There is almost something profound about the journey you take to a show. It is practically a staple to have that journey become an adventure that crosses time, space, and a border or two. Following a band across country lines is the very definition of pure rock n’ roll romanticism. I was lucky enough to have that experience this past weekend when I travelled to The Spirit of the Eighties festival.
The festival had been something to look forward to all summer. A bunch of 80s ska bands playing in a park, with all the proceeds going to supporting the arts? There is no way I would miss that. The Toasters and The English Beat were going to rip those grounds apart, and I had to be there. So, with all the pre-concert prep out of the way, we hopped into the car and drove from the hotel to the border. This was it.
I was a little taken back when I got there. It looked dead, like the start of a high school reunion, and that was probably because we got there before the main bands, but it was a little unsettling at first. This changed the second we got our bracelets; checkered entrance bracelets. The Spirit of the Eighties is probably one of the most themed festivals I have ever gone to, but also one of the most entertaining ones.
The second opening act was on stage when we arrived, and they were very suitable for the theme. The Mirrors are like The Aquabats of the eighties. Classic synth with iconic vocals, they really set the tone. The crowd, who mirrored the vibe, were well set up for what was about to follow.
The Toasters took the stage next. Robert ‘Bucket’ Hingley was everything I expected and more. From selling his own merch to commanding the stage with unmatched class, Hingley brought the ska out with his well-loved telecaster and vocal rasp. The horn section, Logan LaBarbera and Neil ‘Lonestar’ Johnson, added a flavour that, in my opinion, is missing from far too many bands; squealing saxophone solos and upbeat hooks pulled many to the stage. Drummer, Jesse ‘The Void’ Hayes, never faltered. The bass drum thundered across the field, vibrating the blades of grass and the bodies dancing on top while bassist, Thaddeus ‘Westbound’ Merrit, kept a groove blasting through his orange amp. So many old, dirty converse were kicking up dust as The Toasters played through their set with a tightness that had obviously been mastered. Crowd favourites included “Weekend In LA,” “Don’t Let The Bastards Grind You Down,” and “Matt Davis, Special Agent.”
Headliner, the English Beat, closed the show. Dave Wakeling and King Schascha really brought out the crowd. It was incredible to see how involved they got the audience. The opening song was an immediate return to eighties, reggae-style ska. “Rough Rider” had it all: the synth, the drums, and the upstroke guitar. The left handed, tear drop Kramer that Wakeling masterfully played was complimented by both Jared Palazzolo’s guitar tone, and Kevin Lum’s synth accents. The bassist, Larry Young, and drummer, Nucci Cantrell, set the mood as the groove echoed through the night sky and down the streets of upstate New York, while Matt Morrish wailed on a smooth sax. When they played through “Hands Off She’s Mine,” I am pretty sure even people in their homes nearby danced along. The English Beat really tore up that stage, Breakfast Club style.
The jean jackets and checkered things dug out of storage combined with the synths and the horns blaring out classic ska, I felt right away that this was home- at least for that one night.
Written by Danielle Kenedy
Photography by Tad Dietrich
*edited by Kate Erickson