By Zach Collier
Despite a worrisome hour of rain and thunder early yesterday evening before the show got under way, the weather for the August Rooftop Concert couldn’t have been any better. It was a lot cooler out than last month, but still warm enough to be pleasant. All the clouds from the brief storm headed north towards Lehi, leaving the sky clear and blue.
I approached Rooftop Concert Series from the west this time around, worried about not being able to find parking near University Avenue given the night’s headliner. I had every right to be concerned. Downtown was packed, and it was difficult to find a place to park even an hour before showtime. I ended up parking at 300 West Center, right across from the new Cowboy Partners apartment complex going in there. Parking across from a construction site isn’t ideal, but you know, when The Aquabats! are in town you do what you gotta do.
As I walked to Nu Skin Plaza, I was struck by how many people had shown up to tonight’s concert. I knew the draw for The Aquabats! was going to be huge, but I grossly underestimated how huge it would actually be. There were children and adults decked out in some pretty legit Aquabats! costumes. The children in particular just looked thrilled to be there, chasing each other around through the crowd or happily munching on a Banh Mi sandwich.
The booths were bustling with activity. It’s been fun to see the number of booths slowly grow over the course of the summer. Most of last night’s booths remained unchanged from the ones at Rooftop in July, with one major exception: the new Provo Power was out in full force, raising awareness about their services. They had information booths set up, gave out some sweet light up LED sticks for when the sun went down, and were even giving people rides in a Provo Power bucket truck. It was pretty cool.
Mad Max & the Wild Ones kicked the night off at 7:30PM with their raucous brand of rockabilly. It was impressive to see a group so young up on the Rooftop Stage. They were energetic, and you could tell they had a good time. It was a good introduction to the type of performance that would be on stage all night long.
My Man Friday followed shortly thereafter. This band was one of the heavy hitters in the Provo Ska scene during the latter half of the 90’s and reunited specifically for Rooftop Concert Series. Band member Caleb Chapman owns and operates Caleb Chapman’s Soundhouse – a nationally recognized music training school for young musicians. Graduates from its award-winning program are highly sought after by top-tier colleges and music schools across the country. Chapman was able to use his resources to reunite the 11-man band and get them ready for a killer show. Had The Aquabats! not been on the bill, these guys would have been the highlight of the evening. Their horn section brought their A-game, at one point transitioning from one of their songs into a Ska version of the Star Wars Cantina Song by composer John Williams. It was simultaneously hilarious and awesome.
The Aquabats! came on after a significant delay. The projector on stage wasn’t working, so a maintenance crew had to come on stage with a ladder and fix it. Even though it took forever, The Aquabats! were well worth the wait. After an excitement-building audio visual introduction, they exploded onto the stage, playing a live version of The Aquabats! Super Show! theme song. These guys put on such an incredible show. It makes sense that the The Aquabats! are one of the most enduring, legendary Ska acts of all time. When your guitarist plays his guitar while pretending to shoot it like a gun and giant inflatable bananas get thrown out into the audience while the band yells, “Go bananas!”, you know there’s something either special or insane about the group you’re watching. Maybe both.
Perhaps the most touching part of the night was when MC Bat Commander noticed a little girl get bumped in the crowd. He stopped the show and said, “Are you okay? Everyone, this little girl is a fan and she got pushed. Make sure you’re not shoving and you’re being respectful. We want to take care of our little ones.” Then it was right back into a high energy show. It was neat to see a performer so concerned about his audience, especially such a young and impressionable part of his fanbase.
Last night was an absolute blast. I never thought that I’d get to see The Aquabats! live, let alone for free. I was thoroughly impressed by My Man Friday and wish that I had been around during their heyday. This show was definitely a unique one. Ska is not a mainstream genre anymore, and Rooftop has never put on an all-Ska show. But, given Provo’s history, it makes sense.
In an interview with Utah Valley 360, Velour’s owner, Corey Fox, had this to say about Ska:
“This might be surprising to many people but I can honestly say that the foundation of the current thriving music scene in Provo was all built on Ska music! I grew up in this valley in the 1980’s and although I went to countless shows in SLC to see great touring bands, I never once went to a local band show in Utah Valley […] I think there were a handful of bands that existed within small college circles but nothing that excited the masses. That all changed in 1990 when Ska band Swim Herschel Swim exploded onto the scene or more accurately, created it […] Provo was becoming a Ska hub for national touring bands as well […] We were bringing in bands like The Aquabats!, Skankin’ Pickle, and Attaboy Skip (Who featured future rock stars Branden Campbell of Neon Trees and Ronnie Vannucci of The Killers). The excitement surrounding these large ska shows inspired bands of every genre to form and for touring bands like The Aquabats! to keep coming back to Provo […] The truth is that without the Ska Scene of the 90’s there would be no Velour and many of the success stories that have started on our stage. That bar of expectation that was set for me then has defined me as a band manager, promoter, and club owner ever since.”
It’s really cool that Rooftop Concert Series planned an entire show devoted to Provo’s musical history while exposing the city to an enduring musical act. I’m hoping that The Aquabats! show will pave the way for future Rooftop Concerts featuring national acts. Last night’s show was a success in many ways: It drew people from all over Utah County to Downtown Provo, helped legitimize the Provo music scene, and also helped connect a young act with seasoned professionals. The importance of Rooftop Concert Series and its influence over the music community here cannot be understated. Here’s to hoping its momentum will continue to build and help contribute to real growth in the city’s artistic community.
Make sure to like Rooftop Concert Series on Facebook for updates on future events. You can check out the “Aquabats! Super Show! Main Theme” below.