MUSIC REVIEW | 2 By 4 Music Festival: Southern Culture on the Skids, 4ontheFloor & Erik Koskinen

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Know what biases a review? When bassist Mary Huff singles you out to dance on stage! Or even better when some guy jumps on the stage to dance and the same bassist acts like a block to make sure you have enough space to dance–on stage! So my unbiased review is that this was the best show ever.

This weekend I attended the first annual 2 By 4 Music Festival at the Silver Dome Ballroom in Neillsville, Wisconsin. Neillsville is about two and a half hours away from St. Paul. The Silver Dome Ballroom has been around since 1933; it’s on the National Register and apparently unique in its Modern Movement architecture style. It can accommodate up to 1,000 people and while the audience fell far short of that number this weekend, it didn’t take away from the old school majesty of the place–from the high ceilings, disco ball and chandeliers.

I’m hoping that this will be the first of many festivals–but I’m afraid the weather may have hurt the turnout. I suspect many people who planned to travel to the event also planned to camp in the nearby, free campgrounds. They may have had second thoughts given Friday’s the rain and snow (on May 3!). There are hotels nearby – although not in walking distance. A local attendee on Friday night noted that he knew about 90 percent of the people there, which doesn’t speak well for the out-of-town draw; the Saturday crowd seemed larger.

The Friday night lineup included a few bands from the Twin Cities and one from Central Wisconsin. The night started with Crankshaft, followed by Black Diet. I hadn’t seen Black Diet before. They have a lot of energy and reminded me of Fine Young Cannibals. I’d see them again in a heartbeat. BOOM 42 was the Wisconsin band; they were very much a bar band, playing plenty of covers with a handful of original material.

The headliners were 4ontheFloor. After seeing them at several sold-out shows at First Avenue, it was unusual to see them with so much extra space on the dance floor. After a few songs, the crowd moved in and lead singer Gabe Douglas remarked that “now we have a show” and everyone fell into a groove. They played all of the favorites – Workin’ Man Zombie, Junkie and the latest King of the Jungle (brief snippet on the video) and a couple of fun covers. The sounds was great. The band seemed to be having a good time and I think they made a bunch of new fans.

Saturday night brought better weather, more people, a couple more Twin Cities-based bands and one of my favorite national bands hailing from North Carolina–Southern Culture on the Skids. The night started with Walker Fields, followed by Erik Koskinen–who came highly recommended from 4ontheFloor the night before. Erik Koskinen suited the location perfectly. His music is much more country than rock and he clearly appealed to a few local dancers in the crowd, who I’m guessing had not heard him before. I often go to see the band play with Molly Maher in town (Aster Café on Wednesday nights), it was a different experience to go with so much room to dance.

The F*** Knights rockabilly style was a new transition to Southern Culture on the Skids (SCOTS). It was fun to see how many people had traveled to see SCOTS, who haven’t played in the Twin Cities in years (2009 when they played with Los Straightjackets, I think). I find it hard to define SCOTS; they’re sort of Psychobilly, with a few speed surf songs and a couple of pretty country tunes (such as Just How Lonely on video). The show actually started a little out of groove but as the band played and the crowd fell into synch it all came together and it was one of the best shows I’ve seen them do.

Highlights for me included “Just How Lonely,” which they don’t always play; “Doublewide” was another old requested favorite. There were some great instrumentals such as Jack the Ripper. Lead singer Rick Miller told some fun stories, but mostly they just rocked. They played Camel Walk and 8 Piece Box, which always brings half of the audience on stage—often to eat fried chicken. And clearly most of the crowd knew the drill.

The final personal highlight came during the last song when Mary Huff again brought me to the front of the stage to dance during Daddy was a Preacher but Mama was a Go-Go Girl. Again—best show ever!