Relentless! That was the special word for the 7th annual Big What festival, held amidst the bountiful green expanses of the Shakori Hills Community Arts Center outside of Pittsboro, NC. It felt like an entire festival of high-energy late night acts - each band an anthem, a steamroller of strength and spirit. Combine the sublime location and inspirational music with the lovely people attracted to such things, and all the ingredients were in place for a perfect weekend of hot fun in the summertime.
The Big What was created in 2012 by the inexhaustible hometown heroes Big Something, who this year spread their musical onslaught across 6 sets over 3 days. Their joyous jams included funky forays into hip hop, '80s smashes, classic rock and more. The visual wizards at Life is Art Studios created mesmerizing video screen images on both stages, with hypnotic eruptions of colors and sights. Their talents and tastefulness added a thrilling and psychedelic element that never stood still and always perfectly complemented the mood onstage. A giant tent full of artists and a huge row of live painters made clear we'd stepped into a special atmosphere of creativity, spontaneity and saturnalia.
The festivities kicked off Thursday afternoon, with the glowing jam rock reggae of TreeHouse! singing "Thank you for the blessings of this day." The bluesy, acoustic rock of the Scott Moss Band led to a group photo of Big Something with the early arriving fans still fresh and clean in the day one sun. Our huge hosts then took the stage to the timeless theme of "We Will Rock You" as they strapped on their instruments and prepared for liftoff. Their euphoric set included a slamming cover of "Turn Down for What" before Gabriel Marin, the astonishing axeman from Consider the Source, jumped onstage for a volcanic guitar battle with Big Something's Jesse Hensley on "The Flood."
Consider the Source's otherworldly acrobatics followed this frenzy with a frantic Middle Eastern fusion sound like Han Solo jumped into hyperspace but forgot to turn off the radio. Mr. What? was up next, which saw Detroit rapper Mister appearing alongside Big Something, who backed up his rhymes and often launched the whole sound into space. The classic "Mister Big Stuff" was a lyrically appropriate and especially juicy jam. The kitchen-sink pyrotechnics of Dr. Bacon came next, during which Jerry the photographer had what he could only describe as an "out of bacon experience." Big Something's tireless saxophonist Casey Cranford brought his new local supergroup Casey & the Comrades to the stage for the secret late night show that kept fans spinning under the stars until 3am.
The spirited bluegrass of South Hill Banks started off the Friday fun, followed by the stylish rock of the Southern Belles and the heartfelt "folk wave" exuberance of Emma's Lounge. The sleek and soulful sounds of Joe Hertler & the Rainbow Seekers led into a powerful set from Mister to wrap up the afternoon. Big Something rose with the moon, appearing in matching Waldo outfits in honor of that day's theme. They capped off a triumphant song cycle with rousing versions of "1999" and "Megalodon" with Vulfpeck's Cory Wong adding a thick bedrock of delectable rhythm guitar.
The ferocious prog metal assault of Lazer/Wulf was perfectly contrasted by the unstoppable high-octane sunshine funk of SunSquabi and the lean and taut dance grooves of Cory Wong. The surprise late night band was Big Something, tearing through another set of elated rock gems punctuated by outbursts of slinky saxophone, clever keyboards and gigantic guitars. The set ended with Big Something inviting their friends, rock fusion band Black Garlic, to join them for several songs in tribute to Black Garlic's recently passed guitarist. The crowd swayed with reverence and gratitude for these times we share and another chance to dance with friends in the light of the moon.
Saturday dawned with the mighty rhythmic rock of Groove Fetish, the tight danceable funk of Voodoo Visionary, and the fiery fiddle and guitar attack of Come Back Alice. A set from the genre-defying and unpredictable Becca Stevens led into Mister once again serenading the setting sun. The heavy instrumental powerhouse Tauk bear hugged the crowd into the evening with a meaty set of animated and adventurous jam-rock fusion. Funk You delivered an explosion of energy and sound far beyond the confines of their name, highlighted by an electrifying take on "Kung Fu Fighting" that rocketed light years beyond the expected.
Big Something then arrived for the final throwdown of the weekend - a two-set blitz of energetic and elated jams opening with "Love Generator" that perfectly wrapped up the festival. The second set included a tribute billed as "Big Who?" which interwove boisterous Who covers throughout the set, including "Baba O'Riley", "Won't Get Fooled Again", "Who Are You", "Eminence Front", "5:15", and "The Seeker". Once again, The Big What succeeded in creating a jubilant, arms-in-the-air, summertime celebration of music and life, a joyous shout to the skies, a great ecstatic group proclamation of "YES!" As for me, I'm hitting the road on video screen tour.
Review by Paul Kerr
Photo Gallery by Jerry Friend - Sustained Notes Photography