Ska is maybe the first kind of music that really, truly defined who I was as a fan and ambassador for what was at the time a cultural phenomenon. I cut my teeth during the 3rd Wave - that of Reel Big Fish and Mighty Mighty Bosstones taking over the airwaves fame - and really went full-tilt into the music while only dabbling with the aesthetics. A Rude Boy more in spirit than in look, I guess. For every breakthrough artist, though, there were a dozen or more bands that might have flirted with popularity outside of The Scene, but never really caught on quite the same in the mainstream. Bands like Michigan’s own Mustard Plug, for instance.
If you were a fan of Ska in the 90’s - or hell, if you’ve just become a fan of Ska over the past few years - you know the name Mustard Plug. Heralds of the 3rd Wave, their blend of hyperkinetic punk rock with danceable upstrokes, unique horn lines, and a tongue-in-cheek stage presence that often belies their more serious output, Mustard Plug made their return to the area for the first time since… I honestly don’t remember. It’s been at least 20 years since I’ve seen them (anyone remember The Garage? The Plea for Peace or Ska Against Racism Tours?). Along for the ride, Todd Hembrook of Deal’s Gone Bad and NKY’s very own The Newport Secret Six brought Ska of all flavors to the stage and made for one hell of a night.
Starting the show in a surprise appearance - there were some lineup changes just hours before things got going - Todd Hembrook of Ska/Reggae/Rocksteady legends Deal’s Gone Bad played an acoustic set of soulful, playful tracks that had him bring out members of Mustard Plug to round things out. Quieter than the sets that followed, it was a really nice way to ease into the night - a delightful performance start to finish.
Next, NKY Ska/Reggae/Rocksteady outfit The Newport Secret Six were kind of a big revelation for me. I wasn’t hip to what they’d been up to, and I feel all the poorer for it! What an outstanding set from a group of incredibly talented musicians - energetic and soulful, hewing closely to the basic tenets of the genre sandboxes they’re kicking around in while putting their own spin on the sound. Truly great set from a great local act.
Mustard Plug is one of the few bands who more or less blew up during the heyday of the late 90’s, and quietly kept going even after a lot of folks put away their Doc Martens and donated all their black and white checkered clothing to Goodwill. Having them grace the stage of the region's best locally owned and operated music venue, The Southgate House Revival, wasn’t just a nostalgic trip down music memory lane for me and many others, it was an even more potent reminder that for us true believers, Ska never really went away.
Their set was an awesome overview of their entire catalog, going all the way back to one of the first tracks they ever wrote and recorded. They broke out their cover of The Verve’s “The Freshman,” played some tracks from one of my personal favorite albums, Evildoers Beware, and made sure to put a light on some of their most recent output, last year’s outstanding Bad Time Records debut, Where Did All My Friends Go? And they even managed to fake murder a dude on stage during a song about a serial killer.
I have to mention, too, that it was truly wild to see a couple dozen folks of various generations dancing together in front of the stage in the Year of Our Lord Taylor Swift, 2024. Skanking? In this economy? WILD.
All in all - and as I’ve mentioned on various social media channels - I had way, way too much fun. I got to see some old friends, ran into some new acquaintances, and even made a few new friends before I walked out into the chilly Kentucky night. And I think that’s what’s so wonderful about the Ska community, no matter where I’ve been a part of it - we’re all friends, even if we don’t know it yet. Thanks for the much needed reminder, Mustard Plug. Now please come back around a bit sooner next time, yeah?