The ska family hug fest known as the Supernova International Ska Festival lived up to its name and was not a disappointment. In fact, to say that the largest ska festival in the United States was super would be an understatement – it was Supernova!
As this was my first experience, I have nothing to compare it to, but I had my mind blown each of the three days I was in attendance.
I learned an important lesson that weekend: ska has to be experienced, and I made an effort to experience as much as I could. The two side-by-side stages made this extremely easy, and the seamless transitions between 40 of the most exciting ska bands around made it sometimes difficult to take a bathroom break, grab a bite to eat, or another beer. The sun was out, the sky was clear, and the ska vibe was endless.
Rudies brought their beach chairs and blankets, coolers, bug spray, dance shoes, and two-tone attitude, and experienced every sub-genre of ska music. With a festival of this size and with many international bands on the bill, there’s bound last-minute issues. A small lineup change saw Pannonia All Star Ska Orchestra, Kill Lincoln, The Planet Smashers, and Dr. Ring Ding have to bow out, but were replaced by Jer, Dave Hillyard and The Rocksteady Seven, and an acoustic set by Vic Ruggerio.
If you were able to pull away from the wall-to-wall music, there was always something good going on in the merch tent. The stars of today’s ska were available for selfies (or as I learned from Jade Tremba, “usies”), album signings, and conversations about ska.
With skanking the activity of the weekend, thirst and hunger were bound to set in, and Supernova didn’t disappoint the need for food and beverage. Although there was a nice line of various food trucks, I got stuck on the brat at the German truck; my go-to when I needed a break. For those 21 and up, there were two beer tents (Ska Brewing of Durango Colorado, and Red Stripe from Jamaica). Tito’s Vodka also had a booth with vodka lemonade that went down way too smoothly on the warm, late summer weekend.
Nearly impossible to watch every act up close, I attempted to take in as many bands as possible, and several blew my mind. After getting over the excitement of meeting friends I’ve never met face-to-face, and making a few new ones, I was able to settle in and watch some of my favorite bands live.
Friday started out with Skapones and Scofflaws, and Toasters, but it was Uzimon to put on the first epic performance of Supernova. In a long red coat and red pimp hat, he made his way into the crowd to bring his style of ska to the masses. He later shed the hat and coat as he made it back to the stage, and with his two local backup dancers, capped his set with a rocksteady tribute to Betty White.
Later that evening it was Sister Nancy that really struck me. I felt like I was in the presence of greatness as I watched her perform original songs from the early ‘80s.
Perfectly backed by Eastern Standard Time, she reiterated a couple of very important facts throughout her performance. First, that she’s an original; second, that she’s been doing this since she was 15 years old; and lastly, after receiving and smoking a joint from the crowd, to never smoke a seed. She finished her set with her most famous – and most stolen – song, “Bam Bam.” It was an epic performance by a Jamaican legend.
Fishbone headlined Friday evening and put on a show to be remembered, playing new songs (such as “All We Have Is Now”), old favorites (including “Ma and Pa”), and finishing the set with “Party at Ground Zero.”
Saturday started out strong with Ska Punk International’s powerhouse, Sgt. Scag, who left the stage smoking after their 45-minute set. With a new album out, the Connecticut septet set the bar early in the afternoon.
Taking things down a notch to a more rocksteady level was Washington DC based, The Loving Paupers.
With a brand new album out, and fresh off a late night performance at the Friday night afterparty, their set didn’t disappoint. Kelly Di Filippo’s vocals were soothing and soulful; the calm before the incoming storm.
The highly anticipated Bad Time Records block was up next and Bad Operation kicked it off.
With Jeremy “Jer” Hunter on trombone, and Tim Hildebrand from Catbite on guitar, Bad Operation got the dust rising in the pit, and it didn’t settle during the sets of Jer or J Navarro and The Traitors.
One of the bands I was anxious to see was Catbite, and they put on an awesome performance.
Britney Luna was charming, and rocked the stage, and Tim Hildebrand’s neon green hair and zebra print shirt only emphasized his coloring of the stage with some of the skankiest ska-punk riffs of the New Tone era.
The Bad Time block was closed out by We Are the Union. One of the founding members of what’s being called the New Tone sound, they put on an unforgettable performance.
Lovers of Latin ska were up front or in the pit during the high-energy sets from giants in the sub-genre Adhesivo and Out of Control Army.
Adhesivo put on a command performance, and the brass section from Out of Control was tightest I’d heard, so far. Their performance proved why they are at the top of the ska scene in Mexico City.
An acoustic set by Slackers front-man, Vic Ruggerio, brought the ska rollercoaster on a step drop, while ska veterans Mustard Plug took the stage and brought the energy up with old favorites and songs off their new album, “Where Did All My Friends Go.”
Ska punk veterans The Suicide Machines continued to crank the vibe up to a crescendo at sunset, before things settled back down with an evening set by Hollie Cook, the daughter of punk legend Paul Cook.
Her fog-filled stage performance only enhanced her stunning vocals, and seemed to cool down the energetic crowd.
However that rollercoaster was about to peak as Japanese ska giants, Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra, took the stage. Their set was flawless, high energy, and tight. They brought and left all their energy on that stage for over an hour. It was a bucket-list performance.
Sunday was bittersweet. Having the realization that this would be the last day to be with my ska ohana, and the knowledge that I still had some of my favorite bands ahead of me.
With the threat of rain approaching, sets were shortened. The day started out with Denver ska big-wigs, The Dendrites, then hit a high mark with a leader in the current OC ska scene, Bite Me Bambi.
Tahlena Chikami took command of the stage like a two-tone ska veteran doing originals like “Stripper on Sunday,” their latest release “Girls of Summer,” and a cover of “Gangsters” by The Specials. Their energy was infectious, and their performance a highlight.
The highly-anticipated performance from all-female supergroup Rude Girl Revue started out with massive horn section including five saxophones, two trombones, and a trumpet, with multi-talented Jenny Whisky occasionally on the flute.
With an extreme amount of talent, and made up of the top women in today’s ska scene, Rude Girl Revue sang of women’s strength, equality, and empowerment.
Led by ska visionaries and workaholics, Boss Lady Hatchet, Jenny Whisky, and Lindsey McCarthy, and despite being members of multiple bands and projects, their performance was tight, entertaining, and definitely a highlight. Cameo appearances included Britny Luna on “Bad Reputation,” Tahlena Chikami on “Lost Again,” and then topped off by Ali Presses on “Respect,” who finished off a set that included songs with Jade Tremba, Dunia Best, and Lindsey McCarthy on lead vocals.
The afternoon continued with shortened set by Droogs Don’t Run and Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, then Inland Empire ska punk veterans Voodoo Glow Skulls took the stage with a couple of members wearing Lucha Libre masks, and lead vocalist Efrem Schulz also wearing a poncho.
This was my first time seeing VGS and they melted my face. The high-energy punk was exactly what I needed to hear, and Schulz was outstanding. Interacting with the crowd and joining the pit on his way to the top of the observation deck of the VIP area; it was an epic and memorable performance.
But the peak of Supernova for me was when Lynval Golding of The Specials joined The Aggrolites on stage to sing a tribute to Terry Hall and other icons of ska that have passed on; a rousing rendition of “Enjoy Yourself,” and finishing the set with fan favorite, “A Message to Rudy.” It was a performance of a lifetime, and possibly the last time Golding will sing Specials tunes as he intends to retire doing their catalog.
Photo by James Walker
The legendary Los Angeles -ska-soul band The Untouchables freed themselves with a great set of classics!
The crowd love seeing legends Chuck Askerneese and Jerry Miller on vocals, before The Piestasters took the stage, but it was two-tone ska legend Buster Bloodvessle that closed the event with iconic tracks like “Strange Brew” and “Lip Up Fatty.”
The weather held out and the consensus didn’t want it to be over and begged for an encore, but all good things must come to an end, and with sore feet – and numerous memories – I made my way back to car.
Photo by Aaron B.
It was the experience of a lifetime for this ska fan, and I’ve already purchased my ticket for next year.