The history of ska in Europe and America is littered with aging punk rockers. With its roots in Jamaica, fusing calypso and American rhythm and blues, its second wave influenced the angsty musicians of the late ’70s and ’80s, resulting in punks exploring its diverse catalog and bringing ska to audiences beyond Jamaica.
Even if you missed the Ska Brewing 20th Anniversary party, you haven’t missed your last chance for ska music at Ska. Saturday, the “Bikes, Bands and Brews” event will feature Albuquerque ska band The Blue Hornets, a nine-piece band with feet in ska’s harder third wave, but also slowing down into rock-steady territory. Opening the show is local band The Afrobeatniks. It’s a benefit for Fort Lewis College Cycling and Durango Daybreak Rotary. The event will also feature a pig roast, bike events and the release of Ska’s Euphoria Beer.
Ska is a bug bite of a genre. For its fans, it’s all in or nothing, and like many genres, once you get into it, you never leave.
“Its like a lot of those traditional roots music. You get hooked, and it gets kind of habitual,” said Otto Barthel, Blue Hornets guitarist and vocalist.
Punk rock has served as the gateway drug to the genre and its rich history.
“I was into punk rock in high school, and one of my first ska records was the first Specials album,” said Barthel, referring to the checkerboard-laden Specials’ 1979 debut, a canonical album from ska’s two-tone wave. “It had the similar political, and energy of punk rock from England,” Barthel said. “I loved it. I was kind of a reggae fan, too. For being that young, I didn’t understand the politics at all. But the groove, it hit me. It’s such an abstract beat; I’ve always wanted to play it, just being a garage guitar player.”
Barthel’s roots in ska go back to the band Giant Steps, a third-wave act that became regulars around Durango with shows at the old Summit. Half of the Giant Steps make up The Blue Hornets; their one record, “Top Rankin,” is a textbook tribute to all the genre’s waves, a diverse representation of its roots while dipping into the aggressiveness that has made it appealing to the punks.
“This group kind of wanted to merge between the reggae and ska era, the ’60s from Jamaica, the rock-steady era, so we definitely have some of that influence in our style,” Barthel said. “Playing in a third-wave ska band like Giant Steps for 10-plus years, you just start getting a little older. Your back starts feeling it, so slowing it down feels good. It’s danceable. It’s good stuff.”
email@example.com. Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager.