The Keystone Ska Exchange is a Williamsport-based "straight ska outfit," according to the group's bio on Facebook.
Ska is a genre of music that got its start in the '50s as a reggae-influenced big band affair. Ska employs the reggae method of rocking hard on the downbeat while throwing in some big band instruments. Ska mixes horns, rhythm, guitar and reggae, and somehow the result is high-energy, rich, riotous fun.
That fun is precisely what the Keystone Ska Exchange promises at a show. The group's been playing since 2007 around the region and Zack Herbst, bassist and singer, is a breath of fresh air.
CRAIG S. MCKIBBEN JR.
"We just want the audience to have a great time," he said. "If we're having a great time, the crowd will."
And the four members of the band, Herbst (bass, vocals), Dean Stroop (percussion, vocals), Big Al Meck (rhythm and lead guitar), Alex Boyce (lead and rhythm Guitar), share a unique commitment to "roots" ska.
Roots is another genre-related term that describes music that's made in the style of its earliest iteration. Bluegrass is most often a roots genre. Rockabilly can be, too.
Stroop and Herbst write most of the songs, but they aren't prescriptive.
"We don't say how to play about it," Herbst said. "We say, 'Here are the chords. Make it sound good.' "
Ska enjoyed a brief resurgence in the late '70s and early '80s, then again, quickly, in the '90s, which was when it got its hooks into Herbst.
He said, "I liked ska music before I liked girls."
Keystone Ska Exchange has had a somewhat troubled five years insofar as two of their members, Alex Boyce and Big Al Meck, left the band for a time. While trying to keep the band alive, Herbst enlisted his pal Alex Fisher, until he moved to Japan.
"We were going to go on hiatus, just stop," Herbst said. "I didn't want to do the band unless Big Al and Alex came back, and they had their own things, so I was pretty sure that wasn't going to happen."
Cut to the Tsunami in Japan in 2011. The Keystone Ska Exchange reunited for a Tsunami benefit. And they've been going strong ever since.
They play a lot of all-ages shows, but Herbst admitted that they don't make a lot of bread.
"If we're playing shows and everybody has fun, that's all that matters," he said. "I don't care about money at all."
While all the members of the band have regular, full-time gigs, they are committed to spreading the music around the region. Herbst said he measures the success of the show based on the number of people in the audience, and that he prefers the all-ages shows because people show up to hear the music, not for the drink special.
He said, "Whenever we play at [a local bar], we bring 10 or 15 of our friends. The rest of the people are there for mai tais."
And though he concedes that they get paid better when they play bars, he said, "I think music and money are kind of like oil and water."
The band is working on a full-length album, which the guys hope to drop at the end of the summer.
Herbst, who does the booking and management end of things, said, "Sometimes we find shows just from networking with other bands. It's all about scratching backs."
Two of the band's other members work in IT, so they take care of the online end of things.
And while they have not yet done a tour in the traditional sense, they're planning to do a Midwest tour this summer at their album's launch.
"If you ever see one of our shows, it's nonstop movement," Herbst said. "We offer a very high-energy show."
And Herbst is hopeful for the future of the band.
He said, "When we got started on this band, we wanted to play a few shows and make some kids dance. Now, we've played with some of our favorite bands and on such big stages."
The national bands they've played with are The Toasters and The Atom Age.
They also were featured in a documentary called "The Metro," which chronicles the last month of The Metropolis, an all-ages club in Wilkes-Barre.
To book Keystone Ska Exchange, visit the group on Facebook or MySpace by searching "The Keystone Ska Exchange" or by visiting http://thekey stoneskaexchange.band camp.com.