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When the dance gets hot: Sublime tribute act Badfish returns to WNC

Badfish will play Asheville Jan. 17. Donated photo Badfish will play Asheville Jan. 17. Donated photo

Back in 2001, while students at the University of Rhode Island, bassist Joel Hanks and drummer Scott Begin had been kicking around the idea of doing a one-off tribute concert to the music of Sublime — one of the most iconic American rock acts of all-time.

“Sublime’s music and Bradley Nowell’s voice — and lyrics in particular — are singular in the landscape of all the other reggae/ska revival band of the [1990s],” Begin said. “The [musical] chemistry of [Sublime] is also very unique and instantly identifiable. It’s very clear to me that they were just playing from their musical influences with ease. There seems to be no forced attempt to sound too much like any other artist or really any pretention at all.”

Formed in Long Beach, California, in 1988, Sublime was a fiery juggernaut of sound and scope, this whirlwind blend of reggae, punk, ska and soul, all with a thick thread of hard rock sensibilities. Although the band disappeared following the tragic death of Nowell at age 28, the musical message of compassion and camaraderie crafted by Nowell and his bandmates continues to reverberate into the cosmos.

With Sublime, there was this keen, honest sense of self, of genuinely channeling the power of music for the greater good, to bring one and all together to shake off the monotony and melancholy of daily live in the presence of sweaty, heartfelt melodies — the eternal quest for freedom of the individual in a society filled with harsh rules, bogus expectations and often-bleak outcomes.

And in an ode to a beloved Sublime melody, Hanks and Begin formed Badfish. Taking place at the Ocean Mist bar in Matunuck, Rhode Island, the April 2001 performance was a resounding success, one where the duo now had this opportunity placed before them to possibly take the gig further and farther that they ever could have imagined. Lead vocalist/guitarist Patrick Downes joined the ensemble in 2007.

“Where Badfish shines is the emphasis on replicating the intensity, dirt and heart that the music of Sublime embodies,” Downes said. “And what’s most surprising is how intricate the composition of Sublime songs [are]. They feel so easy, catchy and natural. But, when you start to pick them apart there’s so many twists and turns — the songs go on a journey unlike any other band I’ve listened to.”

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In its almost quarter-century together, Badfish has risen into the upper echelon of nationally touring tribute acts. This isn’t just a band rolling through “the hits.” This is a true-to-form musical homage to a catalog of songs and a live stage presence that remains a cultural touchstone for generations of Sublime fans.

“We’ve always approached the show with a [few] goals — do the music justice, no costuming or trying to look like the band, put on a show that blows people away,” Begin noted.

Onstage, Badfish is a celebration of music — of storied legend and eternal lore — as both sides of the microphone find themselves in this undulating two-way musical conversation.

“We’ve always struck a great balance between delivering the expected version of the songs and giving ourselves some leeway to stretch out or jam at times — we try to allow moments for us to employ that same philosophy in the way we feel Sublime did,” Begin said. “The vibe of the crowd is so important to how we’re all interacting onstage, it’s like the crowd is another band member in a way. Usually it feels like we’re all on the same journey together and that’s a great symbiotic kind of experience.”

Peeling back the layers of Sublime, it can be a real challenge, albeit a welcomed one, to nail down the musical essence of a band known for whiplash tempo changes and intricately-crafted tunes, all the atop a staggeringly high-bar of raw energy and authentic attitude presented in the live realm.

“Over the course of Sublime’s output, the sound of the band changes pretty drastically over [its] three major [albums],” Begin said. “As a drummer, I’m trying to evoke the feel of the particular record that I’m playing. The early stuff and the later stuff have different sound and feels. It’s all flexible of course, but it gives us a fun challenge to really dial in the ‘era’ of the particular Sublime song we’re playing.”

Coming into the new year, Badfish is doing something that’s been in the wings for many years — releasing its own original music. Starting with the latest single, “High With You” (featuring Little Stranger), the group will continue to roll out fresh numbers as 2024 unfolds.

“We are lifelong musicians. No matter what we are playing, we love music — writing, performing, listening. Music is movement,” Downes said. “We’ve grown so many great relationships and have had so many crazy nights with our fans over all these years and for us to take all that collective energy and put it into our own words and sounds to give back out is an honor in itself.”

Even this many years later, the members of Badfish hold a deep sense of appreciation for what they get to go night in and night one, where one thing remains true and in abunance — gratitude.

“There’s a raw honesty to [Sublime],” Begin said. “At one moment, it’s like [Bradley’s] giving you this genius advice from on high and the next moment it’s like you’re the last two people at the end of the party having a hazy 3 a.m. conversation — as a musician, having that effect on a listener is like the holy grail.”

Want to go?

The premier Sublime tribute act, Badfish will hit the stage at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 17, at The Orange Peel in Asheville. Dale & The Zdubs and Damn Skippy will kick things off. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door. The show is ages 18 and over. For more information and/or to purchase tickets, click on

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