The city of Bakersfield and the irie sound of reggae may seem like an odd fit from the outside, but it's obvious to anyone who has been to a reggae festival or show here just how much we were made for each other. Artists ranging from dance hall superstar Eek-A-Mouse to ska legends The Skatalites have performed here to packed venues and ecstatic fans.
In fact, since the early '90s we've been home to reggae festivals and concerts by several traditional reggae artists and ska pioneers, not to mention the newer wave of acts influenced by the beach-ska/punk reggae sounds popularized by OC juggernauts Sublime. This month alone, five purveyors of the current reggae sound will perform in Bakersfield, starting Saturday at B Ryders, with Pepper and Lionize. Then, on Jan. 28, comes Iration at Elements Lounge, followed on Feb. 1 by Passafire and Ballyhoo at On the Rocks.
The popularity of this style of music reminds me a bit of the late '90s and the rise of the popularity of third-wave ska, a style of music that originated in Jamaica in the early '60s.
It was the Caribbean nation's version of Motown, but with a noticeable difference: The guitar and drum accents were placed on the upbeats, which were respectively called "skanking" and "one-drop."
The main architects of that sound were Prince Buster and The Skatalites. Bob Marley started off as a ska artist until he changed his approach and found worldwide popularity in the reggae sound he popularized.
The second wave occurred in England in the late '70s in tandem with the rising punk movement. The disenfranchised British youth took the ska sounds that their Jamaican immigrant neighbors were listening to and fused it with the energy and tempos of punk rock.
The third wave, in the mid-to-late '90s, featured bands like The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and No Doubt as well as smaller-tier acts like Reel Big Fish, Dance Hall Crashers and Save Ferris. This wave was characterized by poppy tempos and novelty versions of songs played in an upbeat ska-style. Horn sections were prominent as were band members who had no other job than to dance on stage.
The one thing all three waves have in common is that they offered an upbeat response to harsh social and political conditions in each of their respective countries.
And that brings us to the present day, when both divisive politics and the brutal economy are taking a toll on most of us.
"The whole idea is to bring a fun night of music to everyday people ...to take you on an adventure for a few hours," said Ballyhoo singer Howi Spangler.
"I think people are tired of hearing contrived music. This genre is under the radar and there are some great bands on the touring circuit. I see a lot of the same people at these shows. It's a great time."
The current crop of bands owe less to laidback Jamaican rhythms than to those of the sunny beaches of Hawaii and Southern California. It's a tried- and-true sound formula that works in both entertaining and keeping audiences moving.
But Spangler hopes the popularity of the music will inspire younger fans to dig into its history.
"I see kids at the shows that probably have never listened to Peter Tosh or Steel Pulse. Hopefully they will go back and discover the roots of all this. American reggae can be really great, but it's nice to do some homework and see where it all from."
If you've never attended these concerts, expect this: They will be pretty much at capacity (in fact, the Pepper and Lionize show is sold out). The audience is virtually guaranteed to have a good time with no negativity whatsoever.
Of the bands coming our way, Pepper is the closest to blasting off into the mainstream. Hailing from Hawaii and currently based in San Diego, Pepper have found themselves on some major tours and featured on a few soundtracks.
Their latest, the self-titled release "Pepper," is an eclectic and entertaining variation of the American reggae sound -- that is, the same upbeat half-time beach/ska feel all these bands have in their shared DNA.
However, they've attempted to broaden their appeal by beefing up their choruses with clean production and solid hooks. But whether Pepper breaks through or not, the band exemplifies the goal of most in the genre: Success is measured by longevity, relevance and consistency, not whether they can sell out the Rabobank.
Therese and the Sweetness 9 p.m. Saturday at Sandrini's, 1918 Eye St. $5; 21 and over.
Muller's current backing band has stepped up the energy quotient for the chanteuse with enthusiastic abandon. Incorporating synchronized dancing (it's amazing what a two-step can accomplish) and projecting the impression that they are genuinely having a good time, The Sweetness -- guitarist Travis Byler, bassist Gary Rink and drummer Jason Blakely -- provide a competent and solid foundation (fundation?) to Muller's peppy stage persona.
Her originals sometimes delve into melodrama in sound and theme, but the upbeat covers (ranging from the Jackson 5 to the Red Hot Chili Peppers) keep the audience entertained -- and moving -- throughout.
KK Martin 7 p.m. today at The Prime Cut, 9500 Brimhall Road; 21 and over; free
Rip Cat Records recording artist KK Martin has played and recorded with artists ranging from Donald "Duck" Dunn to Eric Burdon and his Naked Blues Tour will be stopping here tonight at The Prime Cut. Specializing in Delta blues, his stage persona beckons a younger mix of Steve Vai and Keith Richards, but his virtuoso turbo blues playing is all his own. Tonight will be an all acoustic show with local guitar hero Bunky Spurling and Saturday will be a show with his full band.
The Lift, Dock Ellis, Western Medicine and Lions for Leo 9 p.m. Friday at Riley's Tavern, 1523 19th St. 21 and over. Free.
Riley's has been undergoing a reinvention these last few months, eschewing their tried-and-true DJ format to become a full-time live music venue. Their shows bring together different genres and bands, and this night is no exception. From the high energy funk/R&B provided by The Lift, to acoustic rock '60s throwbacks Dock Ellis to the chaotic high energy of '90s ska-tinged (again!) party rockers Lions For Leo -- all audience members will have something to enjoy, or at least have a good reason to stick around.