Local reggae band’s homecoming

by Chris Jay

If Jamaica is universally hailed as the birthplace and spiritual home of reggae, one could make a fine case that the 805 music scene, from Ventura to San Luis Obispo, is its North American equivalent. While the music business has been devastated on virtually all fronts — which naturally has trickled down and severely affected local scenes — reggae, at least in these parts, remains the soundtrack of choice. Perhaps it’s the year-round summer climate and laid-back beach and surf culture that comes with it that leaves locals not able to get enough of the genre’s offbeat rhythm and stoner-friendly grooves.

Need proof? Just take a trip to our local indie record landmark, Salzers Records, where items adorned with the likeness of reggae god Bob Marley, ranging from the usual (posters and T shirts) to the strange (Marley herbal iced teas), are top sellers. Or how about the fact that the last two local bands to build a large enough following to sell out our flagship venue Ventura Theater — Rey Fresco and Dirty Rice — are both reggae-centric bands? Last, but certainly not least: Just this past summer a popular multi-genre local music festival decided to go with an all-reggae line up, and despite the narrow sonic view, the turnout was one of the best they’ve ever had.

Here in our own private reggae paradise, the hands-down kings of the scene are none other than Santa Barbara’s own, Rebelution.

Formed in 2004 by a few reggae-loving UCSB students, the band cut its chops playing the legendary house party scene in Isla Vista. These keg-fueled parties soon turned into trips to downtown Santa Barbara clubs and the release of an EP. Almost instantly, the band gained a following and buzz for being not just a solid reggae band whose music had a message, but also the ultimate party band with a following of college girls that attracted (you guessed it) college guys. After the entire band graduated school, they opted to see if they could reproduce, on a national level, the formula that had led them to being easily the 805’s most popular reggae band, if not the most popular band in the country.

In 2007, with the extremely supportive reggae community’s help, Rebelution’s Courage to Grow took more than a few industry insiders by surprise, receiving national radio play on influential stations like KROQ and Live 105.5. It also hit No. 4 on the Billboard reggae charts, a major achievement for an independent band whose sales were bolstered by grassroots word-of-mouth campaigning.

The follow up, Brightside of Life, was even more successful, becoming the No. 1 reggae album in the country. Relentless touring followed, including almost every single reggae festival known to humankind as well as slots at famed festivals like Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo. There were also multiple trips overseas.

By the time of 2012’s Peace of Mind and 2014’s Count Me In, it wasn’t just the reggae charts the band was topping but also the top 10 of both Billboard and iTunes charts, putting the former UCSB frat-party band alongside some of the biggest names in music, redefining their place as one of the United States most popular touring reggae acts.

Despite the band’s still-growing following, and fans who refer to themselves as “rebelutionaries,” a base that has helped the band headline famed venues like Red Rocks as well as local outdoor institutions like the Santa Barbara Bowl, Rebelution has remained true to its local roots. A testament to this is their upcoming, nearly sold out two-night stand at the Ventura Theater.

So whether you’re with the majority who can’t get enough of the slow skank, or with the minority who thinks the influx of reggae and roots bands here in the 805 has reached ridiculous and embarrassing levels, like it or not, it’s Rebelution’s world; we just to happen to be living, no, grooving in it. 

Rebelution performs Saturday, March 12, and Sunday, March 13, at 7:30 p.m. at the Ventura Theater at 26 S. Chestnut St. For more information visit www.venturatheater.net.