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The best kept secret in music


"Chicago Sun Times"

The Siderunners, "Ain't Inventin' the Wheel" (Failed Experiment) ***

Country music as it was meant to be played (and often is in Chicago's thriving alt-country underground). The Siderunners are gritty, gutsy, not afraid to get down and dirty, and tipsy enough that they ought to be forced to call a cab instead of driving home.
- Jim Derogatis


If you stop and really think about it, you may be surprised at how few good drinking records you've bought since, say, you completed your conquest of the Doors' catalog in the early '90s. The Siderunners are out to change all that.
The Chicago quintet, comprised of reformed punkers who formerly did business as Sons of the Soil, purveys juke-joint country tunes about drinking gin, bearing crosses and leaving town, pretty much in that order. In the world of the Siderunners, pitfalls include crack-head girlfriends doing the chicken dance, and woe comes in the form of unfaithful lovers giving it away for free in the parking lot behind the bar. Still, every tune is offered up with a grin, because there are more drinks and good times to be had. So much booze is consumed by the parties memorialized on Ain't Inventin' the Wheel that it will make you really, really thirsty.

All the trappings of neon-signed country music are present here: acoustic, electric and pedal steel guitars, dynamite harmonies and honest storytelling. At the heart of the band's formidable talent is the ability to write no-frills house-rockers. What you get certainly doesn't sound original, but it's all tightly played and well written. The lyricist behind track two's "Kick in the Caboose" should be awarded a MacArthur genius grant for rhyming "black stretch pants" with "crack-head chicken dance". "Deep Enough" offers another impressive turn of phrase; the singer laments that he'll have to "sleep with the fishes and the worms playing pinochle down deep underground."

The album's highlight is the barnburner "Due South", in which one of the lead singers (there are two -- Sappy and Nate Van Allen -- and there's no way for newbies to tell them apart), who at his best sounds like Idaho's Jeff Martin (particularly on the album's closing ballad "Walkin' Papers"), tries to convince a stubborn friend to move on with his life. Almost equal in rockage is the dark stomper "Cook County Blue", a dirge written from the point of view of a man doomed to live out his days in that county's prison. Scratchy guitars, lonely piano and the singer's three-packs-a-day cry drive the tune home.

While a country album that smells of stale domestic beer might not necessarily be the next thing you thought you'd throw in the disc changer, the Siderunners make a strong argument here (especially if your disc changer is in a muddy pick-up). Besides, it's about time you bought some new drinking music.

- Jay Breitling

"Ctrl. Alt. Country"

Met het melodieuze countryrockertje “Countin’ Threes” maken de Siderunners hun bedoelingen op deze “Ain’t Inventin’ The Wheel” cd meteen duidelijk. Deze doorgewinterde veteranen van het Chicago punkgebeuren springen met genres en grenzen om alsof die er helemaal niet zijn. Is het country? Is het alt. country? Is het Americana? Is het rock? Who cares! Het is verdomd aanstekelijke muziek! En wij houden het op country con cojones…

Wie van groepen als BR549, Southern Culture On The Skids, Jason & The Scorchers of de Backsliders houdt, moet hier dringend eens wat aandacht aan besteden. Want twang is hier nog geen loos begrip! Lekker vettige country, gespeeld met zoveel overtuiging dat je er gewoonweg niet omheen kan!
- Benny Metten

"The Tap"

It Don't Mean a Thang If It Ain't Got That Twang

Let me be honest: I do not like country music. I come from a family of country music lovers, good ol’ boys, if you will. I don’t like hearing about a guy’s truck or how to fly your flag proudly, and as far as hearing about God in every other sentence, go peddle your beliefs at the airport. Garth Brooks, Kenny Rogers and Reba can all bite my rock’n’roll-hip-hop lovin’ ass. Having said that, I learned that there is more to the country sound than what is in the mainstream, and I found this out at the first-ever TwangOff.

The TwangOff is a country-oriented battle of the bands held every month for a year. The winner of the event gets a large novelty check with $400 printed on it, plus $400. This year’s competition at The Lyon’s Den, 1934 W. Irving Park Rd, was sponsored by Pilsner Urquell, which means there was a raffle for free shit.

The year-end finals happened on Sept. 18, with the three remaining bands looking forward to a night of victory. The road to victory is paved with the following rules: Three bands enter; one band leaves—with the money. Each band is allowed only a thirty-minute set. There are three judges of “peers” or fellow musicians. The bands are judged on four criteria: repertoire, stage presence, musicianship, and audience response.

The three bands competing for the novelty check and money were The Hillbilly Winos, Big Sky Stringband, and The Siderunners. Each band had their own following of friends and fans at the event cheering them on.

The first band to play was The Hillbilly Winos. Of the three bands that played that night, these fellas could be considered the “geezers.” As the old proverb goes, don’t judge a book by its cover, and that is most certainly the truth in this situation. These guys had an angry sound mixed of rock/blues and bluegrass. The lead singer, Jeff “Hambone” Ham, had a gritty voice that sounded on sandpaper of pebbles. He sang of the blues and his love of hamburgers and smoking. The band consisted of two guitars, an upright bass, a violin (fiddle) and drums and other percussion instruments. For the first band of the evening I thought that they set the curve for the rest of the night.

The MC of the event was founder/creator of the TwangOff, Michael Holm. A man with a stocky figure, his enthusiasm for the event was contagious. “My goal is not trying to limit the style of music, just trying to create a showcase for good music,” he said. He rallied for the audience to cheer, whoop and holler for every band that played. He was the proud parent of a child taking its first steps.

The second band to jump into the ring was Big Sky Stringband. If The Hillbilly Winos were the geezers of the night, then these guys were the pretty boys. A group of what looked to be college frat boys walked out on stage with their instruments and began a Wilco cover. I found it unoriginal. Don’t get me wrong; I really like Wilco, just not people who want to be Wilco or Uncle Tupelo or Dave Matthews. That was my main concern with this band. They were a very tight band with a good sound. They just played a lot of covers that sounded like the bands that originally recorded them. Big Sky did have the largest crowd, which gave them an edge in that category. Really, they rated well in all the categories. They had a well-put-together band including three guitarists, two of whom were ambidextrous with instruments. They played the mandolin, banjo and harmonica; and they were the singer/songwriters for the band. The percussionist and the bass player set up a solid foundation for the leads to do what they wanted. They needed something more.

In TwangOff, there is a battle per month for three months; in the fourth month is a final between the three of the previous months’ winners. The TwangOff started in September of 2002 with three bands playing. The winner received $200 and waited until the first final in December, which was won by The Siderunners. The Hillbilly Winos won the round of finals that went from January to April, and Big Sky Stringband won the round of finals that went from May to August. Following me? In September of 2003, the three bands met for the first time to compete for the grand prize.

The Siderunners had to wait almost a whole year to come back to the TwangOff for the final showdown. They were worth the wait. Like the other two bands, The Siderunners had their own look and feel. Theirs was punk. “Some people call it Punktry; others call it Cunk,” Michael Holm said, trying to describe the band. I thought it was gold.

With a lead man that has chops (sideburns) to make any redneck jealous and a group so tight they could squeeze out a diamond. With their loose bass groove, hammering drums and a fiddle player that was playing like a heavy metal shredder. With their very first song they stole the other two bands’ friends and fans and the show.

The Siderunners’ music was loud, hard and twangy. Sappy, the lead man with the chops (of both hair and the musical variety) has almost a yodel to his voice when he sings and a country kick to his playing. But the sound was raw and the entire audience was hanging on every note that the band put out. It was great watching this “country” band rock. I think everyone knew who the champions of the TwangOff were.

When the winners of the giant novelty check bearing the title “Banco Twango” were announced it was no surprise to the audience. The Siderunners had taken control and won the contest. The check plus the $400 was theirs and well earned.

“This was just the first TwangOff, I’ll be starting it again in January. It will have better promotion and I am working on getting bigger named bands to play,” said Michael Holm. When asked his criteria for choosing the bands in to compete he said, “It falls into Americana, with roots that point to the country sound.”
To find out more about TwangOff and Michael Holm’s new record label, TwangOff Records, you can visit his web site at

- by Rob Barto

"UR Chicago"

Cover Story: 20 to Watch

UR's local music coverage: the 411 on up-and-coming bands from 312, 773 and maybe a couple of 847s; featuring All Natural, Lying in States, The M's, Maker, Pedal Steel Transmission, The Siderunners, Miles Tilmann, Treologic, Troubled Hubble and more. - By Stacey Dugan, Marc Hogan, Heather Shouse and Patrick Sisson

"Ron Fields"

"The Siderunners are the next big thing." - Ron Fields - Ron Fields


June 2002 - LP - Ain't Inventin The Wheel
Fall 2003 - EP - TBD

KSUA FM Top 10


Feeling a bit camera shy


The Siderunners didn't grow up in the country. They don't ride horses, wrangle cattle, and don't pretend to. But ask any member of the group to describe the band, and you’ll be faced with the dreaded “C” word. Country music. The Siderunners play Country music and are damn proud of it. Or do they...?

After all, how many country bands can play to a house packed with punks and walk away unscathed, much less having swelled their fan base?

How many punk bands could enter a battle of the bands filled with Chicago's country elite and walk away the grand champions, having beat 27 competitors over 12 months?

It could be that the Siderunners don't give a damn who you are...Gutter Punk or Cow Poke, they demand your attention.

The Siderunners started in the early months of 2000 in Chicago Il. when guitarist Nate VanAllen and front man Sappy, seeking a justifiable reason for decadent Tuesday Nights, started getting together and playing whatever country songs they knew from memory. However, with the list of “remembered” songs growing longer, the band was also compelled to write their own material. Assembling a complete lineup of local players, a handful of originals, and an arsenal of standards, The Siderunners started playing weekly as the house band in several Chicago dives, often playing 2-3 sets a night. These woodshed sessions made apparent the need for the band to assemble a lineup of players who could not only handle the quantity of material the band required, but would allow them to stand out amongst the slew of Chicago Alt-Country bands making the rounds.

Laughing in the face of an increasingly indie-centric Chicago music scene, the band added ex-Tosser and fiddle player extraordinaire Jason Loveall to the mix, followed by Jazz (!) virtouso Todd Hill on Upright Bass. Far from lightening the bands punk-rock overtones, the addition of these traditionally low-key elements has made the band more fierce than ever. The Siderunners recently added country/punk super drummer Andy Abrisz after the departure of long time drummer Pat Buckley.

On June 4, 2002 The Siderunners released their first album, “Ain’t Inventin’ The Wheel.” Recorded by Webb Brothers producer and drummer Neal Ostrovsky, “Ain’t Inventin’ The Wheel” is the culmination of the bands years of neurotic fascination with good old country music, metal, punk, and rock excess.

To see the Siderunners live is a lesson in grit, determination, and above all STAMINA. Anarchists with a healthy respect for tradition, this unconventional lineup gladly tests the boundaries of country music, then mows them over with a crazed rock fury. Fragile guitar tones give way to blistering Fiddle runs, propelled by a rhythm section that would make George Bush dance like Michael Flatley. Lyrics that make you want to drown in your beer or throw it, delivered with a voice that makes either action seem like a perfectly natural response. The mood shifts constantly, from melancholy confessionals to raucous throw-downs. An emotional swing this pronounced would make most groups seem insincere, if not fall apart completely. But this is The Siderunners world. Honest yet wry. Fun-loving yet cold-hearted. The way Country music was and should be. The Siderunners play Country Music? Damn Straight…

The Siderunners demand your attention. And believe me, you’ll gladly give it to them.