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It's All About Community: Supernova Ska Fest

As I’m writing this, I’m still basking in the afterglow from Supernova Ska Fest in Virginia May 26 and 27. There was plenty of ska punk -- the Suicide Machines, the Hub City Stompers, MU330, Matamoska and more. There was also some second wave 1980s-era ska -- two original members of the Specials -- and even a first wave 1960s Jamaican artist, Doreen Shaffer.

What made the event extra-special was all the social interaction. You might be watching a band and recognize the people standing in front of you from when you saw their band last year and strike up a conversation with them. Or someone might recognize you from your posts in a ska-punk Facebook group and strike up a conversation with you. And then there are those people you met at last year's Supernova. And the other people from your local ska scene who also traveled to the event this year.

Rain Brings People Together

There was a rain delay each day & in a strange way, it actually added to the feeling of community. Both times the downpour started, everyone found themselves marooned on one of various islands.

The first day I ended up under a canopy with Dr. Ring Ding and a couple from Richmond who are fans of his. Dr. Ring Ding is from Germany and does what is kind of like rapping but which in ska/reggae is called "toasting." The brewery named a beer after him for the weekend.

When the day 2 rain delay was called, I was watching Detroit ska-punk (actually more pure punk) band Matt Wixson's Flying Circus. I was standing up front under the canopy covering the stage & ended up waiting out the rain delay there with the band and about 6 other people, talking ska, possums, and various other topics.

I know Matt from Facebook and from his frequent trips to Chicago to see music, and I had seen his band mates Mike Land and Josh Young with their other excellent ska-punk band CBJ, but had never actually seen MWFC. After listening to them a lot on Bandcamp, though, I was pretty sure I would really like them live & I did.

I later learned that various artists played acoustic music in the merch tent during the rain delay, which would have been fun, too.

The Highlights

With two stages, it wasn't possible to see everything but I saw at least a little bit of all 20 artists who were on this year's lineup and enjoyed seeing all of them. Some highlights, with an emphasis on what I think Mable Syndrome fans would be most interested in:

  • It was nice to see the Suicide Machines in a place where there was room to spread out. I was able to stand front and center without getting any bruises, even with an all-guy (or virtually all-guy) circle pit thrashing around for most of the show. Jay Navarro is one of my favorite front men & he was as funny & gregarious as ever. Jay's take on this year's venue --a brewery/winery in a beautiful setting with vineyards and farm animals: "It was bourgie. It was great."

  • Matamoska is one of the best bands in the thriving Latin ska-punk genre. They're Mexican-Americans from LA & their music definitely has Latin as well as ska influences. I had seen & enjoyed them before but they were particularly hot at Supernova. When they started my favorite song of theirs -- M is for Murder-- I took one spin around the muddy, slippery circle pit & decided it would be smarter to join a group of young mostly Latina women & a few men who were skanking in place on the damp grass. When I looked up several people in the group had stopped dancing & I had a momentary concern that I had intruded on something but then one of the young Latinas put her arm through mine & everyone went back to dancing. It was a perfect illustration of how their singer (whose name I’m sorry to say I don’t know) described the ska community. He said ska people are inclusive and progressive, and ska was the first place where he ever felt he belonged.

  • The Crombies include several original members of Deal's Gone Bad, the biggest ska band ever to come out of Chicago. Rain delays caused them to be on at the same time as the Stubborn All-Stars, a 90s-era band that reunited just for Supernova and who played right before the headliners. Also, I think it was still raining while they played. Nevertheless, the Crombies, who cover a lot of ska classics like Monkey Man & Lip Up Fatty, managed to generate excitement by inviting everyone up on stage to sing & dance with them. (I took them up on the invitation.) Travis Nelson, front man for oi-influenced ska-punk band Hub City Stompers joined them on Plastic Gangsters, a 4 Skins cover that's one of my favorite songs the Crombies do.

  • I also really enjoyed the Hub City Stompers’ own set, as well as Rude Boy George, a supergroup that does ska-punk versions of 80s-era hits and whose singer is Jenny Whiskey, who plays saxophone in HCS. I was also happy to see MU330, one of the wittiest ska bands; Spring Heeled Jack, who I’ll confess I wasn’t familiar with and only caught a bit of, but will be listening to now; and D.C.-area home town favorites the Pietasters. I made an iMovie with snippets of all the ska-punk bands from Supernova.

Supernova’s Future?

This was the second-ever Supernova. I believe last year's event had about 2,000 people and, unfortunately, this year's event appeared to be somewhat smaller, perhaps because some people who might have come instead went to a nearby Punk in Drublic show or to the Back to the Beach Festival in California, which had a ska/reggae-heavy lineup, both of which were just a few weeks earlier.

The upshot is that we're told there won’t be a Supernova next year and at one point there was a possibility there might not be one ever again. Fortunately, the ska community rallied, contributing nearly $10,000 in less than a week to a GoFundMe campaign for the festival, and festival organizers Tim and April Receveur announced June 1 that Supernova would return in 2020.

That’s fabulous news, especially considering that the Receveurs were extremely fan-friendly organizers, charging a very reasonable rate for tickets, negotiating a good rate at a local hotel for festival go-ers and even making glow lights to help people find their way to their cars.

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