Written by Charles “Bones” Frank
Photos by Rob Roane Photography
Wilmington’s Greenfield Lake Amphitheater sits just a stones’ throw away from Front Street downtown, and is a hidden beauty nestled in front of the gator-inhabited lake for which the venue is named. It is there where I made landfall, ready to join with friends new and old and enjoy two nights of unblemished noise making from the mini-shed’s stage. Big Something had tapped a few cohorts for the weekend’s affair and I was once again filled with the curiosity and joy that the warm air of festival season brings. Onward!
As Big What? Wilmington is not an on-site camping affair like its big brother in August, the parking lot outside Greenfield Lake sees a lot of action. Groups coagulated and rejoiced in the anticipation of the music that was to come, the familiar sound of drinks being opened met my ear, and I had not yet stepped both feet out of my car when a passerby yelled “hey bro, got a lighter?” It was good to be back in the port city. I sashayed around the lot a bit, slapped hands with fellow attendees, and enjoyed the shade provided by the Cypress trees outside the gates. The complex is small enough to where I could hear Signal Fire getting things started inside. The sound grew as I made my way into the venue and atop the basin to take everything in for the first time.
I mingled with visual artist scene legend and Wilmington local, Bryan Stacy, as he began work on his piece for the weekend. The beginning of a pastel fractal skeleton gazed back at me from his canvas as the soothing sound of reggae generals Signal Fire resonated from the stage. Signal Fire also calls Wilmington its’ home, and their sound met me like a calm, tepid wave. Although having been around for years, this was my first time in recent memory seeing Signal Fire and they left a great mark. Their sound is whole, inviting, filled with energy, and the perfect way to slip into the weekend.
Up next was a DJ Logic solo set. Fans of Big Something have been familiar with DJ Logic for quite a while, as he was featured on “Megalodon” from the groups’ 2014 release Truth Serum. Since then, he has reappeared a few times to perform the hit live, most notably at last years’ Lockn’ festival where Big Something made their debut on the rotating main stage. For fans of old school, block party style DJs, this show was for you. A dance party from the very start, DJ Logic mixed classic hip-hop samples and breaks into every one of his movements. I was really looking forward to the set the turntable master did not disappoint. The crowd now thoroughly loosened; the sun was starting to sink behind the river glade, and all indications were that the main event was coming up next.
Big Something took the stage to roaring applause from the crowd which had now grown to fill out the 1200 person locale quite nicely. Under the calculated neon-infused cloak cast by their lighting designer Cameron Grogan, the six piece slam sultans got right down to it. Grogan shaded the stage in the appropriate blue as the opening stanza took fruition. Blue Dream took its’ introductory stroke, and evaporated into an early and powerful “Love Generator.” Nick MacDaniels smooth, soaring vocals commanded the crowd to feel the love, and they gleefully accepted, as they became one kinetic body. The whole town went down for “The Curse Of Julia Brown,” which segued into a searing, eerie “In the Middle,” a song that has become a monumental vehicle over time. Other highlights included “Truth Serum,” “Sundown Nomad,” and a ripping cover of The Pharcyde’s “Passin’ Me By” with DJ Logic and longtime emcee collaborator Mister sitting in. DJ Logic would remain on stage with the sextet for most of the conclusion of the set, and reappeared to take his cuts on “Megalodon,” which served as the massive final encore. The crowd had been served, thirst had been quenched, and famine had been sustained, until day two of course, when the crowd would reload and require a refill.
The sun rose over day two of The Big What? Wilmington to a blazing 95 degrees. For those that made the short trip to either Wrightsville or Carolina Beach to enjoy sand and suds prior to returning to Greenfield, I salute you. My pale skin required a thick coat of SPF-50 just to set a toe out onto the bustling city streets of Saturday afternoon. Other than the reading on the thermometer, it was by all accounts a brilliantly beautiful day. The aesthetic pleasure of the coastal scenery I always enjoy in this region of the state would soon be accented by food for the ear too. Back to the amphitheater grounds I went, for round deux. On the card today preceding Big Something were the ever-booming Dr. Bacon, and the lunatic rockers Andy Frasco & The U.N.
Although I was dreading entry a bit due to the heat and the purported sweat city that lay inside, just as the clock approached 5pm, cloud coverage swept through the sky. The light coverage remained for most of the afternoon, and was a welcome friend. Dr. Bacon absolutely thumped their slot. This is a band which I have watched transform from meager bluegrass beginnings years ago into the power punch stalwart they are today. Their music is as fun as it is dynamic, and today’s show would not deviate from that sentiment. Hard hitting versions of “Maybe, Maybe” and “Red Letter” stood out, as did their superb cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “Pusherman.” The boys from Asheville did not hold back, nor did the next artist on the docket.
Let me start my brief review of Andy Frasco & The U.N. by telling my readers to be thankful I am bound by a word count, otherwise this next portion would be filled with endless verbiage as wild as the day is long. I am no amateur to research of acts and events before I attend them, and I had done my homework on Frasco. I understood this was a band known for making a big first impression. Still, nothing, and I mean NOTHING could have prepared me or other onlookers for this performance. While the renditions of songs like “Change of Pace,” and “When You’re Lonely (Fill You Up),” were impressive, the set list is hardly what stood out. This man jumped to and fro atop his organ, which I can only hope is reinforced. He led the crowd on a musical/theatrical pornographic infused segment about baby making. He spewed beer everywhere. He crowd surfed ferociously from the amphitheater’s base all the way to the top and back again. I loved every second of this psychosis. Also of note, Michael Crawford and Myles Dunder sat in on a instrument battle conducted by Frasco. This shit was crazy. Go see this show.
The gracious hosts Big Something took the throne after Frasco eviscerated it. Casey Cranford’s funky evil sound on “EWI 4000” opened the set, a set, which would include new music, a tremendous surprise sit in, as well as more Frasco antics. The band ran through a strong “It Comes Around,” “Wildfire,” “Amanda Lynn,” before truly standout renditions of “Saturday Night Zombie,” and “Plug.” To the crowd’s wide-eyed amazement, R.E.M.’s Mike Mills emerged stage left, bass in hand, and joined the band as “Radio Free Europe” began to take form. “Radio Free Europe” was R.E.M.’s first hit, all the way back in the early 1980s, and would go on to really define the sound that took the group to the top of the Billboard charts on numerous occasion. This was a surreal moment for me, an R.E.M. fan in my youth, and it sounded superb my friends.
The surprises weren’t over yet though, after the song concluded and Mills stepped back out of gaze, MacDaniels announced the title of a new song, to be played for the first time. The debut of “Timebomb” was thunderous. This crowd loves new offerings. The song has a potent bass line, with a bit of a dark shuffle cadence. It is a song with great potential, and one whose journey I am excited to explore. Frasco conquered the stage once more when he was invited on to “sit in” on “My Volcano,” although he was really more of a conductor of sorts as he belted commands to the absorbent Big Something boys. Appropriately, “Flood” closed the main body of the night, before a pristine encore. Another announcement of new music was received well as “Afterglow” made its’ debut, before a p-e-r-f-e-c-t-l-y delivered and placed cover of Pearl Jam’s “Alive” served as the exclamation point. It was the band’s first time offering up the cover and was a nod to the energy of this community. If you are not already a member, I urge you to join the Big Something’s mob, I urge you to be alive.
As the book closed on Big What? Wilmington, I was grateful to be able to walk the grounds, hear the sounds, and converse with travelers from near and far about their experience discovering the band and the event. This is a community with as many unique voices as any, and it’s a pleasure to report it to you all under the banner of The Jamwich. For more info on Big Something check out their social media, or their website at www.BigSomething.net. Until next time, good people, salutations.