Love Your Local Band

Harbor House

LYLB-Harbor-HouseFolk, country, bluegrass—and ska? How does that old song go? One of these things is not like the other. That doesn’t seem to bother local trio Harbor House, who claim every single one of those genres as an influence, and even go so far as to call their genre “folk-ska.”

They don’t think it’s as weird as it might sound.

“There’s a lot of similarities between all these different genres. It’s kind of silly to try and specify too strongly,” says bassist Emma Shaw. “People have called us bluegrass before, but I just think we’re too small a band to be bluegrass. Maybe if we had a fiddle or a banjo.”

Visually, the band has more in common with a folk band than, say, a ska band. They are an acoustic trio with a big upright bass, two guitars and no drums—and definitely no horns. It’s fun dance music, like an old-timey, foot-stomping hootenanny, but there is an emphasis on the upbeat, high level of energy—like in ska—that comes directly from singer/guitarist Ian Spilman’s roots.

“The band I was in before this was a ska band. We aim to have a lot of that energy. We really want a party-going crowd,” Spilman says. “The music has those staccato hits on the second and fourth beat of every measure—it’s this beautiful mixture of old-style music and instruments with the younger generation’s approach to things.”

Since the band’s formation two years ago, they’ve become slightly less acoustic. Guitarist Mike McCarthy now plays electric guitar, and everyone else amplifies their acoustic instruments, but it’s still good old-fashioned folk-ska.

“It’s louder, so we can play bigger venues and for bigger crowds,” Spilman says. “We have one or two songs where I want people to mosh around and bump into each other a little bit. It’s more in the energy of punk music.”


INFO: 9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 16. Crepe Place, 1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. $8. 429-6994.

Contributor at Good Times |

Aaron is a hard-working freelance writer with a focus on music, art, food, culture and travel. In addition to Good Times, he's a regular contributor to Sacramento News & Review, VIA Magazine and Playboy. When he's not working, he's either backpacking, arguing about music or working on his book about ska. One thing's for sure—he knows more about ska than you.

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