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MUSIC: Ventura County | ROCKTALK

Ska's the Limit

Carpinteria's the Upbeat takes its reggae-on-speed down to Ensenada.

September 18, 1997|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Upbeat out of Carpinteria play such an infectious and alluring brand of ska music that they could turn a sobriety checkpoint into a dance. Fortunately, that's one test neither the band nor their patrons will have to pass before, during or after their south-of-the-border gig in Ensenada this weekend.

A bus or buses (depending on ticket sales) will leave Ventura on Friday afternoon bound for Ensenada. For $125, riders get the bus trip plus two nights at a hotel, from which the beach is visible. The Santo Tomas Hotel is six doors from the venue, La Loteria, where the Upbeat play Friday and the Guy Martin Band does its version of the rockin' blues Saturday. If it were any more convenient, the bands would be playing in your living room.

Just five years ago, the Upbeat's entire advertising effort consisted of a sticker on the bathroom door at Toes Tavern in Santa Barbara. Now the world is virtually covered in Upbeat stickers, scores of the sartorially splendid wear their T-shirts, plus the Upbeat actually made a CD a couple of years ago.

"We've sold over 2,000 of them on our own, which helped us to get our music out to a lot of people. It got us motivated to keep making music," said bassist Brandon Seider. "We hope we won't have to do the next one on our own. We want to get a record contract."

More than a decade ago, the boys in the band (there's nine of them) could barely spell "ska," let alone nurture record label dreams, and were just a bunch of middle-class kids hanging out at the "World's Safest Beach" in Carpinteria. But then, at least for a little while, the radio play got really good.

"We were all like sophomores at Carp High School when we first heard that two-tone ska stuff by Selector, the English Beat, Madness and the Specials," said Seider. "Then it was, 'Hey, let's start a band.' We knew absolutely nothing about playing music. We started listening to and copying the music we liked, and gradually we started doing our own music."

Whether they were in step with what was happening musically, ahead or behind the times or just stubborn, the Upbeat persevered. And the world caught up with them.

"We've been so patient for so many years," said Seider. "Now there's a ska explosion worldwide and that can't hurt us."

Basically reggae on speed, ska is probably the most foot-friendly of all musical genres.

"One thing about ska," Seider said, "is that it's easy to dance to. People can do the ska-robics even if you don't know how to dance. Anybody goes to our shows, and we do a lot of all-ages shows and sometimes the kids get their parents involved."

* The Upbeat (Friday) and Guy Martin Band (Saturday) at La Loteria in Ensenada, Mexico. Bus leave parking lot of Alexander's in Ventura (Spinnaker and Harbor) at 2 p.m. Friday. $125 for both shows plus two days and nights at Santo Tomas Hotel. Call 488-3547.

*

Everything's Beachy: Hey, it's almost that time again for the Swap-Meet-by-the-Sea, oops, I mean this weekend's 12th annual California Beach Festival.

The music remains rather safe, but at least the locals are well represented. The Chamber of Commerce's favorite band, those rockin' Realtors out of Oxnard--Acadiana--do the Cajun and zydeco thing. Southern Cross plays acoustic dance music, which draws female dancers by the score. Papa-Nata does reggae-powered dance music from their Lion I's roots. Yahman, or "Yeah, man" to us, has just released an album of rockin' reggae. Finnhead plays tropical rock, or so they say.

Billy Vera and the Beaters have a vast repertoire of R & B songs, as Vera has been performing for 30 years. Little Charlie and the Nightcats play rockin' blues, the Jumpin' Jimes play swing and Tropical Squeeze is a Jimmy Buffett tribute band. Beatlemania will feature four guys sweating in those band uniforms.

* California Beach Festival, Ventura Beach Promenade. Saturday: Acadiana (Captain Morgan Stage) 10 a.m.; Yahman (Bud Pier Stage), 10 a.m.; Southern Cross (Captain Morgan Stage) 1 p.m.; Papa-Nata (Bud Pier Stage 1 p.m.); Beatlemania (Captain Morgan Stage) 3 p.m.; Jack Mack and the Heart Attack (Bud Pier Stage) 3:30 p.m. Sunday: Finnhead (Captain Morgan Stage) 10 a.m.; Tropical Squeeze (Bud Pier Stage) 10 a.m.; Little Charlie and the Nightcats (Bud Pier Stage) 1 p.m.; Billy Vera and the Beaters (Captain Morgan Stage) 3 p.m.; Jumpin' Jimes (Bud Pier Stage) 3 p.m. Parking $3 and $5; adults $6, seniors $4, kids under 12 free. Call 654-7830.

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