When event organizer Blake Morneau is asked to describe Victoria’s annual Ska & Reggae Festival, his response is instantaneous: “Groovy. International. Inclusive. Colourful.” There’s a lot of love being poured into this year’s festival, and it shows— with a pumped-up online presence, a myriad of Ska Fest-sponsored cars advertising the festival across Victoria and the Lower Mainland, and over 40 bands from 9 different countries, the festival is lined up to be nothing short of explosive.
Celebrating its 19th anniversary this month, Ska Fest has long been hailed as one of the most anticipated and distinctive Canadian summer music festivals in recent history. While the roots of the festival are firmly planted in Jamaican-rooted ska and reggae, the festival has made a name for itself by welcoming rhythms and grooves from an array of genres. “If you’re a music fan, there’s bound to be something for you,” says Morneau.
This year’s festival is making a point to bring together local and international talent. Scattered across over 5 of the most atmospheric venues Victoria lays claim to, fans are already clamouring for acts like New York-based headliners Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad, local 1970’s-inspired Phonosonics, reggae mega-star Freddie McGregor, veteran hard-partiers SweetLeaf, and South Korea’s Kingston Rudieska.
an annual reunion of best friends,” says Chris Jones of SweetLeaf. “[There’s] an incredible vibe that comes with ska and reggae music. The venues are in the perfect locations in the city, and the festival has a following that has been supporting the scene for almost two decades.”
Known for their electric stage presence and ‘raunchy’ spin on ska, SweetLeaf is celebrating their 5th consecutive year of dominating Ska Fest’s Upstairs Cabaret stage. Promising a 75-minute set “packed with barn-burners”, SweetLeaf will be shining a spotlight on their new single, “Gold”, as well as songs from their latest album.
Sound too rowdy to be a family-friendly event? Spencer Cleave, bandleader behind the Phonosonics, dismisses the notion with humour. “The Ska Fest’s free shows in particular make for a mellow family vibe where everyone is welcome,” he says. “The Ship Point venue is one of those free stages and nicely shows off what an amazingly beautiful city Victoria is.
With tickets retailing for between $14 to $35—with 6 of the 14 shows being free— it’s no wonder why Ska Fest is still the longest-running festival of its kind in North America. Tempted? Then clear your schedules from June 20th to 24th, because this Ska Fest promises to be one to remember.