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Upside Ska plays a Nov. 19 streaming benefit concert for the Morro Bay National Estuary Program 

Who's your favorite old-school ska band? I'm not asking about 2 Tone, ska punk, or Third Wave ska; I'm talking about all the way back to the late '50s and '60s, back when Bob Marley was a clean-shaven lad singing "Simmer Down" with Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. I'm talking about Desmond Dekker, Prince Buster, and The Skatalites.

They were the progenitors of ska—kids in Jamaica picking up R&B sounds from New Orleans radio stations and mixing in Caribbean mento and calypso and popping out songs like "Forward March" by Derrick Morgan and "Freedom Sounds" by The Skatalites and "My Boy Lollipop" by Millie Small and "Pressure Drop" by Toots and the Maytals.

click to enlarge SKA FOR THE ESTUARY On Nov. 19, Upside Ska plays a livestream concert from the SLO Brew stage to benefit the Morro Bay National Estuary Program, available on the Big Big SLO website. - PHOTO COURTESY OF UPSIDE SKA
  • Photo Courtesy Of Upside Ska
  • SKA FOR THE ESTUARY On Nov. 19, Upside Ska plays a livestream concert from the SLO Brew stage to benefit the Morro Bay National Estuary Program, available on the Big Big SLO website.

These early ska sounds are what inspires Morro Bay ska act Upside Ska, fronted by Eric Cotton, who in the '80s fronted Rock Steady Posse, arguably SLO Town's most popular club band. Cotton eventually moved north to the Bay Area, where he's had a long career fronting the supergroup The Cheeseballs, which specializes in cover songs of all genres. Cotton is super versatile!

A couple of years ago, he returned to SLO County and for fun teamed up with Rock Steady Posse's old trumpet player Paul Irving to form this old-school ska act, which also features Jacob Odell (guitar), Dylan Johnson (bass), Antiye Mensah (drums), Lucas Pearson (keys), Brian Conaway (alto and tenor sax), and Brett Malta (trombone). A lot of these players come from Irving's Afro-Cuban band Zongo All-Stars, so they're tight!

They play classic covers as well as a few select originals, and on Thursday, Nov. 19, from 6 to 8 p.m., they'll be streaming a benefit concert live from the SLO Brew Rock stage on Big Big SLO's webpage to raise money for The Morro Bay National Estuary Program, which has been protecting and restoring the estuary for people and wildlife since 1995. After the show, stay for a screening of the award-winning documentary short, Of Marshes and Morros.

You can register for your free ticket for Beats for the Bay at, where you can also make donations. Best of all, every donation will be matched dollar for dollar up to $20,000.

"With COVID-19 health precautions and travel restrictions, more people are turning to nature for recreation and relaxation," Estuary Program Executive Director Lexie Bell noted. "In Morro Bay, this means more feet on trails, more watercraft where the birds rest, and more trash to fit into the same number of cans. Throughout this trying time, the Estuary Program has been hard at work to keep our beautiful bay clean, healthy, and wild. Donations from Beats for the Bay will help us respond effectively to these increasing demands on our beautiful bay."

According to event organizers, "Homegrown lifestyle brand ESTERO is pitching in to the cause, too. ESTERO regularly donates 20 percent of the proceeds from their Estuary Line gear sales to the Estuary Program. They will be increasing that donation and giving 50 percent of proceeds for Estuary Line gear through Dec. 3. This will also be part of the matching donation program. ESTERO hoodies, T-shirts, hats, stickers, and other goodies are available at and at Joe's Surfboard Shop in Morro Bay."

Join the effort to protect the bay and get down to some wicked-good ska music and Upside Ska's monster horn section!

Slow burning blues

When I think of local singer-songwriter Ynana Rose's music, I think Americana. Her gorgeous song "Mendocino Sunrise" won second place in last year's NTMA's Country/Folk/Americana category. This year her track "Trouble" won second in the R&B/Blues genre, and it's a sultry, sexy, doomed track about being inevitably drawn to a troubled romance.

"I wasn't looking for trouble," she sings. "You brought it right to my door. Like nectar from the vine, like a drop of forbidden wine, I tasted your kind of love before. No I don't want trouble because I know what you'll do. You'll leave me broke and lonely dear, oh crying for something true. No I can't pay the price for trouble like you. Beautiful trouble like you."

"'Trouble' is a slow cooking blues tune about frustration and desire," Ynana explained via email. "I wrote it years ago as an honest exorcism, sexy and fun and freeing. Recently I handed it over to Damon Castillo (co-producer, sound engineer) and said, 'I don't have the blues band needed to carry this live, but if you like it, I trust you to do the right things to it,' and he did. The narrator of this song knows that this lover's invitation won't bring her peace of mind, but she can't seem to turn away. I have spent an inordinate amount of time in my life yearning for unattainable or unavailable experiences and people, and this song speaks to that yearning."

Not only is the song terrific, but Castillo's production and accompaniment brings it to a whole new level. He plays rhythm and lead guitar, bass, and other instrumentation. He enlisted Kristian Ducharme on Hammond B3 organ and Wurlitzer to add a little groove grease to the track. Paul Griffith is on drums. The single is available at all the usual places: Spotify, Soundcloud, Apple Music, Amazon, and there's also a neat lyric video created by Grant Thorshov on YouTube. Look it up! You won't be disappointed. Δ

Contact Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey at

A sultry, sexy, doomed track about being inevitably drawn to a troubled romance, singer-songwriter Ynana Rose's 2nd place R&B/Blues NTMA-winning entry! Video by Grant Thorshov

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