Mask it up! Popular Va. ska festival set to skank, seeks to extend reach

A perennially popular Virginia-based music festival is attempting to expand its reach, as the recent surge in coronavirus cases threatens the just-reopened live music industry.

“The Supernova International Ska Festival is dedicated to the music of ska, which is a precursor to reggae, which started in Jamaica in the late ’50s, early ’60s, and has spanned the world,” said Tim Receveur, who founded the festival in Fredericksburg, Virginia, in 2014.

This year, the festival has relocated.

“We’ve got about 40 bands coming to the Hampton Roads area, Sept. 17 through the 19, with about 30 hours of music through the weekend,” he said. While three-day passes are sold out, single-day passes are still on sale.

In addition, the festival has launched a Kickstarter fundraising page to livestream 30 hours of music over the weekend.

Receveur said he’s always loved ska music.

“It was really big in the late ’90s, when I was in my 20s,” he said. “We wanted to showcase some of these bands that we loved, so we brought them together, and sort of expanded over the years.”

In addition to locally based ska bands like The Pietasters, The Skunks, The Loving Paupers, Eastern Standard Time, Thirteen Towers, and The Scotch Bonnets, the upcoming lineup will bring international acts to the 2021 Supernova festival.

“Bands as early as The Skatalites, from the ’60s in Jamaica, Dr. Ring Ding from Germany and bands from the U.K. are coming to the festival,” said Receveur.

Enmeshed in the punk and new wave music of the late 1970s and early 1980s, overseas bands like The Specials, Madness, The English Beat, and Bad Manners spawned U.S. bands including Fishbone, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and No Doubt, featuring future solo artist and Grammy winner Gwen Stefani.

“Kids who started in their 20s are now in their 40s, and we’re starting to see more and more kids coming to the festival with their parents,” said Receveur. “Some of it is nostalgia for the ’90s right now, but we’re getting quite a diverse audience coming now.”

The festival, he said, is taking steps to make the event as safe as possible for attendees.

“We’re keeping attendance down because we want to encourage social distancing and masking. The entire festival is outdoors. It’s a huge, open area so we can practice what we preach on the distancing,” Receveur said.

Last year’s festival included prerecorded performances from artists, and Receveur said last year’s restrictions prompted discussions about the livestream.

“We were looking at how to expand the reach of this, and we wanted to make it accessible for everybody, regardless of COVID,” he said. “So we’re looking at bringing in HD cameras, three or four for every stage.”

While a musician casually streaming a performance with a smartphone has served a purpose, Receveur said the hope is to dramatically raise the technical bar.

“The cellphone video is great, and we’ll have some of that in the crowd, perhaps, but we’ve got professional videographers and technicians that will be there. We’ve got towers to capture all that and move stage to stage,” he said.

As of Tuesday morning, more than $6,200 had been pledged toward the festival’s $7,500 goal.

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Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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