Some combinations just work: peanut butter and jelly, grilled cheese and tomato soup, punk and country-western music…It sounds counterintuitive, but punk’s linage can be traced directly back to country-western music. Rockabilly is considered by many to be the earliest form of rock’n’roll. However, those people are incorrect. Rockabilly was merely the result of white country western musicians appropriating Black culture and imitating legendary acts like Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, and Howlin’ Wolf. But I digress; there is a reason why the second wave of punk ushered in a rockabilly revival. The two genres are inherently related, and both heavily feature DIY culture within their unique scenes.
However, I am hesitant to call 500 Mile to Memphis, or 500MTM for short, a rockabilly band. While the band certainly borrows some aspects of their sound from the Rockabilly movement, I am unsure whether or not they are heavily entrenched within Rockabilly’s immersive culture. In reality, 500MTM is a fusion band, or more specifically, a country band that happens to write punk songs.
This might not seem very “punk” at first glance, but bands like 500MTM and Red City Radio are making punk more accessible for people who might not feel comfortable in traditional punk spaces, which is not only beneficial for the genre but could be instrumental to healing the divisive nature of this country. And, I am just putting this out there because a girl can dream, but I think any tour featuring both Red City Radio and 500MTM would be a holy grail/bucket list tour. I would definitely travel across state lines to see that show. Luckily, I wouldn’t have to because 500MTM is based in the Cincinnati area.
The punk scene is filled with left-wing talking points. Hell, I included one in the first paragraph of this write-up. I would argue that punk is one of the most inclusive communities in music, but despite our best efforts, most people outside of our community don’t have that impression of us. The truth is that even though punk rock can expose people to new, radically progressive ideas, most punk music is produced AND consumed by white middle-class folx from diverse metropolitan areas.
This is why bands like 500MTM are so important. Discovering punk should feel like a homecoming, but the sounds of home are different for the more rural, economically disenfranchised areas of the American South, Appalachia, and the rural Midwest. 500MTM has something that most punk bands do not have, and that is accessibility. I can take my parents to a 5000MTM show and know they won’t feel uncomfortable once the music starts.
Unfortunately for 500MTM, being featured in a large lineup of incredibly diverse bands at a relatively newish venue can cause potential complications in terms of sound mixing, which affects openers far more than headliners. Sound mixing is an art form that takes years to master. Creating a perfectly blended serenade while balancing three guitars, one fiddle, a bass guitar, drums, and several microphones playing inside a concrete shoebox is no easy feat, but I felt their sound lacked depth. However, I made a special note to go home and listen to their music catalog before writing this review because I didn’t want to critique this band on something that wasn’t their fault.
Ultimately, 500MTM’s performance, through no fault of their own, suffered too much a good thing—harmony. Since starting this blog, I have had multiple bands message me to ask what I think they could improve upon, and harmonizing is usually the answer. After listening to the 500MTM catalog, I am confident that the shallow depth of sound that I was experiencing was the result of the venue’s construction, not necessarily sound mixing.
Summit Music Hall is a long narrow venue made out of concrete bricks and has a relatively low ceiling. This setup is perfect for most rock, R&B, rap, and punk acts. However, when you have five perfectly harmonized musicians on string instruments in such a tight space, the lack of acoustics creates a funnel of sound, which made it hard to distinguish who was playing what guitar parts and at times drowned out the fiddle completely. Luckily, I think the band recognized that due to the venue’s layout and sound system limitations, they would have to overcompensate with pure, unadulterated charisma. 500MtM's on-stage chemistry was pure fire. In fact, the only other bands that I have seen have more fun on stage simply interacting and playing off each other so effortlessly are Lagwagon and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones.
Up-and-coming bands have to play whatever shows they can book at the venues that draw the best crowds. Summit Music Hall was an ideal venue for the other three bands in the lineup, and it is one of the better overall venues in Columbus with a large patio, excellent bar, and a restaurant next door. But after listening to 500MTM’s catalog, especially their newest release, Hard to Love, I really need to see them in an outdoor venue—or even better—a venue with acoustics designed explicitly for orchestral performances.
Fortunately, I won’t have to wait too long to see them play in more ideal conditions because they will be one of the headliners at the inaugural Hell Is Ohio Festival put on by Punkerton records. This band is BUILT for outdoor festivals. After listening to all of Hard to Love, I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that 500MTM alone will be worth the price of admission. Their newest album is the cumulation of 20 years of personal and professional growth, and the band showcases a vibrantly rich and nuanced depth of sound that is so satisfying. 500MTM at Hell Is Ohio Fest will be the perfect way to introduce some of your favorite people to the punk community while demonstrating how diverse and exciting the genre can be. I hope you join us there!
Want to see 500 Miles to Memphis at Hell Is Ohio Fest? Get your tickets here.