Last summer, local reggae band Dub Congress played their first show in 10 years. It was also the group’s 25th anniversary. In their active years between 1994 and 2009, they packed every club in town, played festivals, and toured up and down the West Coast. They even landed on the cover of Good Times in 2003.
But they weren’t sure if people would come see them play after 10 years absent from the scene. It turns out they packed that show, too.
“We were hoping people would remember us. We had no idea that it would be well-attended. That was a pleasant surprise,” says keyboardist Dan Shafer. “It was like a family reunion. People came out of the woodwork. It was really a magical night.”
The group never intended to stop playing. In 2009, they’d gotten older and were finding adult responsibilities like family and jobs were getting in the way, as well as some members moving out of the city. Playing gigs just felt too challenging.
“We all found that our lives were getting more complicated. That happens to a lot of bands. We just took a breather that ended up being longer than planned,” Shafer says.
During their time away, the members noticed how popular reggae has gotten in California, particularly bands associated with the feel-good “Cali-reggae” vibes. In 1994, there weren’t many local Santa Cruz reggae bands.
Many of the newer California reggae bands are influenced by bands like Sublime, Slightly Stoopid and the Expendables. And perhaps Dub Congress factored into the mix, too.
“Our reference point was always straight up Jamaican music. Traditional roots reggae and early dancehall music,” Shafer says. “I’m happy for anything that gets people interested. Maybe Dub Congress had some role in pushing along that Cali-reggae thing when it was a baby. I’d like to think so.”