Queen City Silver Stars coast to Peach’s

By Gary Spencer

Photo: Caribbean-inspired Queen City Silver Stars vibe at Peach’s July 15; photo: Chuck Loftice

There are bands that like to show off or set themselves apart by featuring fancy or unusual instrumentation in their music, oftentimes in an attempt to be flashy but in many instances just come off like a novelty. That is not the case for Cincinnati-based quartet Queen City Silver Stars. Featuring instruments like the steel pan and ukulele, the QCSS at first might seem like a novelty act, but the group has a heartfelt and earnest mission: to expose the sounds of Caribbean Island music such as soca, calypso, reggae, and other related genres to audiences in Cincinnati and beyond—and to make everyone within earshot dance their booties off.

“We want to bring the uplifting sound of the Caribbean to our little home in Ohio,” says QCSS multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Mark Becknell. “We fell in love with this style of music when a couple of us learned how to play the steel pan in college, and then I spent some time down in the islands playing and writing songs in a local band there. In the U.S., the steel pan and this style of music tend to be a novelty played at cocktail hours and used as background music, but we say, ‘No more!’”

The Queen City Silver Stars formed a few years ago, and is made up of Becknell (steel pan, guitar, ukulele, vocals) and longtime friends Dusty Bryant (bass), Nick Mavridoglou (drums), and Matt Flynn (steel pan, guitar, percussion). While attending college, Becknell and Flynn picked up playing the steel pan and became a part of the Miami University Steel Drum Band and, in turn, learned all about calypso, soca, and other styles of Caribbean island music.

“We were introduced to soca and calypso through learning the steel pan,” Becknell explains. “These styles hail from the island of Trinidad and Tobago and typically features the steel pan as the main instrument. Calypso is the name of the folk music for the area given some mainstream attention through Harry Belafonte in the 1950s. Soca emerged in the ’70s when soul, disco, and funk groups started mixing their style with traditional calypso. This is where QCSS gets a bit of our style—we try to keep a rootsy sound. We’ve all spent a lot of time learning, researching and playing this music.”

Upon listening to their 2015 CD, Green Flash, it’s clear that the group focuses on its mission of sticking to a foundation of soca, calypso,  and reggae, but surprisingly seem to have equal focus on songcraft. While the QCSS have their island groove thing locked down, they also craft pleasant and enjoyable songs that have depth and quality—not all that dissimilar to “Graceland”-era Paul Simon in that while their feet are firmly planted in the Caribbean, they also brush elbows with more traditional American styles of music such as folk and pop.

“I think that album shows who we are,” Becknell says. “We worked on marrying my mid-western, Americana folky songwriting style with the island grooves and featured the steel pan as the lead instrument. I feel we’ve come up with something all its own.”

Audiences so far seem to think the Queen City Silver Stars are onto something as well. The band has become a mainstay at the yearly Western Southern Tennis Tournament over the past three years, and this year the group played at Earth Day celebrations at Sawyer Point and Washington Park in Cincinnati. The band has even taken their warm island sounds out of state as well where, despite relative unknowns to the locals, they quickly grew fans,  which led to impromptu gigs the QCSS were not expecting.

“Two summers ago, we loaded up the band and families and headed down to the island of Ocracoke, North Carolina, in the outer banks,” Becknell explains. “It was a little nerve-racking because we only had two gigs booked before we left, but due to word of mouth and excitement about the music, we ended up playing every night! We hope to make it back.”

This coming Friday, Miami Valley residents will have their own chance to experience the Queen City Silver Stars’ unique take on Caribbean island music when they take the stage at Peach’s in Yellow Springs, where Becknell insists that anyone who attends will be moved to dance and groove and leave with a smile. It’s sure to be a “lime.”

“The best compliment we get is ‘I feel like I’m at the beach!’” Becknell says. “In the Caribbean, they use a term called ‘lime,’ which means a ‘hang’ or a good time. If anyone is looking to escape to an island, if even for a few hours, we can help transport them there—grab a drink, close your eyes, dig your feet in the sand, and come ‘lime’ with us. You will feel like you’re on vacation.”

Queen City Silver Stars will perform this coming Friday, July 15 at Peach’s Bar and Grill, 104 Xenia Avenue in Yellow Springs. The show has no cover and open to patrons 18 and over. For more information please visit peachsgrill.com.

Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com

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