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It’s as simple as this: The Big Up downright killed it.
Shireworks Productions is on to something ferocious. A savvy combination of Sunnyview Farm’s incredible legacy and locational capabilities, a solid on-site production crew, an inspiringly innovative arts directing and creative team, and a carefully thought out, meticulously perfect lineup left fans on cloud 9 and musicians in heaven. You name it – decor, lighting, sound, performer hospitality, press and artist accommodations, site amenities, security, alternative activities, hidden stages, wooded camping, art galleries, lounges, multi-media installations, and feel good homies all around – The Big Up did it right. At multiple times toward the ends of sets and after the festival had ended, headlining bands and smaller acts exclaimed their gratitude toward Jules and Shireworks, telling fans how The Big Up was their favorite festival this year. It was one of those weekends where bands on the brink of breaking out find their spotlight and tried and true favorites put on their best and play like kids left unsupervised in the candy shop of their dreams.
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Sunnyview Farms is home to a unique, interesting history that enriches the festival experience for everyone involved. From what could be gathered, the farm, which once served as the venue for John Lennon’s recording session with Roulette Records executive Morris Levy, is now owned by Morris’ son. Morris Levy is more than just a pioneer in the record industry – with mob ties, criminal tendencies, and relations to some of the most legendary musicians in his time. Levy was even depicted in the hit TV show ‘The Sopranos’.
Though, it’s Levy’s relationship with John Lennon and it’s connection to the farm that is most striking. Levy had charged that the song “Come Together” sounded extremely similar to a Chuck Berry song who’s rights he owned. In exchange for dropping infringement charges, Lennon agreed to record an oldies album using three of Levy’s copyrights, among others.
With such a rich legacy, Sunnyview Farms is made a magical place by default. The property’s landscape is stunning, and The Mansion, a giant, picturesque farmhouse down the hill from the festival was a place for artists to sleep, party, and relax. The site capabilities made everyone happy, and with the number of artists piled into the lineup, it was great to see them all amped to perform.
With live reviews of Raq, Kung Fu, Big Gigantic, Papadosio, Jimkata, The Werks, Consider The Source, The Indobox, The Big Sway, Gramatik, Timbre Coup, Technicolor Lenses, Dirty Paris, and Wobblesauce already posted on the site, it’s surprising that there is more to say. Fortunately for Shireworks Productions, TBU gave plenty of reasons for everyone to sing their praises.
Our favorite Thursday performance was, by far, the Marco Benevento Trio. Benevento is always infusing lineups with happy-go-lucky jazz that follows a structure that is simultaneously improvisational and primed in poppy songwriting. Rocking his lion-laden piano, various pedals and circuit bending equipment, Benevento laughed and smiled at his bandmates, the crowd, and photographers on stage, flashing a nice wink at our own Gabriella Thurman.
Here’s a clip of the beginning of his set:
A handle of Maker’s Mark and “The Real Morning Party” (which, Benevento shouted out jokingly, “You know the words to this one!”) created a joy-filled opening night for TBU.
The trio performing “The Real Morning Party” at TBU:
Touting some serious covers, Benevento played “Benny and The Jetts” like it was his own, and followed up with an Amy Winehouse nod, covering “You Know I’m No Good”. His performance channeled the songstress without overpowering her sound with his style. For the first time since her death, I felt truly moved.
Friday late-night headliners Ott and Digital Tape Machine offered two very different, but equally mind-blowing performances. Ott is an internationally celebrated DJ, who’s unreal soundscapes create stunning, intricate, oftentimes surreal sonic experiences.
Check out a video of Ott performing at TBU:
After a short interlude from Perileyes, Digital Tape Machine’s psychotic blend of rock and electronic music followed Ott organically, switching to a bit of a heavier sound but maintaining the dance-and-shred mentality of the ragers that night.
Here’s a clip from outside of the barn during DTM:
The barn area was packed for both artists, with people wandering between the stage, the lounge, and the gigantic, laser-infested silo adjacent to the barn. Visual projections painted the sides of the barn and glowing boxes and installations danced around the festival site. TBU, more than any other festival (yes, including Camp Bisco) transported you into another dimension. They paid such careful attention to atmosphere that one could get completely lost in the environments that the decorations, the organic capabilities of the grounds, and the music created. I spent the entire night in the lounges hidden in the back of the barn behind the stages. Music vibrated through my body as I wandered through rooms filled with art from the weekend, or made into various themes for you to explore.
The energy on Saturday night was unmistakable. By the time Dopapod hit the side stage at 9:30, the concert area was filled. You could see it in their faces, and as an audience member you could feel it in your core – there was an uninterrupted synthesis between the band, the music, and the crowd. Dopapod does it all – they bring back the organ and flirt with dubstep, ranging from timeless funk to quirky electro-jams with down and dirty grooves. An ever-evolving fusion of jazz, funk, and dance rock reveals versatility and range.
Here is a clip of Dopapod performing a new track for TBU:
They ended their set at TBU with a jaw-dropping cover of Tool’s “Lateralus”. They executed flawlessly, not messing with the song one bit. They didn’t sound like Dopapod in that moment, rather Tool manifested to life on TBU side stage. People were out of their minds, one person even told the band’s manager that Dopapod’s performance was one of the best concert experiences of his life. In all honesty, halfway through the song I had to walk away, because the intensity between the band and the crowd was too overwhelming. Jules stood to the side of the stage, eyes wide, and my photographer to the left of me, mouth hanging ajar. Nobody had seen this side of Dopapod before. Their rendition of Tool proves an unequivocal capacity for diversity backed by musicians with serious talent. Dopapod blew TBU up.
Here’s another video clip of their song “Blast” at TBU:
Another Saturday night surprise was Connecticut’s lespecial. They can sing, funk, rap, break, and erupt into a dance party. How can you go wrong? Not a single song sounded remotely familiar to the last. From slow-motion dubstep to the funkiest, brassiest, sounds you can imagine. When they dropped “Crusher” I was filled with a sense of who lespecial is as a band. The song candidly celebrates their schizophrenic versatility, spelunking between heavy metal synths, bassy club thumps, and an eccentric, glitchy video game adventure.
With the addition of a horn section they spurt out funk music glazed neon, with the blacklight glow of a club and the timeless soul of the sax. Even with a broken snare drum a song into their set, lespecial rocked the late night Woods Stage. They keep you on your toes. Lespecial’s genre-defying sound transitions well between styles, maintaining an ever-wandering, always well-polished exterior. In one song lespecial will prowl through difference movements of sound – rock, jazz, dub, hip-hop, and electronic dance beats. The composite of influences that makes up their distinct style and sound is unrivaled. The remarkable thing about this band is that every genre they get their hands on they do exceptionally, and in their own, distinctive way. It was incredible to watch them perform, a cast of characters creating a catalog of sounds amidst of glowing teepee of stage decor.
The icing on TBU cake was their creative team. There were coffee filters lining the silo, formed in a way that made them sparkle when lasers hit them. Ripped nylon stretched between trees, and large tangles of yarn made spiderwebs and dangling dreamcatchers around every corner. There was a room behind the barn that had huge cotton balls hanging from the ceiling, surrounded by lights, to look like clouds. There was pre-made seating everywhere, logs fashioned imaginatively and placed every few feet in the camping area. Even the placement of the trail lights in the woods was ethereal at night time. The recycled, DIY nature of the arts team’s work was made breathtaking by the their thoroughness and creativity. Our pictures can’t even begin to translate the breadth of visual genius TBU had to offer.
The festival also scheduled numerous multimedia, arts & cultural amenities, with workshops ranging from organic composting to wild, edible, medicinal herbs, and activities that include arts & crafts hours, talent shows, a group art project, a geocaching expedition (I know, a GPS scavenger hunt at a music festival…) and a big chef challenge at the Farmer’s Market. In fact, there was an entire Healing Winds Tipi Village and Sanctuary that served as an alcohol-free zone for festival goers of all ages to “engage, explore, learn and discover environmental, educational, alternative wellness and consciousness models, programs and activities for a healthy, strong and positive mind, body and spirit.” All three days of the concert were host to full schedules at the Tipi Village.
Other amenities included a taxi service with weekend passes for purchase at $20, and live multimedia arts projects ranging from performance, graffiti, sculpture, and live sustainable arts. Primate Fiasco was even found marching through the venue, merrily accosting campers with brassy blows and big band shenanigans.
With glowing reviews all around and a killer first few years under their belt, we eagerly anticipate an outstanding future for The Big Up Music Festival.
journalism by M E G A L O M A N D E E