Eugene, Oregon’s Cherry Poppin Daddies take to the Distrikt stage in the Strathcona Hotel as part of the Victoria Ska and Reggae Festival on June 20. daddies.com

Victoria Ska and Reggae Festival returning to its roots, 20 years in

Longstanding music event brings together myriad talent in various genres

Felicia Santarossa

Monday Magazine contributor

Dane Roberts never imagined the Victoria Ska and Reggae Festival would make it to 20 years.

“It’s quite an accomplishment to have 20 years of the Festival,” the Victoria Ska and Reggae Society artistic and executive director says, “especially since there’s so many obstacles and there’s so much that happens with people’s lives. No matter what happens we’ve always managed to upkeep it.”

When the festival started, Roberts says, the music was more pop-punk, based on the ska revival of the late 90s. Now, ska is getting back to its roots, with more bands from Jamaica and a more international focus, trends that extend to the 2019 festival.

The colourful Victoria Ska and Reggae Festival van, Gussy, sports a new paint job for the 20th anniversary of the festival. Photo by Dane Roberts

“This year we have a band from Peru, a couple from Jamaica, another several from the UK,” he says.

Big names include Jamaican artists Ky-Mani Marley and Sister Nancy, and Oregon-based Cherry Poppin’ Daddies of Zoot Suit Riot fame, along with plenty of local acts. The popular celebration kicks off with a free show at downtown Victoria’s Ship Point on June 19, with concerts and visual art spectacles happening throughout the region until June 23.

As far as local acts, the biggest excitement will be around One Drop, Roberts says, adding there’s a personal connection to the reuniting reggae punk band.

“One of the members who plays the saxophone, Neville Gibson, he’s the operations manager for the Society. He’s my right-hand man. The rest of the band has contributed in one way or another over the years; they’re always passionate about the festival and the mento (traditional Jamaican folk music) scene,” he says.

The band was introduced to the festival about five years in and has been involved since, either as volunteers, performing or serving as staff.

Asked how the Victoria Ska and Reggae Festival has lasted so long, Roberts explains that it’s a grassroots movement, one that keeps people involved because they love the music and the scene it creates, and the people it attracts.

“We didn’t go ‘Oh! This would be a great festival to make money from.’ If we were trying to do it for that reason, we would have been done probably on the second year we put it on,” he says. “The people are just so passionate about the music. The reward is seeing the bands and meeting the people that come, and all the festivities that happen as a result.”

Festival-goers can choose between full-event passes or individual show tickets, available for a range of prices. To purchase them or find more information, visit victoriaskafest.ca.

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