It was 10 p.m. in Little Haiti and the party at Churchill’s Pub was already in full swing. Out on the back patio, Stephen Flynn spun deep cuts from the golden era of dub and reggae for all the smokers and drinkers.
The collection of people gathered spanned subcultures from rudys in Trilby hats to punks sporting studded jackets and foot-high mohawks.
Inside, the horn fury and skank dancing was well underway with The Duppies, a ska outfit out of Gainesville who are accompanying The Slackers for the Florida leg of their tour. Though much less known than the tour headliner, The Duppies still put out a high voltage performance.
“Gas is expensive,” said singer Brian Heibel as he pointed the audience to the pool tables, where merch sites were set up for The Duppies and The Slackers.
Perhaps 20 minutes went by before The Slackers, sharply clad in suits and sportcoats, took the stage.
And when they got going, there was no stopping them.
The stage area was packed wall to wall with sweaty, jumping, fist-pumping youths swinging their arms and legs in time with the music.
The Slackers played songs spanning their career as a band and their audience danced and sang along the whole way, never missing a beat. The band even played a beachy cover of Bob Dylan’s, “I Shall Be Released.”
As the show ran later, pits began forming among the throngs. People flung themselves into each other, careening across the opening formed when others refused to be caught in the mayhem.
There came a point when a couple guys almost came to a brawl. Toward the front of the stage, one man violently pushed another on the shoulder, shouting some obscenity inaudible against the massive sound of heavily amplified ska. It was broken up when a brave girl threw herself between the two and others intervened to pull them apart.
All this happened right in front of the stage next to saxophonist “Disco” Dave Hillyard and bassist Marcus Geard.
“Just make sure your good time doesn’t affect anybody else’s good time,” said Hillyard between songs.
Still, the energy in the crowded bar was overflowing. There was no more malicious pushing and shoving, but people were still getting tossed around like rag dolls as the crush pressed toward the stage and fell back again and again.
Toward the end of the show, the band quit playing the planned set and worked off of suggestions from the audience. Fans screamed the names of dozens of songs that had yet to be touched on after nearly an hour of playing. Picking a few as they went along, The Slackers whipped the crowd into a final frenzy of arm-in-arm circle dancing with one of their classic tunes, “Keep It Simple.”
For their encore, they played a little performed extended version of their smoky, anti-cop song, “Soldier.” The song featured a number of instrumental solos including a harmonica solo by guest player Gustavo Lezcano.
The whole thing was over by midnight and the masses began to thin. Some stayed by the bar or drank their booze in the parking lot. The live music stopped, but the vibes lingered. And it was only Sunday night.