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MUSIC : Soul Force Moves Into Beach Shack : Up-and-coming reggae band will play on Tuesdays for a month at the top venue in Santa Barbara.

July 01, 1993|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

There are a few things that never seem to change about Santa Barbara. Everything seems to cost a lot and when the public lots fill up, about 10 minutes after they open, there's no place to park. The one-way streets always seem to go the way you're not. There seems to be an equal number of bicyclists and homeless. There won't be any surf at Stearn's Wharf. And the Wedding Band plays every Tuesday night at the Beach Shack.

The Wedding Band has been a Santa Barbara tradition since 1984, and except for a year off in the late '80s and a week off now and then, they have been the Tuesday night dance party. Fronted by Spencer Barnitz, the Spencer of Spencer the Gardener, plus seven other guys, the Wedding Band has been doing all covers all the time beginning every show with "The Wedding March," which is sort of like "The Funeral March" except with a better beat.

The Wedding Band started at Joseppi's on State Street as Joseppi's Wedding Band. That place was so small you could hardly lift an arm to slurp your brewski. Two years ago, the Wedding Band moved to the Beach Shack, the top venue in S.B., and routinely packed that place. For years the other S.B. bars conceded Tuesday to the Wedding Band by scheduling karaoke, bands with no fans, or nothing at all.

That was then. This is now. In a scenario out of "All About Eve, Mon," The Wedding Band is out at the Beach Shack, replaced for a month now by an up-and-coming reggae band, The Soul Force.

Here's why: Last summer, a DJ/disco/techno/dance dive, Safari, decided to add some live music on Tuesday nights. It worked so well that The Soul Force has safaried up the street and around the corner to the Beach Shack, whose motto is immortalized on the bathroom wall: "Of course I'll love you in the morning."

Another reggae band, Underground Roots Syndicate, takes over at Safari and the Wedding Band moves to Toes Tavern on State Street, thus leaving many options for those indifferent to the noisy plight of "Roseanne."

The Soul Force is fronted by Mark Moses Alvarado, an S.B. local. Luis Medrano plays guitar, Rafael Osuna is on bass, Paulino Atreaga is the percussionist, Miles Styler hits the drums and Dan Zeilinski is keyboard player.

Following the Tuesday night Beach Shack gig where I met giant-size door guy, Trigger, Alvarado talked about The Soul Force.

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Q: What was it like replacing the legendary Wedding Band?

A: It seemed like it was the passing of the torch, but it was hard for me. I have always admired Spencer since he was in the Tan. I mean, we both went to Santa Barbara High School, but a few years apart. I sang with Spencer and the Wedding Band at Joseppi's. One night, we filled the Safari, and I heard they only had seven people for the Wedding Band here at the Beach Shack. Things are just happening really fast right now for us.

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Q: What do you think of the club scene in Santa Barbara?

A: The clubs rely on the college kids and they cater to them. The mixture of the college kids and the locals makes for a good, receptive audience. Since Toad the Wet Sprocket and Ugly Kid Joe got signed, the place has become more of a hotbed for music, and there seems to be more bands coming up. There's also a reggae community here. Ras David from One Love Vibration has helped us a lot; also we've opened for Pato Banton, Big Mountain and we will be opening for Lucky Dube.

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Q: Why do you think reggae is so popular?

A: Reggae has the youth to thank for its success, because it's not successful on the Billboard level. I look at society and see that it's harder and harder to get by. Reggae identifies with that--it's modern-day blues. We feel very fortunate to be able to play reggae music.

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Q: How did you get involved in all this?

A: Well, my dad was a total jazz head. We had to put up with him and his jazz and a big bottle of wine until 2 a.m. Even from the crib I remember hearing Ray Charles and Louis Armstrong, then I'd sing myself to sleep. I used to hold the vacuum cleaner cord and pretend I was Michael Jackson. I also had older brothers who were into Tower of Power and Chicago, stuff like that.

I saw Bob Marley at the S.B. County Bowl when I was 14, and I knew I had to do something with reggae music, but I didn't know where or when. I picked up a guitar in '88 and I took voice lessons at S.B. City College. My teacher, Curtis Dixon, gave me a lot of confidence, and told me I had a beautiful voice. I met my guitarist Luis Medrano, and we decided to start a group. We got everybody together the week of the L.A. riots and right away we knew we had something.

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Q: Where was your first gig?

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