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27 Sep 2017

Ska Stardom: Reel Big Fish Gets Set to Perform at the Desert Oasis Music Fest

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Reel Big Fish. Reel Big Fish. Jonathan Thorpe

In the 1990s, when the ska-revival movement was in full swing, you probably heard of a band called Reel Big Fish.

Reel Big Fish made its way into the hearts of MTV viewers and rock-radio listeners with the 1997 hit single “Sell Out.” That ska-revival movement of the 1990s soon faded away, as did much of Reel Big Fish’s popularity. However, the band is still performing—and remains one hilarious good time.

See for yourself when Reel Big Fish performs on Sunday, Oct. 8, as part of the Desert Oasis Music Festival at the Empire Polo Fields.

Frontman Aaron Barrett is the only original member remaining in the band. However, Billy Kottage, the band’s trombonist since 2013, said during a recent phone interview that the band remains in high demand.

“The Warped Tour is a huge reason for that,” said Barrett. “That’s been a staple throughout the band’s career. Certain bands find success because they have a hit on the radio or they get that one song like ‘Sell Out,’ but most bands have an original following that falls off eventually. Because we’ve done the Warped Tour every two or three years, we always keep getting new fans. People who are in their early teenage years want to go to the Warped Tour and see bands, and we have parents bringing their kids now; 1997 was 20 years ago. We’ve never gotten off the road. Certain bands will take years off, but Reel Big Fish has not taken a year off. … We’ll play over 200 shows a year, or more. That’s what you have to do these days. If you stop touring, they’ll forget about you.”

Kottage said Reel Big Fish is also a hit internationally.

“We play all over the world,” he said. “We played in Indonesia last year. We played in Thailand and Japan, and we play just about all of the continents, except for Antarctica. It might be from some commercial success or Internet success—I don’t really have an explanation for it—but we’re bigger internationally than we are here. We’re about to go do a tour in October in England. We’re about to go do 14 dates in 2,000-capacity venues in a country that’s the size of California. It’s kind of crazy.”

The last recording Reel Big Fish released was a Christmas EP in 2014. The band has not released a full-length album since 2012’s Candy Coated Fury, and Kottage said it’s hard to say when Reel Big Fish will next record a new album.

“We just recorded a month ago for a Halloween compilation that’s 0 percent ska and actually 100 percent metal. But we had a great time recording that,” he said. “I think in the next few months, it might happen, but maybe it might not happen. Who knows?”

Ska music’s popularity waxes and wanes—and it might be making yet another resurgence. Kottage said he can’t explain ska’s up-and-down popularity.

“It’s hard for me to say, because ska has never really gone away for me, because I’m playing it in more than 200 shows a year,” he said. “As far as a resurgence goes, I think that comes with the bands people have latched onto. Streetlight Manifesto was like that, but now The Interrupters are the band that’s like that, and they have a big following. It’s having the right music at the right time.”

Kottage said he and his bandmates are looking forward to the Desert Oasis Music Festival.

“We’re going to get there the night before, and Steel Pulse is playing that night, and I know we’re all huge Steel Pulse fans, and that’s exciting,” he said. “The lineup in general is exciting. We won’t get to see a lot of bands the first day, but we’re going to try hard to see Steel Pulse. We all like reggae a lot. We play a lot more punk shows than reggae shows, but I think we all wish we played more reggae festivals. We played that 311 cruise this year, and we all had a great time playing that. It’s cool to hook up with bands that you don’t get to see a lot, especially when you tour in the same circles and see a lot of the same faces.”

Reel Big Fish will perform at the Desert Oasis Music Festival on Sunday, Oct. 8, at the Empire Polo Fields, located at 81800 Avenue 51, in Indio. Passes start at $99. For tickets or more information, visit www.desertoasismusicfestival.com

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