Volume 13, Issue 31 ~ August 4 - 10, 2005

Feature Stories
photo by Carrie Steele
Breaking into new territory, the ska-influenced band 23 Skadoo.

Breaking the Rules of the Roadhouse
Ska meets Chesapeake Country at Crownsville’s Rams Head
by Carrie Steele

Two guys drinking at Rams Head Roadhouse expected Darth Vader as the Star Wars villain’s theme song resounded through the bar.

“I liked the Imperial March,” said Andrew Teeters. “I thought Darth Vader was going to walk through the door.”

The Dark Side vanished as the rock-ska band 23 Skadoo switched into a fast-tempo rock repertoire that jolted the roadhouse’s country-western atmosphere, emphasized by a pair of chaps, bullwhip and a taxidermied ram’s head on the walls near the lighted stage.
New Band in Town

The Baltimore-based sextet 23 Skadoo takes its show on the road to play bars and festivals from Salisbury to Morgantown. But the Roadhouse is a rare stop in a region that hears few ska beats. This band had played Annapolis only once before.

“We’re the only thing around doing this type of stuff,” said saxophonist Tim Brown.

Breaking into new territory is edgy fun for the horn-driven band backed by drummer Jon John Michaud and a pair of guitarists, Jesse Stern and Cord Neal on bass. Singer Rená Mosier makes six.

“It’s always exciting going into a new venue because you never know what to expect,” said trombonist Tyras Madren. “Playing so many different cities, we have to appeal to very different types of audiences.”

To grab unknown audiences, their play list mixes up a Reel Big Fish cover, “Take on Me,” and their original piece “Pop Star,” with ska versions of the Eagles’ “Hotel California” and the Mighty Mighty Bostones’ “Everybody’s Better.” And so on through a list of some 36 songs.

At each new stop, there’s anxiety as well.

“I’m excited but nervous,” said saxophonist Brown after the first set. “This is an intimate revue, and there’s a good crowd that’s steady, listening and not completely ignoring us. It’s not all about us, but we’re here to entertain. They either love us or hate us.”

photo by Carrie Steele
23 Skadoo performed an easy-to-dance-to groove.
Round about Midnight
Friday night’s after-work and dinner crowd at the Rams Head Roadhouse on General’s Highway in Crownsville — formerly Rudy’s Tavern — collected by the bar and tables while 23 Skadoo set up their monitors, speakers, drum set, sound board and instruments in a room off to the side, divided only by a short wall from the main area.

Before the music started, clusters of people made their way to the band’s side of the room.

“We’ve never heard ska music,” said Reed Carroll of Millersville, a 40-something whose co-worker recommended the genre. A fan of classic rockers like the Eagles and James Taylor, Carroll then sampled ska on the internet. “What intrigues me is the brass section,” he said.

Martha and Tom Lord came to hear live music and liked the addition of horns in the band. They listened meekly through the first ear-blasting set, then migrated closer to dance to “Material Girl.”

“I thought they were going to be old guys,” said Jean McCugchan of Annapolis, who reported that she and her friends planned on leaving after dinner but were pleasantly surprised, as she has a thing for ’80s music.

When the clock struck midnight, the crowd metamorphosed.

Sometime during the second set, the crowd got young. “Sell Out,” a Reel Big Fish cover with a heavy modern ska flavor, brought out three young couples — wearing flip-flops and Easter egg-colored polo shirts — to bop as the tunes led them.

“The dinner crowd’s left. Now it’s the people who work too hard and want to blow off steam on the weekend,” saxophonist Brown said.

As the third set ripened into the end of the night, a herd of college-age dancers had migrated to the open dance floor in front of the band. With carefree rhythms they swayed, jumped and stepped to the beat.

One of them — “Morgan,” sporting a yellow-and-green striped polo shirt and a necklace of quarter-sized, spherical pink beads — thought he’d skip auditioning and join the band himself, crowing out lead singer Mosier. Brown’s girlfriend rescued the band by grabbing Morgan’s hand and returning him to the dancing audience.

New Sound in a Strange Place
“The most difficult place to play is bars that are frequented by the locals because they’re more demanding,” said trombonist Madren. “They’re there every weekend, and they see all these bands coming through. When you’re able to get a bar like that rockin’, then you’ve really done your job.”

Playing a strange place is like a blind date for both crowd and band — until they find out if the music is a good fit.

“Being in a large ska band, we never know what their set up is and if we’ll have enough room on stage,” says Madren, whose slide trombone demands room. At the Roadhouse, the stage is spacious and level with the dance floor. Musicians weren’t crowded even when dancers drew close.

Nor does a road band know what kind of crowd to expect. “We recently played a show out in West Virginia where the crowd isn’t interested in ’90s pop music,” said Madren. “But we got a great response when we played some of the old classic tunes.”

Lead singer and bassist Neal has shaped a loud and brash band that flavors rock with ska in both cover songs spanning decades and their original tunes.

“We’re actually more of a rock band with a modern ska influence, so our sound barely resembles the original ska sound,” says Madren. “But we like to keep ska alive by incorporating it into modern music.”
raditional ska is reggae’s older, faster, livelier cousin. Plus there’s a horn section — usually some mix of trombone, saxophone and trumpet.

To define its style, adds singer Rená Mosier, the band “takes a song and puts our own twist on it — our own riffs and musical time.”

It’s a style that caught the ears of Roadhouse regulars, who know to expect different bands and musicians each week.

Roadhouse manager Michael Rhodovi even sported a 23 Skadoo T-shirt for the evening.

“Yeah, we’d have them back,” he said. “They’re a different experience than what we usually have.”

As for the band, “we totally feed off of the crowd’s energy,” said Madren, “When the crowd’s having a good time, we really get into the performance.”

Singer Mosier agreed. “I get my energy from the people who attend the show, and they get their energy from us.”

Hear the band and see where they’re playing next: www.23skadoo.com.

Music at Rams Head Roadhouse every Tu,F,Sa 10pm @ 1773 Generals Highway, Annapolis: 410-849-8058.

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