based Miller teased halfway through Southern Culture on the Skids’ May 28 concert at the Highdive. “Didn’t you play UNC last year or something?” Curiously, very few in the audience booed.
Their Sunday night show at the Highdive was the band’s first Champaign-Urbana show in six years. The venue was packed with a diverse crowd, and the dance floor was packed for the full two hours that SCOTS was onstage. Outside of the Highdive, tricked-out Harley’s and classic cars lined the streets.
Playing songs from its recent release, Doublewide and Live, which Miller describes as “a kind of greatest hits” record, the band’s playlist spanned from their most recent studio album, with “Doublewide” and “Mojo Box,” to older songs like “White Trash” and the crowd favorite “Camel Walk,” played during the encore.
Super-tall bassist Mary Huff donned her signature bouffant wig and primped occasionally between songs, checking her wig and putting on mascara. It’s unclear if this was a gimmick to keep up her fabulous stage persona. Drummer Dave Hartman, like Miller, wore a straw hat while beating his drums furiously. He was nearly hidden in the rear of the stage behind the towering, flamboyant presence of Huff and Miller.
Halfway through the show, a man named Santo came out on stage, dancing in spandex underwear and donning a wrestler’s mask. Seeing a fat white man shake his ass cheeks at the crowd was a bit nauseating, but most of the drunken fans didn’t seem to care. Santo returned for the finale, where fried chicken was thrown at the audience. Again, I’m not too sure about this, but it was a white trash gimmick of some type.
But the band is not quite so simple in real life. While driving between shows, Miller said that the band rarely listens to music, so as not to cause friction. “Usually we keep it pretty quiet,” he said.
When they do listen to something while on the road, it is usually NPR, Miller said.
“We like to keep up on our current events, you know,” he said.
The band also likes to experience America while on tour, Miller said.
“We like to do the back roads sort of thing every once in a while and just kind of hit some local culture, and eat the local cuisine here.”
During a telephone interview from outside of Minneapolis, Miller and the band were having catfish, which Miller said he enjoyed.
“If you’re traveling, you might as well take the back roads,” Miller said. “The interstate gets pretty boring after awhile.” The band travels together in two vans while on tour.
“We’re a real do-it-yourself organization,” Miller said. “We tried the bus thing. But, you know, that rock star lifestyle is pretty damn expensive.”
Southern Culture on the Skids has been touring for more than 20 years, and Miller says it’s “the best job you can have.
“We’re just a pack of gypsies. We just load ’em up and go.”
There are a few drawbacks to the gypsy lifestyle, however, Miller said.
“Playing never gets old,” he said. “Some of the things associated to it can get old. Traveling can get old, like flying and things like that. I mean, who wants to be in airports all the time? But, you know, the music still has the edge over it.”
Recently, a new member joined the trio on tour – Miller’s son, Jack, who was born on February 14. A typical new father, Miller had a lot of praise for his son.
“Jack seems to be right at home,” Miller said. “He loves it. I think it’s making a good imprint on that little brain of his.”
But Jack was nowhere to be seen during the Highdive show. After all, a show with flying fried chicken, drunken bikers and a nearly-nude wrestler is no place for a baby, even if his daddy’s on stage.
And while his son was presumably sleeping in a comfy motel room, Miller, Hartman and Huff had fun with the lively crowd, singing about cheap motels and banana puddin’.
“We’ll definitely be back to Champaign,” Huff said. “You guys rock.”