The eight-member band, which includes a three-piece horn section, is known for its pulse-pounding live performances and original music that reflects a mix of the musicians' varied musical styles, interests and backgrounds.
"It's basically reggae and ska with hip-hop influences, but overall the sound has a pop element," said frontman and songwriter Mike Francis. "It's very listener-friendly. It's written with the intent to catch your ear."
The band members, whose ages range from 18 to 30, include Gloucester guys Francis, lead singer and rhythm guitar; Keith Amero, bass guitar; Mike Goulart, lead guitar; Carlos Menezes, trombone and saxophone; Nate Rich, saxophone and backup vocals; Sean Lowe, trumpet; Steve Russo, drums; and Julian O'Brien, keyboard.
In addition to kicking off the city's annual outdoor summer concert series, the band is scheduled to perform at The Madfish Grill on July 21 and at Captain Carlo's on Aug. 4.
Mile 21 has done lots of touring - playing at numerous festivals, colleges and theaters around New England as well as popular New York City clubs such as CBGB's and the Knitting Factory. The band has collaborated with members of the Grateful Dead, The Toasters, Morgan Heritage, Sean Paul and Toots and the Maytals. The band has even been approached by Megalith Records, an independent ska music label, to talk about a possible record deal.
Francis, who founded Mile 21 in late 1999, is the only original member of the band.
"We've had many different members and have kind of changed or honed our style to where it is now," said Francis, 25. "We finally have, what I consider to be, the right lineup of players."
Mile 21 writes, records and performs all original music. The band sings about coming of age, girls, friendship, peace and optimism. During live performances, the band has been known to cover artists including Bob Marley, Sublime and Outkast.
Francis, who wrote his first song, "Million Miles Away," when he was 18, said for him songwriting comes easily.
"I always have songs and melodies and pieces of songs in my head," he said. "Oftentimes, I'll either come up with a chord progression or I'll hear a melody or sometimes I'll hear the lyrics and then usually I'll form the makings of a song. Then, I'll present it to the band and then everyone kind of puts the final touches on it."
The band released its first full-length album, "Nine Ivy Days," in 2005. The 12-song compact disc was recorded at Cove Studio in Rockport and released independently. The album went on to sell hundreds of copies. Francis credits studio owner Doug Brown and engineer Scott Rodgers with producing a debut CD that the band was proud to promote while on tour.
Francis said he draws a lot of musical inspiration from roots reggae, a spiritual type of reggae music made famous by singer/songwriter Bob Marley.
Roots reggae features recurring themes of poverty and resistance to the oppression of government.
"Bob Marley is the reason that I play. He's basically the reason that I picked up a guitar," said Francis, whose white, short-sleeved T-shirt featured a portrait of Marley's face in black ink on the front. "He's the greatest songwriter ever."
Francis also cites artists such as The Wailers, Burning Spear and Buju Banton as musical inspirations.
Mile 21 is working on a new album to be released sometime this summer.
"Everyone's in it just because they love music," said Francis, a special needs teacher at Cornerstones Day School in Ipswich.
"It'd be nice to make a living at it," said Francis, who is raising two young sons, Michael and Isaiah, with his wife of two years, Rosa.
Francis said he gets a rush whenever he hits the stage, especially when he looks out over the crowd and listens as the fans - who know every word to every song - sing his songs back to him.
"I love the response we get from people," he said. "The fans in this town, and in New England, have been great."
For upcoming shows and information, visit the Mile 21 Web site: www.mile21music.net.
If you go:
Free outdoor Harbor Loop concerts take place on the hill overlooking Inner Harbor. Concertgoers of all ages gather on the lawn of the Fitz Henry (Hugh) Lane home off Rogers Street. Bring blankets, chairs and a picnic. Parking is available on Harbor Loop and in the Harbor Loop parking lot.
This season's lineup is:
July 6, 7 to 9 p.m. - Mile 21. Rain date: July 10.
July 13, 7 to 9 p.m. - Souls of the Sea. Rain date: July 17.
July 20, 7 to 9 p.m. - Garfish. Rain date: July 24.
July 27, 7 to 9 p.m. - Generation Gap. Rain date: July 31.
Aug. 3, 7 to 9 p.m. - Secret Service. Rain date: Aug. 7.
Aug. 10, 6:30 to 9 p.m. - Andy Pratt and SugarBlues. Rain date: Aug. 14
Aug. 17, 7 to 9 p.m. - Elegant Trash. Rain date: Aug. 21.
Aug. 24, 7 to 9 p.m. - Walker Creek Band. Rain date: Aug. 28.
Aug. 31, 7 to 9 p.m. - Fun Bucket. Rain date: Sept. 4.
Sept. 2, Schooner Festival - Walker Creek Band.