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Ska Fest going strong in its 12th year

Purists and newbies of the genre uniting for the Victoria roots music festival
Ska fest
Hillside Hooligans musicians Nev Gibson

Ska Fest is going back to its roots this year with the addition of the festival’s original outdoor venue and a musical legend.

Those who were among the 1,000 people moving to ska beats 12 years ago in Market Square at the first Ska Fest can relive the good vibes this year with the return of the much-loved venue, poised to host some positive partying throughout the event, including late on Friday and Saturday night.

This is just one feature that has festival founder Dane Roberts looking forward to next week’s celebration. Fly in Jamaican rocksteady star Ken Boothe and extend the festival by a day and Roberts is a happy man.

“There’s been a lot more buzz about rocksteady because a lot of the singers have started to pass (away),” Roberts said.

“Now we have Ken Boothe, who is one of the living embodiments of the genre.”

Roberts describes rocksteady – loosely the 2011 festival theme and the focus of this year’s accompanying art exhibit – as less political and more light-hearted than ska or early reggae.

Breaking down the sounds for the untrained ear is something Roberts is used to doing.

The Victoria B.C. Ska Society considered changing its name at one point to include the word reggae, in hopes of attracting new members. But in the end, Roberts explained, the group elected to keep its original moniker as an educational tool.

“A lot more people on Vancouver Island will know what ska is because of the festival, but in terms of North America, it’s still pretty unknown,” he said. “People listen to ska all the time and don’t know that they’re listening to it.”

Bands from Colombia, Mexico City, Australia and New Orleans perform at various venues around town from July 5-9, starting with a free show at Ship Point in the Inner Harbour at 5 p.m. next Tuesday.

Styles from traditional dance hall ska to global electronic roots will be featured throughout the festival.“And maybe a light sprinkling of punk with the Hillside Hooligans,” Roberts said.

Hillside Hooligans are a six-piece reggae-ska-punk band born from the ashes of OneDrop in 2009 and include four of the band’s original members. The Ska Fest vets will sample songs from their new CD, Tales from Rock Bay, July 8 in Market Square.

“It really brings the city together,” said Hillside Hooligans’ frontman Brandon Leahy. “Ska is more of an underground genre, not really widely listened to or played, except for by the people who love it and keep the scene going.”

“We don’t care what people in North America are saying or listening to as the flavour of the month – the quality and the vibe of (Ska Fest) was worth keeping … we always had the core audience because we believed in it so much,” Roberts said.

Tickets are available through TicketWeb and in person at The Reef and Lyle’s Place. For full schedule and more details, visit