Star-Spangled Skankin'

Ditch the masses on the grasses this Independence Day and revel in your freedom with bouncy swing tempos, jazzy brass instruments, dance-igniting beats, and most importantly, a powerful swamp cooler.

On Monday, July 4, several Arizona bands, including Captain Squeegee and the Soap Suds, The Dietrichs, and Tucson's Kool Shades, will celebrate our nation's 229th birthday with a genre of music that doesn't exactly come from the United States, during the Skadependence Day music extravaganza.

The roots of ska stem from Jamaica's own battle for independence in the early '60s. When the music caught on in the States during the '80s, the style evolved into more of a punk- and rock-oriented sound. Because the music was created as a rallying point for freedom fighters, the ska community tends to encourage uninhibited expression.

Between 1994 and 1997, the Valley saw an influx of ska from local bands like Kongo Shock, Dave's Big Deluxe and Warsaw. Liz Dietrich, lead singer of The Dietrichs, says the fans in the local scene still dig the ska sound. "The kids who come to our shows are the most supportive, funny, interesting, loyal, outgoing people we've ever met," she says. "They've traveled all over Arizona to see us play over and over again."

Likewise, guitarist Jill Nahajewski, of Phoenix-based ska group WorkShirt Wonder, believes the music's appeal surfaces during live shows, and even those unfamiliar with ska enjoy the constant exchange of energy between the dance-happy crowd and the band's enthusiastic performers. "Whenever we play an event that is outside our genre, we are frequently approached by either people who have never heard this kind of music before or by people who enjoy ska, yet had no idea it existed locally," says Nahajewski.

The Phoenix ska scene boasts "ska nights" at Four White Walls on the first Saturday of each month. Additional exposure comes from local ska-punk record label Bad Stain Records, which holds the annual Arizona Ska Punk Awards show. Even The Edge 103.9 has gotten into the mix, according to Nahajewski. "They have really shown interest in the local ska scene and have been talking about plans for future events," she says.

JRC, Trunk Space co-owner and host of Skadependence, feels the event will draw a huge crowd, even on a holiday. "Ska concerts draw more people in Phoenix than any other local music acts," he says. "It means something that all the big ska bands make sure to play Phoenix when they tour."

While Skadependence celebrates freedom sans fireworks, the festival will be inside a climate-controlled environment, with less of a crowd to wade through during and after the concerts. Bottled water, iced coffee and ice cream will be served.

And what else can somebody expect during what may be their very first Skadependence Day?

"A whole lotta everything," says JRC. "We're trying to make sure that it will be a really high-energy show with lots of good attitude. Like traditional ska, there will be some political and social messages mixed in, but it won't be heavy-handed."

And it will definitely be cooler than the outdoors.