A few decades ago, ska was barely a blip on the Florida music scene radar, limited to tiny third wave enclaves spread out all over the peninsula. When No Doubt, Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Reel Big Fish charted ska-fused hits in the mid-to-late-1990s and sparked renewed interest in the genre, FL-brewed talent like Gainesville’s Less Than Jake and locals like Magadog, Rude Squad, SkaHumBug and The RugCutters reaped the benefits while turning a fresh generation of impressionable music-listening youths onto the infectious and welcoming vibes of the scene. “It’s interesting to see how everything kind of exploded as the ’90s progressed and all these bands started coming out of the woodwork,” recalls Magadog co-founder and scene vet Ed Lowery. “All these high school kids were playing in ska bands that had a four-piece horn section, all wearing skinny ties and checkered shirts.”
The furor faded by the early ’00s, but the sounds had taken root and a fresh surge of ska-minded third wave-influenced bands ushered in a new Florida ska era. The scene was too small for its players to be elitist or narrow-minded like true traditionalists, so an expansive, anything-goes atmosphere arose that was equally hospitable to the sharper-dressed rocksteadified acts as to the growing number of aggro-spastic punk-kicking punk-ska bands and tongue-in-cheeky idiosyncratic rockers infusing elements of metal, funk, disco and whatever else into their skanky brew.
Ska scene staple Josh Sullivan moved down to the Tampa Bay area in 1999 and tapped into the lively scene with ease, forming raucous ska-punk outfit Can’t Do It in 2003 as inspired by acts like Fang Shooey and Rude Squad. “I had to have seen them at least 60 or 70 times each. And I really looked up to the singers of both bands. They were a really big influence on Can’t Do It when we were starting.”
The area ska scene is a proud catchall to this day. Certain ska trappings remain unchanged — scenesters dressed up in their Sunday “best” for events like Ska Prom and Ska Homecoming, the spirit of infectious mirth and tendencies toward absurdity, terribly punned band names, the jerky revolving circles of happy-go-lucky skankers pumping arms and kicking up heels — while the sense of we’re-all-in-it-together-ness seems to have deepened because of the scene’s petite scale. UNRB’s Noel Rochford described succinctly: “It’s like getting to play shows with all your best friends.”
The quality of the current active brood of ska scene players — Johnny Cakes and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypso dealing in a steel-pan-imbued gutter calypso sound, UNRB bringing the uke-driven four-brass boost with proggy and jazzy flair, and others — bodes well for future skankin’ generations. Not that anyone’s losing sight of the past, as shows like the tribute to late Magadog founder Jim Pedigo prove. Vet ska scenesters and the newer-blooded enthusiasts packed the Skipperdome and danced all night long to reunion performances by Magadog, The RugCutters and Ska Humbug. “There were all these people around that were part of the Tampa ska scene in the ’90s, which I’ve always been enamored with because I never got to experience it firsthand,” Sullivan explains. “There were so many of them that I wasn’t able to see live … and guys like Chris Patalas [The RugCutters] and Ed Lowery and all the people who were really influential in getting ska big in Tampa Bay, I really look up to, because they were the pioneers of it here.”
Ska-fusion bands: Johnny Cakes & the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypso, UNRB, Can’t Do It, The Stereotypes, Victims of Circumstance, The Long Johns, The Apes, Covert Intelligence Operation, Won’t Be Arsed
Venues: Epic Problem, Local 662, Market on 7th, State Theatre, Dunedin Brewery, Crowbar, Orpheum
Upcoming shows:The Duppies/The Apes at Ella’s Americana Folk Art Café, Tampa, July 26; Reggae Revival Night w/Roots for Change/UNRB Fri., July 26, Market on 7th, Ybor City; The Growers w/Electric Landlady Fri., Aug. 2, Market on 7th, Ybor City; Saganaki Bomb Squad/Broseph Skalin/Fall On Purpose Fri., Aug. 2, The Shelter, St. Petersburg; Can’t Do It 10-Year Anniversary Party with The Best of the Worst, Station Cases, Madison Turner and Mosquito Teeth, Sat., Aug. 10, The Shelter, St. Petersburg, The Shelter, St. Petersburg; UNRB w/Won't Be Arsed/After the Fact/High Five Go Thurs., Aug. 15, Local 662, St. Petersburg; Ska Homecoming 2013 w/Victims of Circumstance/Electric Landlady/Four Minute Warning/Broseph Skalin/69 Fingers?/The Hoverounds/Saganaki Bomb Squad/YugoSKAvia/UNRB/Can't Do It Sat., Sept. 28, Epic Problem, Tampa
Where were you sitting? Your review is a bit negative sounding to say the least…
Love that album. It still sounds great and according to this outstanding review, Huey also…
Excellent review, sorry I missed the concert.
I was fortunate to see Bonnie Raitt. Her stage presence was heart warming and her…