MUSIC Bridgewater-Raynham grads work to build strong following for reggae band Dumbest By Jay N. Miller FOR THE PATRIOT LEDGER Like a lot of young music fans, five Bridgewater-Raynham students were initially drawn to the energy and rebellion in pop-punk bands like Blink 182, and when they formed their own group it was primal punk rock in that vein. But there was also something else percolating through Blink 182's sound, and gradually the young quintet began exploring the ska and reggae foundation of some of their favorite acts. Flash forward a few years, and the band known as Dubbest has earned a spot in the forefront of reggae bands in New England, opening and performing with a long list of the genre's best, from John Brown's Body to Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad to The Itals. Dubbest - and it's a clever monicker, referring to the group's base in rootsreggae, but also allowing for the Boston-accent pronunciation that makes it sound like "da best" - is just returning from a 13-date tour of the South and Southeast, with a pair of area shows this week. Dubbest will be headlining The Met Cafe in Pawtucket (1005 Main St., Pawtucket, tickets $8) on Thursday, and then topping a three-band bill at Church in Boston (69 Kilmarnock St., tickets $10) on Aug. 1. It might be the career path many predicted for the five B-R Class of 2009 grads, but the members of Dubbest are having a blast. The group includes Ryan Thaxter on vocals and keyboards, Sean Craffey on bass, Andrew Mackenzie on guitar, Cory Mahoney on guitar, and Kyle Hancock on drums. The five of them had begun making music together in 2006. "We all played punk-rock together," said Mahoney, from a tour stop near Charlotte last week. "Slowly, we all calmed down to more of a ska sound. By our senior year in high school, I think we had all decided that we wanted to find our niche in dub reggae, because it is a good, positive genre that we all enjoy." Of course the suburbs are not noted for being hospitable to original bands in general, never mind those outside the mainstream, so gigs were few and far between in the early days. "We didn't play many gigs at the school," said Mahoney, "although we were able to land a few local gigs at churches, or places like Bogart's Pub. Most places around home just want Top 40 cover bands, so it is very hard to break into those places. We gradually started picking up small gigs in Boston, and spent a good year playing for virtually no money at those places." A breakthrough moment for them musically occurred in 2010, when the quintet attended a show featuring John Brown's Body, the Sarasota reggae troupe, with opening acts Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad and the Mighty Mystic. "I think that particular show was when we all saw just what we wanted to pursue musically," said Mahoney. "That heavy, deep-dub sound was the kind of reggae we really felt was what we wanted to explore." Shortly after that the band put out its debut album, and began picking up steam. When they recorded their second CD, 2012's "Avoid the Pier," producer Craig Welsch helped them focus their sound and expand their audience even more. At the same time, Boston reggae promoter Rich Pereira took a liking to the quintet, and began giving them high-visibility opening act slots with the genre's best, starting with a show opening for Badfish, the popular Rhode Island rock act based on the ska-inflected music of Sublime. "Craig Welsch taught us a lot about roots reggae," said Mahoney. "He kept on us to simplify our approach. We'll be doing our third CD starting in September, and Craig will be producing that one too. Actually, we've been playing these new songs for about a year now, so they're all broken in and ready to go." Thaxter writes all the band's lyrics, and the other members all contribute to the arrangements, although Mackenzie takes a lead role in penning melody lines, according to Mahoney. The five, all music veterans while still all just 22 to 24, have thrown themselves into as much touring as possible. That's how the Southern jaunt took form, as Pereira helped them shape a tour, and the members have hired a publicist and used the Internet to build as much of a buzz as they can before arriving in the cities they've never played before. "This tour has been great for us," said Mahoney. "The first couple nights were a little slow, but the further South we went, the better the crowds got. I think a lot of it has to do with our preshow publicity blitz - we've done a lot of newspaper interviews, and even some TV stations down there. It's been an incredible experience, because the furthest we'd ever played before was New Jersey." In their pursuit of more and more fans, Dubbest has embraced the Internet, and specifically the proffering of free music. (Check their Web site, www.dubbestmusic.com, for free music.) It has worked to pack concert venues in places they'd never been, and kept building the buzz in New England. The quintet hopes it will soon be able to quit their day jobs and play music fulltime - Hancock works at a Newbury Comics, store, Mahoney works at a gas station, and the others work a variety of manual labor jobs. "Digital distribution is the way of the current music scene," said Mahoney. "We can't expect to make tons of money from our CDs or downloads, so the idea is to get as much free music out there as possible. Once we establish a name for ourselves, we will be able to make money from touring, and we all want to tour as much as possible." If you might expect a bevy of their BR classmates to show up at the Met Cafe or Church this week, the quintet has encountered hometown fans further afield than that. "We're playing Baltimore the same week Phish is in town," Mahoney said, "and we already know there's going to be a big contingent of Bridgewater-Raynham people there." Dubbest has also just landed a coveted slot on the annual Freedom Rally on Boston Common, aka Hempfest, on Sept. 14. "We had just played the Met Cafe two months ago, and we'll have Oshun Roots, another reggae band opening," said Mahoney. "We have also played Church a handful of times, but this is our first show there as headliners. That night will be a real South Shore vibe, with the Satellite Rockers, another reggae band, and The Aldous Collins Band, one of the hardest-working rock bands in our area. And we're real excited about playing the Freedom Rally, we've been going to that as fans for years, and it'll have thousands of people there." AMANDA BALLUM ¦ The members of Dubbest hail from BridgewaterRayham. They are top left, Cory Mahoney; top right, Ryan Thaxter; middle left, Sean Craffey; middle right, Kyle Hancock and bottom, Andrew Mackenzie.