Ska Against Racism Tour Highlights Ska's Roots

Tour carries message of racial tolerance and reminder of ska's origins.

The way Vinnie Lee, drummer for ska-punkers Less Than Jake, sees it, the

type of ska that has become popular over the past year has nothing to do

with the music's colorful and politically outspoken past.

"It's totally forsaken its political roots," Lee said Monday.

"Party ska bands get radio play, but if you look at a more politically minded

group like Less Than Jake, you'll never see them on the radio."

In an effort to remind people where ska came from as well as raise public

consciousness about racial tolerance, Lee and his bandmates agreed to headline the Ska

Against Racism tour.

Hoping to encourage racial tolerance through the musical event, Ska Against

Racism -- which opened last Thursday with a tour stop in Auburn, Wash. --

features headliners Less Than Jake joining a ska army that includes the

Toasters, Blue Meanies, Mustard Plug, Five Iron Frenzy, MU330 and Kemuri,

along with tour organizer and former Skankin' Pickle member Mike "Bruce Lee"

Park.

Also along for the ride on the 35-date tour -- which heads through major cities,

including Dallas next Wednesday, New York on April 23, and Denver on May 5

-- are Anti-Racist Action, Artists for a Hate-Free America and the Museum of

Tolerance, each of whom will raise money through the proceeds for the event.

The tour ends May 10 with a stop in Helena, Mont.

Park said he agreed with Lee's assessment of the ska scene and had organized the tour as a

direct response. "It was like, let's remember what the original idea

behind ska was," Park said in reference to the genre's diverse roots. To get

things rolling, Park said he called up his friends in a wide variety of ska bands,

all of whom were eager to be involved. "There was no stress," Park said.

"They were all, like, 'cool, we'll do it.' "

The tour has thus far played three dates, and by all accounts it has been a

success. "I've been walking around and selling merchandise after my set,"

Park said, "and I've had a lot of people thank me for putting this

together."

Robert "Buck" Hingley, frontman for the Toasters and a participant in anti-racist

concerts for 15 years, said he was confident that this event would have an

impact on its audience both musically and philosophically. "I think people are

into it," he said. "The average age of the audience is younger than we're used to

playing to, but they seem really, really aware of the issues."

According to Jonathan Boyer, musical liaison for the Museum of Tolerance,

the younger skew of the Ska Against Racism audience is precisely the reason

why the museum wanted to be involved. "The truth of the matter is, in my

opinion, that kids get their political and racial views from home discussion,

either directly or just by osmosis," Boyer said. "While it may not be proper to

question their parents' beliefs at home," he continued, "maybe they'll relax

enough while listening to the music to become open to different views."

While he acknowledged that "after a few beers, a lot of people show their true

colors," Boyer also said he thought that a concert setting was an

ideal place to educate people about tolerance. "In a rock 'n' roll atmosphere, we

can catch as many people as possible and hopefully establish

some building blocks toward tolerance," he said. "If we reach just one

person, then it's great. If that one person is proactive with the

information and grows wings," he continued, "that's even better."

For his part, Park wants people to walk out of the show with a smile on

their face and information in their brain. "I don't expect people to walk

out of the show thinking 'let's go smash racism now,' " Park explained. "But

I do want them to come out thinking that it was an amazing show that was a

positive atmosphere. I want them to feel good about tolerance."