It’s that time of the year where we go from wearing shorts and sandals to wearing Hawaiian-themed shorts and sandals. November 25th is going to be a special night at the House of Blues, Anaheim. It’ll be time for the 7th Annual Ska Luau! This festival features some of Orange County’s most prominent ska bands as well as other ska bands that are a must see; and the locals couldn’t be happier!
As for Orange County, it’s been recognized for years as the birthplace of 3rd wave ska-punk. Bands that put OC on the ska map and helped with this musical distinction include No Doubt, Reel Big Fish, Save Ferris and from the LBC, there was Sublime; and the 909’ers that are loved in the OC, Voodoo Glow Skulls. For the casual music fan, they identify ska with 80’s English bands like Madness, the Specials, Selecter, Bad Manners, the Beat and depending on your age, from Jamaica, there’s Prince Buster. For years, the entire planet has been waiting for the explosion of the 4th wave of ska. Unfortunately, like everything else in life, expectation is the root of all heartache. For ska fans, it seems like it’s been forever since ska was at the top of the music totem pole.
So what exactly is the Ska Luau? It’s the 2009 brainchild of Starpool’s Brian Mashburn and John Pantle. It was a simple concept, put on a cool show featuring local ska-punk bands to a Hawaiian theme at a very affordable price so everyone can come to the show. The emphasis was to give up-and-coming bands exposure to a bigger stage. That’s what great artists do. Icons like Aaron Barrett of Reel Big Fish do this all the time; that is, make a path for the next generation of ska bands. Like Barrett, Mashburn has become a figure that many in the industry respect for his contributions, not just to the ska genre, but to the community as a whole. The end result is always a fun and entertaining night of great music. This year, the lineup is as entertaining as ever. The sets include a 20-year reunion of For Pete’s Sake, Skapeche Mode, and Half Past Two, which features OC darling Tara Hahn, on vocals. The two feature acts for this year’s show are Suburban Legends and Starpool!
As for Suburban Legends, they are local favorites and icons of the genre. Their musical reach goes well beyond the borders of Orange County. They are loved from coast to coast and around the world. The band formed in 1998, and they call Huntington Beach and Santa Ana home. This band is simply dynamic in their sound, and they are accomplished entertainers. Sonically, they have fused a two-tone and ska-punk sound with pop, funk and disco into their tunes. The end result is a sound you’ve heard before, but delivered in a way you’ve never heard before. They even do some very cool cover versions of songs from Disney films and television series. For years, SL has toured everywhere USA, and great venues worldwide. After years and years of touring, the travel caught up with the band. In 2015, the band announced that their 2016 US tour would be their "last tour ever." They did leave the possibility of playing one-offs for the right situation. They were instrumental in a benefit show last year called Carterpalooza; a benefit for the adopted son of all local ska bands, Carter Ankeny. Sadly, we lost Carter to cancer recently, but his spirit lives on. The bands will most likely give tribute to his life throughout the show. As for SL, Ska Luau is one of those “right” situations that have them taking the stage.
If you haven’t seen Suburban Legends before, they are worth the price of admission alone. Their dynamic sound is combined with a stage show that is second to none! These guys dance, and dance, and dance like nobody’s watching; and if they stumble on stage, they make it part of the dance! This band is so damn entertaining, they make you forget about life for a while. That’s what good bands do, they make us dance because music is life. SL features some of the best musicians on the planet; Brian "Robot" Robertson on trombone, Aaron Bertram on trumpet, Brad Polidori on bass, Brian Klemm on lead guitar, Reel Big Fish drummer, Edward Larsen, and there’s Vince Walker, lead vocals. Some fan favorite SL songs you’ll probably hear include Bright Spring Morning, Whoa, Kiss the Girl, and You've Got a Friend in Me.
The closing act is Starpool! This band personifies the phrase “music is what feelings sound like”. The core group is comprised of the founding band members of Save Ferris. That tells you how good this band is. The lead singer is former No Doubt co-lead crooner, Alan Meade. That’s right, before Gwen held the spot on her own and was the US Queen of ska, Alan was the Dude. The band’s origins are deeply rooted. They’re not a band that was just put together to put on a cool show, this band has deep-deep roots in the community. Not only do they support local bands by putting them on the bill, they go to their shows as well.
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As for why this band is so loved in the OC ska scene, you don’t have to go any further than their name. The band's name was given by trombonist T-bone Willy. When they were on top of the world as Save Ferris, their house had a swimming pool shaped like a star. That’s where they used to practice and would throw insane parties, the kind you see in a Beastie Boys video. The house was also used by Save Ferris for their own indie label, Starpool Records. The band is down to earth, they don’t take themselves seriously, and have a great sense of humor. That comes off at every show as their on-stage antics are almost impossible to replicate. Many have tried, but none can mirror the magic that is Starpool.
At every show, Meade is a stellar performer; and the band is tight. They have, by far, one of the best horn sections you’ll ever hear anywhere. They are so good, they give the cats from Oingo Boingo a run for their money. As a group, in performance art and sonically, you have to look back to Earth, Wind & Fire in their heyday to draw a fair comparison. If that isn’t enough, what fans dig most is the interaction. Meade is engaging, and Tbone always has a feature called the Tbone Willy dance, which has him come out to a different costume and theme every year and put a smile on the face of everyone in the venue. Some of the songs the fans have come to love are It’s Alright, La Luna, Pump It Up, and Despise. They’re also good for a few Specials covers and the Isley Brother’s SHOUT! The band includes Bill Uechi on bass, Oliver Zavala on trumpet, Kyle O’Donnell on sax, Jason Isley on keys, Tbone Willy on trombone, Brian Mashburn on lead guitar, there’s Lit drummer, Evan Kilbourne; and the band is anchored by Alan Meade, lead vocals.
The November 25th show is the first luau at the new House of Blues Anaheim location. For Starpool and Suburban Legends, by doing right by their fans all these years, they’ve brought the spotlight back to the OC. It turns out that the heroes ska fans are seeking to start the 4th wave have been here in the OC all along. Suffice it to say that when you do things for the right reason, you just might end up shining greater than the brightest star. In the end, that may be the legacy of Ska Luau. As for the Organizers, they can take solace in knowing this show just might be one of those events that will live in the hearts of their fans for years to come. That is what ska is all about. Going to a show where everyone is welcome, and everyone can sing and dance as if you’re in the rain, or shower and nobody’s watching… or something like that! For the OC Ska community, home isn’t a place, it’s an irrevocable condition where their heart lives. It’s events like Ska Luau where you’ll find people celebrating life to a Mai Tai. Go check out Ska Luau, because it’ll be an event, not just a great show!