September 16, 2021 | Festival Review by Jimmy Alvarez
Three guys walk into a music festival wearing masks. I know, that’s the premise of a really bad joke, but in 2021, this really happened and it didn’t raise an eyebrow. It was time for the Brew Ska Ska at Oak Canyon Park in Silverado Canyon this past Saturday. Not only was this a ska- and reggae-infused music festival, it was a reunion of sorts for the Orange County ska community.
To set the table for this event, you have to know some history about ska in the OC. For years, Orange County has been the mecca for everything cool and ska-punk related. Most people think ska is an offshoot of reggae, but actually it’s the other way around. Artist Prince Buster introduced the genre to the masses in Jamaica in the late 1950s. Reggae splintered from ska in the ‘60s, and that genre is best known by artists such as Bob Marley and Toots and the Maytals. As for ska, it evolved and sprouted legs and migrated to England in the ‘80s, causing what’s known as the second wave of ska which is also known as the 2Tone era. In in its next evolution, ska took on a more dynamic punk element and BOOM! That new sound exploded in Orange County in the ‘90s. Ever since then, OC has been its unofficial home. For the locals, the Brew Ska Ska was more than a music festival, it was a homecoming for most of the locals.
What was notable to anyone who attended was the weather. It was hot. I mean, Africa hot, Biloxi Blues kinda hot! But the temps paled in comparison to the heat brought on stage. There were also plenty of food and merch vendors, but aside of the music, the other draw was the beer tasting. Cameron Collins of Brew Ha Ha Productions did a great thing here, especially for the locals. The beer tasting is one thing, but putting it together with the lineup of great bands gave concertgoers smiles from ear-to-ear all day long.
While there I heard many concertgoers comment on the beer tasting. All the beer vendors got a thumbs up from everyone we spoke with. The vendors that got uber-praises included Calada Beer, Artifex Brewing, Helmsman Alehouse, Green Cheek Beer, and Dog Pawrk Brewing. Honestly, every single vendor got rave reviews. As you can imagine, concertgoers did partake throughout the entire day in the beer tasting.
As for the bands, well… they were the main event. It was such a great day for music and it started perfectly with OC fan favorites Half Past Two. This band has just taken off the past few years and they’re headed to this year’s Supernova Internal Ska Festival, but before that, Tara Hahn and crew entertained the crowd with their 4th wave high-energy show. Hahn later joked “I was so happy to see everyone! Felt good to play a show after 587 day… but who’s counting?!” Seriously, Half Past Two has fantastic musicians with a dynamic lead singer, if you haven’t seen them, do yourself a favor catch them next time they are playing in your neck of the woods, they’re that good!
Then came OC’s next big export, Bite Me Bambi. This band is VERY special, this band is comprised of bandmates from several OC bands making this super-group what it is. They are a power ska-punk band that captures 3rd and 4th wave ska-punk elements.
Even with the lockdown, this band has made it to the terrestrial airwaves on the World Famous KROQ, 91X and locally on TNN RADIO | KX FM. Check all the boxes for this band, talent, charisma and a loyal following which all translates to a down good time no matter where they play. For this show, the crowd was already getting happy with the beer cups flowing, but they did not lose sight of what was about to happen on stage.
From the first note and lyric, it was clear they were very, very happy to be there entertaining them. Lead singer Tahlena Chikami was on fire while the rest of the band was simply electric. When asked which songs the crowd reacted to best, lead guitarist, Brian Mashburn said “Like That,” “Hot Lava,” and they really seemed to enjoy their Offspring cover of “Want You Bad.” Chikami and HP2’s Hahn are leading the push in OC ska and definitely set the tone for the rest of the day.
NEW OC QUEENS of SKA | TAHLENA CHIKAMI & TARA HAHN
Up next was New York-based 2Tone-era juggernauts, the Toasters! This band did not disappoint, and they only made the stage that much hotter with their performance.
They were followed by Michigan-based and local favorites Mustard Plug. Despite the temperature, lead singer Dave Kirchgessner remained cool, calm, and collective as he sported his traditional blazer while belting out the hits.
Mustard Plug played what was most likely the most appropriate song of the day, their international hit, “Beer!” Kirchgessner told me “I’m excited for this show. We always love coming to Orange County, the history and the fans are great! This time it seems different though….. we haven’t been touring in a while, and everyone just seems so amped for this show.” Next stop for Mustard Plug will also be the Supernova International Ska Festival.
Another noticable fact was that band members weren’t leaving the event; they were in the crowd, taking in the show, just like the fans. The OC bands were especially visible as they supported each band from beginning to end.
After a very enthusiastic intermission, up next were L.A.’s favorite reggae band, the Aggrolites. These cats brought the speakers and the noise as they lit up the early evening with their signature sound. They sounded great!
Up next was Hepcat, and they are a band you just have to see to really appreciate. On the map they are a SoCal-based, but with their infusion of ‘60s Prince Buster influenced 1st wave Jamaican-ska sound, you’d swear they were an international act.
Not only does Hepcat have a special sound, but the duo of Greg Lee and Alex Désert are top notch performers and they delivered big time at Bew Ska Ska. They had the crowd singing and dancing in the middle of the hot afternoon sky. This is a special band and they are a must see. Concertgoer after concertgoer we spoke with brought up Hepcat as one of the show highlights.
As the sun dipped into the Pacific and day became night, headliner Less Than Jake was ready to entertain the crowd. On tour from their Gainesville, Florida headquarters, it was clear the band was very happy to be out and playing. The band was tight as always, and the banter from Chris DeMakes, Roger Lima and Matt Yonker with the crowd was especially engaging. LTJ played several classics mixed in with newer tunes.
Lead singer, Chris Demakes jokingly said that they weren’t going to bore the crowd with too many new songs as the old ones are better. They belted out “The High Cost of Low Living,” “Lie To Me,” “Johnny Quest Thinks We’re Sellouts,” “Automatic,” “Plastic Cup Politics,” and “The Science of Selling Yourself Short.” As for LTJ, they will move onto touring with New Found Glory on their Pop Punk’s Still Not Dead Tour.
In the end, this was a fantastic event for Orange County in more ways than one. It was a wonderful show and an awesome beer-tasting event.
What Cameron Collins and the Brew Ha Ha Productions crew were able to accomplish was to provide an event that was good for the soul of the community. It was simply a great day at the this year’s Brew Ska Ska!
Up next for Collins and crew will be the OC BOO HA HA featuring Lit and A Flock of Seagulls!