BIG Summer Classic :: 07.23.05 :: Tweeter Center (Great Woods) :: Mansfield, MA
It's just after midnight, and the last of the stragglers has long since been given the boot from inside Tweeter Center (Great Woods). I'm sitting atop a picnic table off in a wooded, somewhat secluded corner of the venue. Laughing to myself and eventually out loud, I'm half amazed and half amused by this wonderful spectacle happening before my eyes. Nearly twenty folks, most on BIG tour since the Red Rocks openers three weeks prior, are packing trunks with props and costumes, wrestling a giant, air-filled sumo wrestler to the ground, and breaking down "Freak-In" camp headquarters. Security, however, not only knows we're here, but they've also stopped by to give a heart-felt thanks to the sideshow entertainers.
BIG Summer Classic :: 07.23.05
No, the outside world couldn't fathom a community this strong and, well, this wonderfully strange. This batch of boho performers and "extra festivular" activity coordinators are an integral pulse-provoking piece of the traveling, neo-hippie circus and music spectacular known as the BIG Summer Classic. With drum circles, audience sumo wrestling, parades with massive puppets, a field of giant bubbles, hula hooping, and even face painting, these wonderful people working behind the scenes, and more often - right on the scene, provide for an intimate and straight up "phamily phun" experience.
BIG Summer Classic :: 07.23.05
This realized dream is all part of the grand String Cheese Incident plan. As visionaries and ringmaster of the festivities, SCI pulled off the summer's biggest touring jamband festival, and on this day in Mansfield, MA, packed almost 10,000 people into the amphitheatre and lawn. With Friends of Cheese Keller Williams, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Umphrey's McGee, Yonder Mountain String Band, and New Monsoon in tow, SCI had some serious competition to follow and needed to put on a first-rate show to top off an entire afternoon and evening of jaw-dropping music. The Cheese did not disappoint. But first, New Monsoon would get the party started right with their blistering blend of "Whirled Music."
The San Francisco-based seven-piece band is truly making a name for itself touring incessantly across the USA, and they made a strong East Coast statement on this late July afternoon just outside of Boston, MA. The ragin', raucous Indian techno rock of "Traveling Gypsies" featured Jeff Miller's blistering rock guitar manifesto, keyboardist Phil Ferlino's freaky, tweaky synth layerings, and some definitive tablas from Rajiv Parikh. Other highlights included the strong vocal offerings of "On the Sun" and "Broken Picture Window." Spearhead bassist Carl Young joined the Monsoon on saxophone for some smooth, buttery jazz on "Cypress." Meanwhile, Yonder Mountain's Dave Johnston did some banjo dueling with Bo Carper on the bluegrass-tinged "Continental Divide."
Rajiv Parikh - New Monsoon - BIG :: 07.23.05
New Monsoon Setlist
Calypso (w/ Manas from Spearhead & Jason Hahn from SCI), On the Sun, Traveling Gypsies, Broken Picture Window, Cypress (w/ Carl Young), Continental Divide
YONDER MOUNTAIN STRING BAND
Next up was the newgrass of Yonder Mountain String Band. SCI's Colorado brethren kept the Olde Timey vibe alive with a solid set of early afternoon boogie featuring "Finally Saw the Light" and the Talking Heads' "Girlfriend is Better."
Johnston & Aijala - YMSB :: 07.23.05
Yonder Mountain String Band Setlist
Sideshow Blues, Crooked Hitch, Idaho, Finally Saw the Light, You're No Good, If Loving You is Killing Me, Pride of Alabama, Things you're Selling, Peace of Mind > Girlfriend is Better > Peace of Mind, Holdin
MICHAEL FRANTI and SPEARHEAD
Michael Franti and Spearhead was the third band to grace the stage. Preaching his gospel of positivity and light, Franti would drop some memorable moments when the aforementioned contingent of BIG performers took the stage for "Stay Human" while all the freaky people got down to the lovely sound. Other notables included "East to the West" where a sage-like Franti proclaims:
Michael Franti & Spearhead - BIG :: 07.23
Life is too short to make just one decision
Music's too large for just one station
Love is too big for just one nation
And God is too big for just one religion
One to the practice of being in the flow
And one to the tears for the things we let go
And one to the moment we live in right now
And one to the east, west, north and south
Michael Franti & Spearhead Setlist
Soulshine, Sometimes, Stay Human, East to the West, Love Invincible, I Been Away, Bomb, Everyone Deserve Music, Yes I Will
Keller Williams, as always, came out a strummin' ferociously, making the strings bling on "M+M." A strong "Sally Sullivan" > "Dear Emily" began, "Could not have started/ Any sweeter/ On my way/ To the Great Woods Tweeter Amphitheatre," as the crowd erupted in applause. He solicited a similar reaction during "Gate Crashers Suck" singing, "This place reminds me of Deer Creek back in 1995." The song about the Grateful Dead would eventually lead to a phenomenal, upbeat take on the Dead's "Fire on the Mountain" featuring Jeff Miller from New Monsoon on guitar and Kris Myers from Umphrey's McGee on drums. Williams would actually play a bubbly, percolating funk bass on the tune, with Miller providing some of the afternoon's finest highlights while taking some very Jerry-like solos. Myers stayed on from "Fire" through a jazzy, loop-laden "Boob Job" and added a hip, swingin' backbone to accompany Keller's normally solo sound. Songs like "Skitzo" displayed Williams' acoustic guitar wizardry.
Keller Williams - BIG :: 07.23.05
K Dub would invite one other guest to the stage, the multitalented, velvety-voiced Martin Sexton for a slick vocal jam and a beautiful "Hallelujah."
Keller Williams Setlist
M&M's, Sally Sullivan, Bad, Dear Emily, Gate Crashers, Fire on the Mountain (w/ Jeff from NM & Chris from UM), Slo Mo Balloon, Boob Job, Victory Song, Skitzo, Hallelujah (w/ Martin Sexton), Rainy Day, Drumz
Umphrey's McGee brought their signature, edgy sound to the stage as day turned to dusk. Take equal parts "improg rock," metal, some 80's hair guitar, the ever important spunk and soul, and a bunch of Midwest Budweiser-swillin', fun-loving boys, and you get the Umph. Structurally, their songs are reminiscent of Phish's more intricate pieces – compositions with distinct moods and evolving movements. A high point was definitely "Push the Pig" with a dose of Franti freestyle. UM masterfully bended the rhythm and flow of the groovy jam to match Franti's delivery. Bassist Ryan Stasik was holding it down tight on bass while some tweaky, West Coast hip-hop keys were added to the fray.
Umphrey's McGee - BIG :: 07.23
Umphrey's McGee Setlist
Mulche's Odyssey > Divisions, Push the Pig (w/ Franti), I've Got a Feeling > Wife Soup > JaJunk
THE STRING CHEESE INCIDENT
In keeping with the theme of going BIG, SCI dropped a jewel of a set on the captivated audience. By the time the Cheese took the stage, there had been over seven hours of fantastic music and entertainment. If anyone's dancin' feet had grown tired from the all heavyweight, all champion undercard, SCI sent out invigorating sonic waves to breathe new life into the eager crowd, like imagination into Pinocchio. Sure enough, SCI played musical puppeteer, tugging on the strings of our souls, making us dance our cares away into the simmering summer night.
|SCI (Hann left Nershi right) BIG - 07.23
Going BIG ("Beyond Internal Gravity") is an appropriate blend of living in the present with a heightened self awareness yet also a certain selflessness. Going BIG can be somewhat scary, almost frightening in fact, but the entire SCI show served as the springboard for inner exploration via outer-sensory stimulation. Right from the opener, the Boulder Boys were "ON" as evidenced by a knock down, drag out take on the John Barlow and Michael Kang original "It Is What It Is." This song raged to soaring, arena rock heights behind Billy Nershi's electric guitar work and left little doubt as to why SCI was headlining this traveling carnival. It was pleasing and important to note the rich, deep sound the band emitted because they haven't really played a venue of this size on the East Coast. It was also gratifying to see and hear SCI silencing jamband critics by filling both the seats and the large amphitheatre with their trademark sound.
Keller with SCI - BIG :: 07.23.05
The highlight of the entire day, and indeed one of the finest Cheese moments in recent memory, came with the set-closing run: "Sirens" > "Eye Know Why," "Rivertrance" > "Round About" > "On the Road." The deep and infectious glide of "Sirens" blended into an absolutely mind-blowing space/trance/electronica percussion-driven jam led by drummer Michael Travis and percussionist Jason Hann. Kyle Hollingsworth added some mesmerizing keyboard offerings and took charge as the segue magically turned into his Latin-flavored "Eye Know Why." Keith Moseley's excellent bass work provided the foundation for Michael Kang to weave smooth and subtle fiddle lines into the flow of the "Rivertrance" while his vocals and mandolin work made the Yes cover "Roundabout" a memorable contribution.
BIG Summer Classic :: 07.23.05
The encore featured Keller Williams coming back out with his Cheese buddies for a groovy take on his popular "Freaker by the Speaker," featuring Nershi on lap steel. Tying the knot on the perfect Summer Classic bow was Dylan's "Quinn the Eskimo." With nearly every single musician from the day on stage, the Nershi-led "Quinn" was a fun-lovin' send-off to the festivities and an ideal way to showcase the talent and sense of community that the BIG event had to offer. In the end, if this traveling festival was any indication as to the future of the jamband scene and the direction of its music, its love, and its creativity, then the days and years ahead are surely bright for SCI and its extended family and friends.
Words & Images by: John Smrtic
JamBase | Boston
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