In recent years, packed local performances by bands like Soja and Iration have proven that contemporary reggae fused with indie rock into a jam band-esque package is incredibly popular in these parts. Put those bands on at Red Rocks during the summer months, and you can practically guarantee a full house – blond dreadlocks swaying gently in the mountain breeze, and a bunch of frisky couples (or newly mets) grinding to the bassy noise.
For the past dozen or so years, Orange County band the Dirty Heads have been on that same rotation, going from opening band at Red Rocks to main support, then headliner. As singer Duddy B (or Dustin Bushnell) says, there’s nothing quite like closing the show in the dark at the world-famous venue, stage lights bouncing off the natural surroundings.
On August 16, the band headlines Red Rocks in support of a new, self-titled album. Nothing unusual about naming a record after the band, though it’s a bit weird that they waited until the fifth. The singer says that it simply felt right.
“On the first two albums, we kind of had a theme,” Bushnell says. “The Sails to the Wind EP, and then Any Port in a Storm. Then Cabin by the Sea – they all had that same theme of being out in the ocean and then a storm hits. You found your cabin by the sea, and that was kinda done. Then we did Sound of Change, and that was different. We feel like throughout the years we locked in our sound and found out who we were, and when we were recording this album, it just felt right to finally have it be self-titled.”
The Dirty Heads are part of a bigger movement that, over the past decade, has seen reggae grow in popularity all over the United States. The fact that this land-locked state has embraced the music so enthusiastically points to a larger movement. For Bushnell, it’s gratifying to witness.
“There’s a lot of music that comes out of California, especially Southern California, where we’re from,” he says. “That’s where Sublime was from. I think with a lot of younger people, that’s where they first find their reggae. They know Bob Marley, and then they listen to Sublime. From there, you can find that there’s a lot more reggae. We’ve seen it go all across the country now. Places we used to go when we were younger and no one was there – places that didn’t care about reggae – now you go there and the places are packed, and there are twenty local reggae bands, as well. It’s definitely growing.”
The region of Orange County that the Dirty Heads are from, Huntington Beach, is the home town of popular punks like the Vandals, the Offspring’s Dexter Holland and Reel Big Fish. Meanwhile, folkie Matt Costa was born there, as was acclaimed saxophonist Doug Webb. It was really only a matter of time before the seaside town birthed a notable reggae act.
“There’s definitely a lot of local bands coming out of Huntington Beach and Orange County, period,” Bushnell says. “Anywhere around there, there are so many different styles of music and different types of people playing it. Whatever you’re into, you can go find a scene for it there.”
After nearly thirteen years of shows in Colorado, though, the singer feels at home in the state, and he’s been proud to see the growth in reggae's popularity here.
“It’s always been one of our stops, so we’ve definitely built a strong, solid fan base there,” he says. “It’s been awesome to watch it grow, and to be able to play a place like Red Rocks. I think this will be our third time headlining it, and hopefully we can sell it out again. It’s a magical spot.”
Their mammoth tour will keep them on the road until the end of the summer, allow them to take a couple of weeks off for vacation, then jump right back out there again through next spring.
“We’re always trying to step it up for Red Rocks and make it a little bit more special than the rest of the shows,” Bushnell says. “We haven’t quite figured out exactly what we’re going to do yet, but it’ll be special.”
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At this point, Red Rocks audiences know what to expect from the band, and while the new material will freshen things up, the set will also be comfortingly familiar in all of the right ways.
“We have a very positive message and a very mellow vibe,” Bushnell says. “The lyrics that we’ve had throughout all of our albums have stayed true to that.”
Dirty Heads play with Kongos, the Expendables and Katastro at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, August 16, at Red Rocks Amphitheatre; 18300 West Alameda Parkway in Morrison; 720-865-2494; $39.95.