In the ’90s, Sublime were the background music to every party. You couldn’t go anywhere without the sounds of “Santeria” or “What I Got” emanating from some radio within earshot. It could even be said that their eclectic reggae/punk mix is the sound of an entire generation.
Arguably the most energetic band to emerge from that era, Sublime ended abruptly in 1996 with the death of lead singer, guitarist, and songwriter Bradley Nowell.
Badfish: A Tribute to Sublime formed five years later with a simple goal — keep the Sublime spirit alive.
“We conceived this idea of doing a Sublime tribute show of sorts back in 2001,” drummer Scotty Begin said in an interview with Whatzup. “Joel (Hanks, Badfish bassist) is a college friend of mine and we had been playing music in different sorts of arrangements with different people for a while when this idea came across our radar. We were like, oh yeah, we like Sublime and everyone we know likes Sublime.
“No one else was out playing it at the time. Tribute bands were kind of reserved for more of a classic rock type of thing, you know, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. But we said, ‘Let’s do a Sublime tribute show and see how it goes.’”
“It was really well received,” Begin continued, “so we just took that idea and continued on with it, making it into a proper band and starting to tour to see if we could create the same level of enthusiasm in other places. Now we’re approaching about 18 years later and we’re still going strong, still playing all around the country.”
Nowadays, the music scene is chock full of tribute acts like Who’s Bad, The Four Horsemen, The Fab Four, and Killer Queen. When asked if the abundance of tribute acts has helped Badfish or hurt them, Begin wasn’t sure. But he thinks that the fact his band isn’t afraid to show its own personality lends to their credibility.
“We’ve definitely noticed that there has become a larger market for tribute acts in general,” he said. “Maybe it’s helped in some ways because there’s less of a stigma around tribute acts now.
An original tribute
“We’re not going to dress up like Sublime. It’s not like a theatrical reproduction. It’s not a situation where we had to find look-alike guys. It’s more like recreating the spirit of the music and really putting on a high-energy, fun show and leaving it at that.
“I can’t say that our way is the only way to go, but I think that presenting it the way we do sort of lessens the stigma for us. When people at clubs, promoters and fans alike, all saw that this is how we were doing it, they said, ‘Oh, this is just a band playing great music,’ not so much a niche kind of a corny, theatrical tribute act.”
You might wonder how the original band members feel about another band trekking across the country making money by exclusively playing Sublime music.
Apparently they’re OK with it.
“We’ve actually played some shows with Sublime’s drummer Bud Gaugh,” Begin said. “He’s been really cool with us. He sat in and played the entire set one night on the drums, which gave me the night off.
“We know Bradley’s wife Troy and she comes out to see us when we’re in the southern California area and some of the horn players that have played with Sublime have done some tours with us as well. So, even though we don’t know all the members personally, we are familiar with some of the people in Sublime’s extended family. From that, I think Sublime are pretty cool with the fact that we’re respectfully reproducing the music and doing it justice.”
The set list you expect
When it comes time to write the setlist for each show, Sublime fans needn’t worry. Badfish know what the crowd expects and are more than willing to give the people what they want.
“There are a handful of songs that are really the ones you would know from the radio, the ones that the casual fans would know,” Begin said. “Those are mainstays in the set. It’s rare that we skip one of those because they’re so well known. But that still leaves a good amount of time to fill, allowing us to kind of rotate in and out some lesser-known songs.
“There’s also parts of the set that include some freeform jamming and instrumental things that we’ll do to kind of extend things and let the songs go their own way.”
Badfish make a triumphant return to The Clyde on Feb. 15. Their show last year in the same venue was a huge success and helped break in the newly renovated building, preparing it for what turned out to be a whirlwind of artists cycling through the building during the last half of 2018.
“When we have played in Fort Wayne over the years, there has usually been a large, energetic crowd coming to see us. It has always been a good strong crowd for us, definitely high energy and crazy.”