The Hempsteadys kick off tour

In the foreground, The Hempsteadys guitarist Andrew Carey, left, and bassist Shaun Birdseye.
In the foreground, The Hempsteadys guitarist Andrew Carey, left, and bassist Shaun Birdseye.

For all the tinsel and caroling, Holiday Stress is cumulative and brutal: Black Friday has become Actually Black Thanksgiving Night; children are programmed by society to demand more expensive and sophisticated presents; and the Hallmark Channel folks now work year-round to annually churn out 47 new holiday movies even though all the films have essentially the same plot.

You need to HAVE SOME FUN to celebrate properly - and one way to do this is Saturday, when New London's dance-happy Hempsteadys host the Version City Tour kick-off at the El 'n' Gee Club. A New York City staple since 1997, the Version City shows are monthly dance party explosions of live ska, reggae, dub and rocksteady artists, and this is the first time they've taken it on the road.

Though The Hempsteadys won't travel on the tour, it's a fun honor that they're hosting the first show - particularly special since the bill includes longtime Version City headliner King Django as well as the Snails and Matt McCleod. The Hempsteadys will close the evening.

"We've been playing Version City shows that Django puts on in New York for the past few years," says Hemsteadys guitarist/vocalist Andy Carey. "Every time, we talk about him coming up and playing in New London - and it just finally worked out, schedule-wise, for everyone."

King Django, the New Jersey-based ska wizard, has been a force for decades, not only through his own label but with such acts as Skinnerbox and Stubborn All-Stars. The Snails blend all forms of indigenous Jamaican music with early American rock, and MacLeod is the veteran keyboardist/vocalist with popular reggae band The Heavy Beat. All in all, the show promises a comprehensive quilt-work of Jamaican-inspired tuneage.

"I've been familiar with Django for a while, since he was playing with Stubborn All-Stars and Skinnerbox in that mid-'90s scene," Carey says. "I was a young kid, and all those bands were definitely an influence. It's always great to play with them and be a part of a bill like this."

"I think the multi-generational aspect of this show is cool," says Shaun Birdseye, bassist for The Hempsteadys. "When a genre is created, it branches out and evolves with each generation and wave. At this show, we've got the whole freakin' tree."

In that spirit, it's interesting how bands evolve. The Hempsteadys grew up in the New London punk scene and always thought of themselves as not just a punk group, but also typifying a punk attitude and lifestyle. As the band grew into the culture, they discovered and incorporated punk's not-always-obvious connections to ska, hardcore, funk, hip-hop and reggae - all of which became part of their sonic recipe.

"We're certainly part of a large (punk) tradition, and we're very proud of that," says Matt Covey, The Hempsteadys' drummer. "But we're part of a lot of different musical traditions and get loads of people coming to see us that don't know anything about any of that stuff - who, God willing, wouldn't think to call us a ska band or any one genre or another. And I love that because we'd rather blur the lines. It's clear the people who show up to see us play prefer it that way, too."

The Version City Tour hosted by The Hempsteadys and featuring King Django, The Snails and Matt McLeod, 9 p.m. Saturday, El 'n' Gee Club, 7 p.m. Golden St., New London; $5, $10 under 21; (860) 437-3800.


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