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Victoria’s Skafest outgrows its name to be more inclusive

What: Victoria Ska and Reggae Festival featuring Hepcat, Morgan Heritage, Third World, the Slackers, Stickybuds, Mustard Plug and more When: Today through Saturday Where: Various venues, including Ship Point, Distrikt nightclub, Sugar nightclub, and
Reggae band Morgan Heritage will play its first Victoria Ska and Reggae Festival this year.

What: Victoria Ska and Reggae Festival featuring Hepcat, Morgan Heritage, Third World, the Slackers, Stickybuds, Mustard Plug and more

When: Today through Saturday

Where: Various venues, including Ship Point, Distrikt nightclub, Sugar nightclub, and more

Tickets: Available at Lyle’s Place, Tourism Information Centre, The Reef, Jupiter, and


No matter how popular the annual Victoria Ska Festival became, or how far and widespread its reputation grew, festival producer Dane Roberts always had to answer questions about the musical nature of his event.

Ska — the strain of Jamaican music at the heart of the festival — was a topic of frequent discussion leading up to each instalment. So after 15 years of having to explain the genre that gave reggae icon Bob Marley his start, Roberts and his team at the Victoria B.C. Ska Society, the non-profit group that stages the festival, went back to the drawing board.

They have emerged, in time for edition No. 16, with a thematic adjustment. Now known as the Victoria Ska and Reggae Festival, the five-day event has broadened its horizons to incorporate more traditional reggae into the mix. In doing so, they hope to clear up any confusion.

“We want to make sure we capture all the people that would like the music and programming we are doing,” said Roberts, the festival’s founder. “It was a natural progression based on the programming that we had been offering for the past 10 years.”

This year’s instalment features an array of genres, from electronic (Stickybuds, Dubmatix) and hip-hop (Sweatshop Union, Def3) to the many strains of ska (Keith and Tex, the Slackers, Hepcat). Of course, reggae (Morgan Heritage, Third World) is well represented, too.

Roberts, who works year-round on his festival, spends a great deal of energy making sure Skafest, as it is known to the faithful, has an exotic flavour. While the majority of acts are from Vancouver and Victoria, a handful — including House of Shem (New Zealand) and De Bruces a Mi (Colombia) — are coming from overseas.

“We always try and keep an international focus every year,” he said. “We make a point of it. It’s not just coincidental. We offer music people otherwise would not hear.”

That doesn’t mean some of the acts closer to home are frequent visitors, Roberts added. Hepcat, Mustard Plug, and Keith and Tex are making their Vancouver Island debuts this week, while Morgan Heritage is playing Skafest for the first time in their 20-year history. Third World have not played Vancouver Island in 15 years.

Skafest began in 2002 as a one-day, one-venue showcase for ska-punk acts such as the Pietasters and Pressure Cooker. The event has flourished in the years since, moving ahead incrementally from its beginnings to include more rock-steady and roots-based artists, the bulk of which blurred the line between up-tempo ska and laidback reggae.

“It just became more diverse as the years went on,” Roberts said of the decision to add the word reggae to the festival’s title.

“It was more reggae-leaning than punk. [Reggae] is more familiar to people, especially when you consider all the waves that ska has gone through.”

The current trend in ska today looks back to the classic form from the 1960s, with an emphasis on rhythm and blues and soul. Skafest is nothing if not a barometer, Roberts said, so Skafest 2015 will reflect the current trends in ska.

“Not only have the bands we book changed their style, we’ve grown with that.”

With an influx of reggae bands, to go along with his festival’s new branding, Roberts expects to see more first-time fans than ever at Skafest this week. He upped the profile of acts he booked into clubs as a result, so there should be something for everyone, he said.

“We put a lot of time and energy into the planning so that we could capture some of the general public that knows some of the bands, and mixed them with some underground diamonds. One of the things I like about this year’s festival is that it’s not about one or two mega-headliners. It’s strong all over. I like that approach.”

Must-see acts at Victoria Ska and Reggae Festival

With a schedule of 10 concerts from upward of 40 acts, there’s no shortage of action at this year’s Victoria Ska and Reggae Festival. The 16th edition of the event, which runs through Sunday at various venues, including Ship Point and Distrikt nightclub, includes more than a few titans of the ska and reggae communities, so be sure to free up some time during the weekend. Here’s a short-form primer on the week’s must-see acts.

1. Stickybuds. Thursday, 9 p.m., Distrikt nightclub (919 Douglas St.)

The Kelowna-based Stickybuds will land in Victoria midway through his summer-long tour, so expect him to be in game shape tonight at Distrikt. His performance at the very same venue in April was packed to the limit, so the crowd assembled for the DJ and producer should be equally epic.

2. Keith and Tex. Friday, 1 p.m., Long & McQuade Music Education Centre (2822 Nanaimo St.)

The rock-steady duo of Keith Rowe and Texas Dixon has roots that date back to early 1960s Jamaica and the very beginnings of reggae. The duo will play a show Friday night at Ship Point, but not before giving a rare and intimate workshop on the language of music at 1 p.m.

3. Third World. Friday, 9 p.m., Sugar nightclub (858 Yates St.). Third World has been at it since 1972, though sightings around these parts are rare. The band last played Vancouver Island in 2002, so their return — in support of 2014’s covers album, Under the Magic Sun — is a welcome one, indeed.

4. Hepcat. Saturday, 2 p.m., Ship Point (in the Inner Harbour).

Hepcat are making their only Canadian appearance this summer at Ship Point, fittingly enough. Not only does the eight-member outfit need the extra-large stage, the band will likely command a sizable audience, given that their Saturday set is the first in B.C. from Hepcat since 1998.

5. House of Shem. Sunday, 3 p.m. Ship Point (in the Inner Harbour).

North America is well aware of The Black Seeds and Katchafire, two reggae favourites from New Zealand. Perhaps bigger than both, however, are House of Shem, a family band of Maori descent whose leader, Carl Perkins, is a living legend in New Zealand.