|The summer months of the ever-expanding mu|
sic festival subculture are all about collecting fabric wristbands and seeing who can outfest whom. For the ambitious, it’s all about Bonnaroo, Pitchfork and Summer Camp. For the prioritized, it’s Camp Bisco, Mountain Jam, Phish’s Super Ball and All Good. The happy-go-lucky Big Up Festival, now in its second year, capped off July with its return to Ghent, marking its territory in the festival landscape while still maintaining the positive small-town vibe and homegrown momentum that defined its strong debut.Featuring more than 60 national and local acts over three days—including headliners EOTO, Marco Benevento, Big Gigantic, the Breakfast, RAQ, OTT, Digital Tape Machine and Papadosio—what really identified the Big Up were the tactfully placed, ornate details of the festival grounds, such as a flower garden made from recycled beer cans and posted reminders to “Call Your Mom,” which demonstrated that the organizers had combined the best elements of countless music festivals attended over the years.
Planned by Shireworks Productions and the hosting band Higher Organix, the festival has seen massive growth since last year, doubling in size and production while remaining affordable. Attendance was kept just below the allotted 5,000-person capacity and seemed to draw a slightly younger crowd.
Walking around the historic grounds of Sunnyview Farm, which once served as the venue for John Lennon’s recording session with Roulette Records exec Morris Levy—whose son currently owns the property—there was a lot to take in between the four stage locations, a giant fire pit, artists live painting, multimedia showcases and vendors, as well as the neon stretched-nylon decorations at the Woods Stage. Also unique was the use of two adjacent barns—one for late-night music, complete with a decked-out lounge, bouncy Moon Mats and mini galleries in horse stalls, and the other for overflowing guests seeking a casual reprieve from the neighboring sweaty dance pit. Those hoping for a full eight hours of sleep might have been disappointed, as scheduled performances stretched as late as 6 AM. There was very little overlap between the different stages, so if you were determined enough—and downed a Monster energy or two—you could catch a snippet from every slotted act.
Local hip-hop-jazz-fusion champs the Chronicles killed it during their opening set on Thursday, playing songs like “Purple Haze” and “Triumph” and setting the festival off on a funky, upbeat note. Over at the Woods Stage, people were barefoot, dancing on the cold, exposed earth, as Mentally Ill and Leila fired up the crowd with spitfire drum ‘n’ bass and the occasional dubstep drop.
A standout act was Marco Benevento, who chugged from a nearly empty bottle of Maker’s Mark and riled up the crowd with cheerful banter and tight, progressive improvisation, exhibiting talent and versatility from behind his white piano with solid backing from his band. Additional treats included a guilty-pleasure cover of MGMT’s “Time To Pretend” from rock group the Indobox, the smell of campfire that crept up during Dirty Paris’ jam-heavy set, remixes from Big Gigantic of “Black and Yellow” and “I Need a Dolla,” backed by Dominic Lalli on sax—and the fact that a spontaneous torrential downpour didn’t stop too many from raging out to the improv-and-dance-oriented Higher Organix. The hosts delivered an impressive and diverse performance each night, adapting to the particular stage setting and energy from the crowd. It was an absolute highlight to watch the trio perform, knowing that they had spent the past year planning the festival—a testament to their dedication to providing and performing passionate music.