Reggae Or Not, Here We Come

⢠More Ska! Rudie Onna Cumberland: A Short History of Ska

⢠More Ska!

Feature Story

Ska Weekend producer Ben Altom discovered last year that he had to have more help dealing with the cascade of logistical problems that ensues when trying to stage a major, outdoor music festival in another city.

The â“otherâ” city was Knoxvilleâ"Altom had moved to Nashville for his new job with financial services company Wells Fargo. Luckily, he had an old friend from Powell High Schoolâ"Kristen Cummingsâ"a born-to-organize type, according to Altom. She was to become his chief executive on the ground in Knoxville.

Her primary mission, however, has been to boost the event's reggae and â“classicâ” ska quotient. The overarching idea being to mellow things out a little and draw in a wider age-range crowd. Ska has been around several decades, but more recent permutations of the genre have a reputation for being targeted at boisterous college boys and skateboard punks. â“I like to think I more or less demanded it,â” she said of her assignment to bring in the slower riddims and relaxed vibes.

Cummings grew up singing along with Bob Marley songs, of course, but also with even earlier precursors of reggae like Johnny Nash's rocksteady "I Can See Clearly Now."

â“Reggae has always been special to me, but it became a major, active part of my life in Knoxville several years ago when I met Jati and Marla Allen of the Natti Lovejoys and began attending Camp Reggae.â” Camp Reggae is a reggae festival the Allens host in Polk County where they are based.

Cummings' first goal will be to work with the World Grotto proprietor Susie Dew to host the Ska Weekend pre-show Friday night at the World Grotto and Preservation Pub on Market Square. â“Dew already had Dubconscious from Athens, Ga. booked for the event. Because they were introduced to Knoxville by way of the Natti Lovejoys and Camp Reggae, we agreed to add the Lovejoys. The combination will result in an amazing evening. Susie is going to donate part of the door's proceeds to Second Harvest, and will be gathering canned goods at the door as well.â”

Cummings got her baptism by fire working with Altom on last year's Ska Weekensd. â“I had little idea of how much I did not know. â‘It was a team-building year.' Isn't that what we say in Knoxville, when a season goes poorly? A great deal was learned, the show went on, and the possibilities for future years seemed immense. Coming into this Ska Weekend, I was wiser, much more prepared.â”

Cummings, who will turn 24 in September, plans to resume studies at UT soon. However, as she arrived at the apex of the torturously steep music festival learning curve, she pondered her future. â“I do not know that I would have ever considered event-planning or promotions without Ska Weekend; no one really sets up that booth at career day amongst the dentists and real-estate agents. I do know that Ben and I would like to do this, for the music and for the cause, as long as there is a demand for it.â” â" J.R.


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