The BIG What?
July 4th-6th 2013
Possum Holler, NC
written by Elise Olmstead
photographs copyright Roger Gupta
It was our first time traveling to The Big What? at Possum Holler in Prospect Hill, North Carolina. Taking place on July 4-7, we figured it would be a great non-traditional way to spend our Fourth of July and see some of our favorite musical acts. This was only the 2nd annual The Big What? but all the great things I heard about the first peaked my curiosity. It sounded just like the occasion Appalachian Jamwich needed to cover.
Once we arrive on Thursday afternoon, a large utility golf cart scoops us up along with our piles of camping equipment, and quickly takes under a canopy of trees into a different world woven by roots and branches. The downhill path decorated with streamers and lights wound past the main stage and down to where we found our spot on the “Hoot ‘N’ Holler Trail”. It was different from most festivals where you camp in an empty field or clearing, and a new unique experience for all of us. It felt as though we were in a secret getaway, a different world hidden under the treetops. “This is like my favorite place, ever,” one festival-goer excitedly commented. Many carried the same sentiment and were actually returning after their first year of The Big What? in 2012.
Friendly faces greeted us everywhere as we ran into contributors Becca “Boo” Cranwell, her friend Allison, and Brook “Dang” Jones and Dennis (who was wearing a cape and being “Super Dennis” for the night). Everyone was already getting dressed in silly costumes and hopping energetically around the grounds. We couldn’t wait for the first band and headliners of the festival, BIG Something, to come on at 8PM.
“First day!!” Nick MacDaniels yelled from the stage as BIG Something began the show with some of their feel-good hits from Stories From the Middle of Nowhere. A crowd full of silly hats and mustachioed faces cheers emphatically, people already prepared for the costume theme “Sunglasses and Mustaches.” I always love seeing this band, their upbeat happy music just has that “It” factor that gets people hooked, which was obvious by the huge early turnout coming down to dance. Their set is perfect for Independence Day, playing covers like Grateful Dead’s “U.S. Blues,” and Casey Cranford playing the National Anthem on his saxophone, which had everyone’s patriotic sentiments soaring. After the anthem, they broke out in a rousing Rage Against the Machine’s “Bombtrack” that got the audience up on their feet with their hands in the air.
Consider the Source kept the energy going with their weird, wild and crazy middle-eastern infused double-neck guitar shredding. I hadn’t seen them live before but was instantly hooked, and was impressed by both Gabriel’s mastery of the six stringed instrument and also Ferrara’s furious, yet clean and precise attack on the bass strings.
It had begun to rain at some point during the BIG Something set and continued to drizzle for a couple of hours, making the downhill terrain at the main stage into a muddy swamp. It didn’t stop folks from trudging down to dance, but there was quite a bit of slipping and sliding, especially down the pathways to the campsites. “Don’t go stomping in that mud now,” one patron joked, “We like to take care of our mud around here!” We braved our way to the stage but stayed at high ground to watch the first costume contest of the weekend. Who would be the winner of the “Sunglasses and Mustaches” theme? Two good looking girls with fake beards rivaled a man with his own home-grown facial hair, and the guy dubbed “Au Natural” ended up winning the prize.
The first night might have only had a few bands, but all of the performances packed a punch. We finished our night with the Lotus-like jamtronica tunes of Jimkata, who I must say impressed me with their power to move my feet. They forgo vocals to concentrate on jamming instrumentals that ebb and flow to melt your face out of nowhere. When they played their last song “Die Digital” the crowd went wild and I was sad their set had to end.
On Friday the Main Stage gets attacked by some hay and everyone chips in with cheerful stride to help lay it on the muddy dance floor. Some of the crew told us they had found several flip flops stuck into the mud there this morning, abandoned after being sucked off by the sludge the night before. The hay completely fixed that problem, thank goodness, and it was solid ground for the rest of the weekend.
Consider the Source played an acoustic set to start the day off, then jam band Urban Soil, fronted by father/daughter duo Eric & Jazmine Chesson charms the audience. We were lounging lazily a stone’s throw away under Becca’s EZ Up, but the horns from The Heritage gets us up and moving. The funk band from Winston Salem, North Carolina, was hardly predictable and would take us from roots rock to retro funk into a sudden bass-heavy hard rock jam. As a big fan of Lettuce, I gave them a rating of “would definitely listen to again” and “would undoubtedly fit in on Jam Cruise.”
I heard little whispers tell me that Pigeons Playing Ping Pong had just pulled up and was loading in so we made sure to make appearances by the front of the stage during their show. They are always crowd pleasers, making sure to play some tunes that get you grooving, some tunes to get you singing, and some antics to get you smiling. Les Racquet, a 3-piece jam band that has been taking the “Who Knows What Stage” between Main Stage acts, has done a great job of keeping the crowd happy all afternoon long. After the smooth mellow jams of The Heavy Pets, Alien Sex Machine weird up the Who Knows What Stage with their electronic dance music.
We had here-and-there encounters with The Mantras all day and couldn’t wait for their set. When they opened with one of my favorite tunes from Jam Bands Ruined My Life, “Before My Time,” Justin Powell’s keyboard riffs were already making Taco yell “More Powell!” I could tell this was going to be a great set. They play another great song from JBRML, “House of Cards,” and I swooned from the beautiful sound of Keith Allen and Kenn Mogel’s expertly harmonizing guitars that practically pierce me with their singing, as the heavy bass notes thump along with the percussion in my chest. When I think it couldn’t get any better, they pull off a mind-blowing mash-up of Daft Punk and Pharrell Williams “Get Lucky” combined seamlessly with “The Bad Touch” by The Bloodhound Gang. I hadn’t heard a mash-up so epic since Umphrey’s McGee played “The Wall” by Pink Floyd together with “Thriller” by Michael Jackson at their Halloween show. Nick MacDaniels of BIG Something joins the stage to close out with “What Time is it,” “Magillicuddy,” then “Linus and Lucy,” back into “Magillicuddy.” Just when I think the show is over, I try to compose myself after how absolutely thrilled I am when they get back on stage for an encore of “Dr. SSinasinod.”
The Costume theme was “Animals” for the second night and the whole zoo gathers near the side stage. The award given out though, is The Darby Award, given by Jason Darby of What’s Next Concepts and emcee for the weekend. He gives it to friend and photographer Roger Gupta. “Thank you for always supporting me,” Darby remarks in his heartfelt speech, and hands him a big mystery box full of secret goodies (that turned out to be fun merch like a t-shirt, koozies, and more). We were happy to see an award go to Roger, who has graciously contributed many photos to Appalachian Jamwich and always impresses us with his talent. Besides being a skilled, visionary photographer, he is one of the nicest people you will ever meet.
Dopapod is nothing but epic as usual, with their drop-of-a-hat time changes, Rob Compa’s technical guitar, and Neal “Fro” Evans’ hard rock percussion. The glowing green light of the stage compliment the spacey sound of their music and they play many hits from their new album Redivider such as “Braindead” and “Give it a Name” as well as an epic “Dazed and Confused” cover dramatized by the band members briefly leaving the stage, just to return and blast our face with the wails of Eli Winderman’s moog. Pizza Jam follows on the Who Knows What Stage but we slink away to the campsite to prepare for raging one last day.
There was never a shortage of fun and antics at The Big What? boasting a Disc Golf course on the land to explore when you weren’t seeing music. Saturday featured a Disc Golf Tournament to start off the day, followed by a Flash Mob Dance Workshop right into the acoustic rock jams of Mac & Juice Quartet. By the time Imperial Blend gets on stage at 2:30 everyone is already switching into rage mode. Bubbles float happily by just like the effervescent riffs coming from Chris Teague’s guitar. Their electronic and instrumental ambience had you dancing immediately, and I loved the way Brennan Fowler’s synth beats made me wiggle and wobble. They even covered a song by Electric Soul Pandemic, a nod to the band that was coming up next and were returning for their 2nd year playing The Big What?.
The big act for the evening that everyone was gearing up for had to be Big Daddy Love. We had gotten to hang out with them a little bit the night before, since much to our delight they had come a night early. Several bands, in fact, had arrived early to party with the people, which is something to be said about the fun-factor and family feeling at The Big What?, since often bands wait until the day of their performance to arrive, and have to leave early to be at another the next day. The audience is absolutely losing it in rock ‘n’ roll bliss as the electric banjo plucks to the tune of “Don’t Worry Be Happy.” Scott Moss’s vocals and southern rock guitar gets you comfortable in a snappy tune, then a sudden shredding by Joseph Recchio breaks you from your trance and banjo player Brian Swenk gets your hips snapping once again with his banjo. The crowd goes wild when they play a cover of BIG Something’s “Amanda Lynn” and close with “Saints Go Marching In.”
Zach Deputy was a sight for sore eyes; it had been a while since we had seen his friendly face. His positive energy and endearing soulful voice provides an instant connect with audience, and many said his performance was the best of the weekend. He treated us to some of our favorites like “Put in it the Boogie” and “Into the Morning.” Zach’s smooth beat-box rhythms had every booty in the place shaking almost involuntarily. His encore “Chicken Pot Pie” had to be my highlight of the weekend, Zach’s sense of humor infuses his already entertaining performance with irresistible likeability.
BIG Something’s set signified the end of the festival, ending it the way it had begun. “Big City Song” gets it started at a running pace, Nick MacDaniel’s emotional croon singing along with Casey’s sax as Doug Marsh’s bass line rocks you back and forth. Jesse Hensley’s guitar playing always impresses me and he makes sure to give us a show on their last night. “Get Down on it” by Kool & the Gang gives us a funky little surprise that gets a few afro wigs bouncing, then they follow it up with the lighthearted “Capt D” from their album “Live from Uranus,” singing “this is the life we like to live,” making a few tears streak happily down smiling faces. The whole magical mix and match of this weekend was finally coming to an explosive climax, the headlining band even being joined by other band members like Zach Deputy for a cover of “Don’t Stop ‘til You Get Enough” by Michael Jackson with Zach on guitar and vocals. It was a family affair and I felt in love with everyone on that stage and everyone around. What a wonderful weekend! They cap it off with their first time covering REO Speedwagon’s “Roll with the Changes” to a swaying audience.
Days of Wild keeps their party going, becoming a huge cluster of a jam on stage. Fans even join the musicians just to dance and smile on the projection screen as they play their go-go like funk beats with a furious passion. Members of Big Daddy Love, BIG Something, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, and more periodically join in on the fun; the band is perpetually a dynamic mix and match of members but always feature Ferocious Guyocious on the drums and Stephane on the mic.
The party is still raging everywhere on the campground but Taco and I must get some rest for an early departure in the morning. Everyone is reluctant to let the weekend end, and visions of mustaches, sexy monkeys, and fun-noodle question marks are dancing in our heads, keeping us intoxicated the whole ride home. “Will you be back next year?” the golf cart driver asks as he drops us by our car. “Most definitely!” we reply. “We’ll see you there.”
[gdl_gallery title=”big what” width=”100″ height=”100″ ]