At Battery Harris, the tropical-themed Caribbean lounge and watering hole tucked away under highway overpasses in Willamsburg, Brooklyn, two local touring musicians are building something special close to home. Every Thursday, bassist Josh Carter (Hayley Jane and The Primates) and drummer Ben Teters (Cas Haley, Palmslap) populate the Battery Harris stage with a rotating cast of talented musicians from the jam band community, reggae elder statesmen, and whomever else might happen to roll through for a collaborative reggae jam session dubbed SUNDUB. The no-cover weekly reggae sessions are less about the success of each individual performance, and more about creating something lasting that fills specific needs–for Carter and Teters personally, for the venue, and for the Brooklyn live music scene as a whole.
Previously, friends and roommates Josh and Ben played together in Blue Mountain Bustdown, along with late keyboardist Stephen Malinowski, formerly of Turkuaz. When that project fizzled out in 2012, both musicians took new gigs in new bands–Josh with singer Hayley Jane and Ben with roots-reggae guitarist Cas Haley. The idea for the residency came about organically from there: Battery Harris was consistently filled with people on weekend nights, but virtually empty from Monday to Thursday; Ben and Josh lived together down the block, and were looking for an outlet to play music together when they weren’t out on the road; Nobody in Brooklyn was performing high-quality reggae on a regular basis–the pieces fit together too nicely not to pursue it. As Carter explains over the restaurant’s fantastic jerk chicken, fish tacos, and relaxing island ambiance at last week’s SUNDUB, “I’m a reggae guy, but really I’m a jam band guy. To be perfectly honest the whole reason I started this was to play music with my homie. That’s why it feels so good.”
SUNDUB is comprised of Carter and Teters and a handful of other core members, including Ben’s sister Joanna Teters (vocals), Kareem “The Dream” Thompson (steel pan, K.I.T Caribbean Connection), and Finn Singer (guitar), but extends far beyond to include some of the most talented musicians in the NYC area. With a constantly rotating lineup of accomplished musicians and a free-flowing stream of unannounced special guests, Carter and Teters hope to grow SUNDUB into a sustainable staple of the Brooklyn live music scene for artists and fans alike. Teters’ high hopes for the series are clearly apparent as he explains their vision: packed-out weekly parties where local musicians drop by to join in the island vibes when they’re home from tour; “Musicians milling around everywhere,” he muses, “A collaborative effort. A passion project.”
The fun-first, vibe-positive nature of the project has already begun paying dividends musically. In just its second month, word has begun to spread, and last Thursday’s list of musical collaborators extended well beyond the already-solid lineup of billed guests (David “Ruff Scott” Reid and Buford O’Sullivan of Easy Star All-Stars, Eric “The General” Toussaint of Judah Tribe). “The sax player [Jenny Hill of Easy Star]: not on the bill, just sitting in. The other bass player [Julien C Paul of I-NOJAH]: not on the bill, just sitting in. We’re always open to impromptu sit-ins” gushes an excited Carter.
The lineups promise to continue improving as the weeks roll by, with accomplished artists like Anant Pradhan of the acclaimed NYC Ska Orchestra, bassist Bakhiti Kumalo (who played on Paul Simon‘s classic album Graceland), Max Creek‘s Bill Carbone, and more slated to perform. This week, Larry McDonald (percussionist for Bob Marley and Taj Mahal) will join the show, along with whatever other local musicians happen to stop by. “And it’s not like these guys are making much money for this–or any money really,” expains Carter, “They just come to be part of it, to collaborate and perform and immerse themselves in this thing we’re all creating together. That’s what it’s all about.”
With their growing network of collaborators, a musician-rich Brooklyn scene to pull from, and the band’s enthusiasm and excitement for the project, the road ahead looks bright for SUNDUB–and, consequently, for anyone looking for something fun and different to do on Thursday nights in Williamsburg.
You can enjoy island vibes, great reggae music (free of charge), and phenomenal Caribbean food every Thursday at Battery Harris with SUNDUB. For up-to-date information on weekly guest spots, head to the SUNDUB Facebook page.