"You have to be good to play this music," says Chris Wise of the Hi-Lites, a North County--based ska band. "Anytime you have more than five members, it's hard to get people to practice. And when you play a gig you might get $100 or $150 for the whole band. We aren't doing this for the money."
According to Wise, the Hi-Lites must also deal with the fact that there isn't much local support for ska.
"Just last weekend we played a 12-band show at the Knitting Factory in L.A., and all three rooms were packed. You have to go two hours north of here to play a gig."
Wise notes that last fall's nationwide "Ska Is Dead" tour hit San Luis Obispo but avoided San Diego.
"It also hit a city called Orangevale, California. I guess Orangevale has a bigger ska scene than San Diego."
Wise recognizes that ska's popularity ebbs and flows; the early '80s and mid-'90s were boom years. He says existing ska fans came of age during waves of ska popularity, and younger potential fans aren't exposed to the music.
"There are only two all-age venues," says Wise, "and Soma won't even return any of my e-mails. The last time I was at Soma, I dropped off a demo [CD], the person took it, looked at it, and noticed it was ska and put it down like it was nothing. The Epicentre is a pay-to-play house, and we ain't doin' that. If there are only two venues in town and you can't play at one and the other is pay-to-play, the scene will basically die."
The Hi-Lites appear at the Ken Club December 2 and Squid Joe's December 9.