Where: Palladium, Worcester, Massachusetts
When: August 25, 2018
Let’s get one thing straight here right off the bat: I have very little experience with ska music. It is not a genre that I typically listen to and the only ska band that I have seen live is Reel Big Fish (and only because I stumbled onto their set by accident at Warped Tour), so the inaugural Cranking and Skanking Fest was an experience that I was unprepared for.
The Worcester Palladium is my favorite venue to see shows. The Palladium has two stages, a large room downstairs that has hosted many of your favorite bands and a small room upstairs where many of your favorite bands have started out. An outdoor festival at the Palladium, though, is not a usual experience. The Cranking and Skanking Fest set up the main stage outdoors in the parking lot and used the smaller, upstairs stage as the second stage for performances. As with any festival, local food and beer vendors were also set up.
I arrived at the venue a couple of hours after doors had opened, right before Big D and the Kids Table hit the stage. The Boston-based band was energetic and took up the whole stage. Their time on stage was short, but every song was an audience favorite, especially “Noise Complaint.” Fishbone’s set started with vocalist Angelo Moore running through the crowd with a flag that had their logo on it and said, “Fuck Racism,” which set the tone for their entire set. Visually, Fishbone was very striking, because it was an interesting kind of a mishmash. Moore wore a nice suit, while the rest of the band was much more casual; drummer Phillip “Fish” Fisher sat with his back to the audience, which was off-putting since it is usually so much fun to watch drummers. Performance-wise, they were extremely energetic. Keyboardist Chris Dowd’s keyboard was on a swivel which he would rotate around constantly; the audience thoroughly enjoyed their set and were jumping up and down the whole time. The Bouncing Souls, next on the stage, had an edgier sound than the bands that I had seen previously, with more of a punk rock influence and were the first band on with no horn section. A setlist that included songs like “Hopeless Romantic,” “That Song,” “East Coast! Fuck You,” “The Ballad of Johnny X,” “Kate Is Great,” and “True Believers” got the audience dancing around. The New Jersey-based band delivered exactly what the audience wanted and reaped the benefits in return.
Toots & The Maytals stole the show. The Jamaican band is one of the best-known ska groups in the world and played a big part in popularizing reggae music. The audience went absolutely nuts for the group and knew every word to every single song that they played; some of the songs on the setlist were “Reggae Got Soul,” “Pressure Drop,” “Monkey Man,” and more. It was a set that got everyone in the area on their feet and dancing along to the music. The band was superb, the backup vocalists were impressive, and Frederick “Toots” Hibbert was mesmerizing. Toots & The Maytals put on such an amazing set that very few bands would have been able to follow them. The Mighty Mighty BossTones are not just any band, though.
As sacred to Boston as Tom Brady, The Mighty Mighty BossTones are one of the most recognizable names in ska, even to the uninitiated. The band follows a similar lineup to a lot of ska bands, with the usual guitarist, drummer, bassist, horn section, and keyboardist; this band, though, also has dancer Ben Carr. The Mighty Mighty BossTones put on one of the most energetic performances of the entire festival, which is impressive considering the high quality of bands that had hit the stage before. The first song had barely started and a crowd surfer came rushing towards the security guards, followed by plenty more. The setlist was fun, including songs like “Dr. D,” “The Rascal King,” “Green Bay, Wisconsin,” “Graffiti Worth Reading,” “Everybody’s Better,” “Royal Oil,” “They Will Need Music,” a cover of Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now,” and “The Impression That I Get.” It was fun from start to finish and The Mighty Mighty BossTones is a band that you need to see, even if you have never listened to ska before.
This was the first of hopefully many more Cranking and Skanking Fests to come. The lineup was outstanding, and every aspect of the event was enjoyable.
Post and photos by Karen Shalev
Did you attend this festival? Comment below.
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