KNOXVILLE — If Cutthroat Shamrock is ever having a bad night on stage you'll never know it.
"You ever meet a pretty girl who would be a whole lot prettier if she were smiling?" says Ben Whitehead. "That's what it's like. If that girl looks like she's had a bad day she's not going to be nearly as attractive as if she looks like she's having a good time. If you're rowdy and stomping your feet and you look like you're having a good time it's hard not to like you."
If that's the case, the members of Cutthroat Shamrock are hellbent on making you love them. Knowing that some audiences seem to need to be given permission to have fun, they're happy to give party-hard instruction.
The group blends punk rock with Celtic and Appalachian folk (they simply call it "Appalachian punk"). Acoustic instruments have rarely sounded so electrified as when the band gets rolling, and the members have enough energy to rock ancient musical predecessors right out of their graves.
"We try to make it fun," says Whitehead. "If it's not fun, it's not worth it."
Cutthroat Shamrock first came together eight years ago when Whitehead and fellow punk and Celtic enthusiast Derek McRotten (OK, McRotten probably isn't his family name) performed six original songs at Stool Pigeons in Gatlinburg. The duo expanded into a quintet and quickly became a regional favorite.
The band's name was decided on when Whitehead and his (now late) father were walking through Whitehead's father's garden. Whitehead spotted some red shamrocks and was told they were called "cutthroat shamrocks." It sounded like the perfect band name to Whitehead.
The group has since made friends and had fun all over the country. Whitehead says there are a few downsides to playing on the road, but not many.
"Carrying hundreds of pounds of gear out of a club when you have a beer buzz is not a lot of fun," says Whitehead. "But then to be in a place where you've never been before and someone requests a song you've written, that's pretty great."
The time was so good in Joplin, Mo., that the club owner where the band played decided to just travel with the band for the next four days. The band was happy to have him.
After four days of perpetual party, the owner caught a Greyhound bus back home. He may have recuperated enough by the time the band comes back through town that he could do it again.
Of course some gigs just seem too good to be true and turn out to be that way.
"They were like, 'We'll give you $500 to play on a Thursday night,' and it was where we needed to play between point A and point B, so we thought, 'Great!' "
When the group arrived, though, there was a retro-lighted floor and a crowd who was clearly there to disco rather than rock. The audience ignored the band, and near the end of the set a DJ interrupted the band's song to ask them if they could compete with "this song" and promptly played Vanilla Ice's "Ice, Ice Baby."
"We thought it was a joke," says Whitehead. "But we should've known when we saw the lighted disco floor!"
However, Whitehead says normally no one has to pretend they're having a blast.
"We're not exactly known for playing sober. A lot of the best times we have we have to be told about the next day."