EXPERIENCE: The Big What? Wilmington
By Brian Turk
Photos by Neil Peek
The Big What? Wilmington is a two-day party held at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater. Built around, and by, Burlington-bred rock band Big Something, this beach-based live music experience is a great way to get a jump start on the summer season. Since music doesn't start until later in the day, and there are no campgrounds, everyone has plenty of time to nurse hangovers on shady porches of rental houses, hit the beach with their crew, or spend the day making bad decisions at a tiki-bar before descending on the amphitheater later in the day. The pace makes it feel like a vacation.
The 1,200 seat lake-side venue is just about as perfect as it gets. Soul serenading sunsets, cool night breezes, trees acting as both projector screen and comforting canopy, impeccable sound, laid-back yet attentive staff, and the coup de grace…$5 beers!! The setting you see music in is an integral part of the experience. Sometimes it makes or breaks, the night. So are the people you are dancing with. And so is the music. I would say everyone hit the trifecta because the surroundings were inspiring, the vibes were high, and the sounds were stellar. Music has to end at 10 pm, since Greenfield Lake is in a residential neighborhood, but official after-parties downtown keep the momentum going.
Wilmington's roots/rock/reggae band Signal Fire kicked Friday off with an island vibe and a feel-good-groove, just as the hot day was beginning to chill out. As we all let the weight of the week drop away, we warmed up for DJ Logic. Long before laptops and Ableton, Logic was forging the foundations of our scene on wax with Peter Shapiro at the now-closed Wetlands in New York City. (Listen to the closing of the Wetlands performance from 2001 here). It was great to see Logic take his intelligent stance behind the turntables and make people dance. He definitely schooled some of the youngins'. His skills as a turntablist give him maestro status, and his Bronx hip-hop roots give him street cred, but Logic is a pillar of the "jam band" scene. In my eyes, he is a legend. And his presence at Big What?, not only doing his own thing but getting onstage with Big Something as well, links the legacy from OG to young guns.
The Big Something started their Friday night set off with a puff of "Blue Dream" before firing up the "Love Generator", and investigating "The Curse of Julia Brown". They jumped "In the Middle", drove into "Passenger", then rolled into "Tumbleweed" before asking DJ Logic to join them for a shot of "Truth Serum". Rapper Mister wandered onstage for "Sundown Nomad" and stayed for a shot at Pharcyde's "Passing Me By", before everyone took another dip of "Truth Serum". Logic stayed onstage to find out if "UFOs are Real" and then Big Something played a "Song for Us". Big Something came out for an encore and reminded us that Mister was "At the Party" before attacking “Megaladon” like a hungry shark. Once the show was over, everyone screwed their heads back on, hunched over their phones, and waited for the armada of Ubers to transport the party downtown for The Broadcast at Calico Room and Funk You at The Whiskey.
Folks returned to the venue sun-drenched and fully ready for round two on Saturday to watch Dr. Bacon sizzle in the 4:30 pm sun. These Asheville-based funkified party-rockers threw some hot grease on the griddle, and it was hard not to smell what they were cookin'. Then, it happened. We got Frasco'd. Andy Frasco is a force of nature fueled by a tornado of creativity that is continually raging in his soul. I have heard the legend of Frasco, mostly from friends who returned from Jam Cruise this year talking about him like they just found Jesus, but this was my first time experiencing him live. I am now a believer. Andy conjures old-time rock and roll in his finger-tips, finds the blues in his heart, and heavy-handedly explores the keys, brewing the crowd into a Frasco-induced frenzy. If you want to feel real nice, just ask this rock n' roll doctors advice.
Big Something returned to the stage on Saturday with vigor. And a smirk as if they had something up their sleeve. They electrified the wind with "EWI 4000", and as the sound swirls, "It Comes Around" like "Wildfire". "Amanda Lynn" crept on the stage like a "Saturday Night Zombie", stumbling around, before finding the "Plug". There was plenty of power, and Big Something shined bright as a star joined the stage. Mike Mills of R.E.M. Yeah, it was a hell of a surprise to us as well. But once they tore into "Radio Free Europe", it just seemed natural. It seemed logical that a band a tight as Big Something would be playing alongside Mills. This is the trajectory the band is on. And it seemed natural for us all to be singing along. Mike Mills was all smiles like he was playing the song for the first time. He appeared as inspired by this band as we all are. Big Something dropped a "Time-Bomb" on the crowd for the first time, before "Pinky's Ride" picked us up to go and hit the "Waves". The Frasco came out and erupted "My Volcano" and "The Flood" led to an "Afterglow" encore that made me realize just how good it is to be "Alive". Then it was back downtown to bounce between Fireside Collective at Calico Room and Casey & The Comrades at The Whiskey.
Big Something is doing something big. This 6 member band has been around since 2009, steadily growing their fan-base around the state of NC and the south-east region, but now they are nationally touring, and have taken on a strong professional team to guide them along the path. For those who have watched this band evolve from the beginning, it's like their team is going to the Super Bowl. And deservedly so. Front man Nick MacDaniels always has an enthusiastic glow that reeks of positivty. Lead guitarist Jesse Hensley shreds with precision and doesn't let his solos get to jammy. Bass player Doug Marshall finds a deep groove. Drummer Ben Vinograd never skips a beat and drives the kit with confidence . Key and trumpet player Josh Kagel helps hold the path, while also helping to prompt explorative diversions. And horn player Casey Cranford takes the band into outer space on his EWI when the time is right, or grounds them with astute jazz sensibilities. They don't noodle. They aren't weird. They are based in rock and roll and have a hard-driving stance, but their overall joyful radiance, and the nuances within the music, soften any over-aggressiveness. This band is refined but fun. They are tight but not rehearsed. They are solid as the Rock of Gibraltar, and North Carolina is proud to root for this home team.