The Big Shindig
Photo by Grayson Haver Currin
Quite a pit ya got there, Fuel...
Walnut Creek Amphitheatre, Raleigh
Sunday, Sept. 7, 2014
In the late 1990s, G105’s Big Shindig was exactly that—a daylong festival that folks, especially young folks, spent the summer imagining. Tens of thousands shuffled through Walnut Creek’s version of the Pearly Gates for a few years, smuggling disposable cameras and smelling of sunscreen, ready to sing along to pop radio’s heavenly chorus.
There were hangouts in the venue’s dusty gravel parking lots. There were autograph tents and merch tables. And there were the bands—oh, the bands! Each year, groups like the Barenaked Ladies and Train, Nelly Furtado and The Verve Pipe, a young Rufus Wainwright and an upcoming Sister Hazel played long through the day and deep into the night, disrupting the zeitgeber of tweens and the parents who escorted them. For a young Triangle-ite back then, when a G105 bumper sticker was the tag of aural enlightenment, the festival represented a rite of passage. A Big Shindig T-shirt bought you a ticket to the cool kids’ table. Hell, even Lilly’s Pizza named a pie after the thing.
But until this year, all that remained of the Shindig were a few Angelfire sites
and snippets of magazine articles scanned into Google Books, recalling a time when print media and mainstream radio flexed more power over the general teenage populous. After more than a decade away, though, The Big Shindig returned to Walnut Creek Amphitheatre on Sunday, though not without considerable changes. Presented by radio newcomer 95X
, the lineup of 10 bands ran from 1 p.m. until 11 p.m., a risky proposition for a school night. And contrary to historical lineups, which focused on conventional and emerging chart-toppers, 95X’s selection featured a mix of new and old talent and a range of styles. Groups like Bear Hands
and Foster the People supplied the indie nod, while Fuel and Weezer’s heydays are as bygone as that of the Shindig itself.
In theory, The Pretty Reckless
was closest in concept to the old-school cast—they’re currently riding a wave of several hit singles—but the crowd barely seemed to notice their half-metal bluster. Perhaps the band’s heavy vibe didn’t cater to the Shindig’s target audience, or maybe it was because the expected crowd of 9,000 was dotting the lawn, instead of filling the up-close seats. Reckless zipped through a loud 45-minute set before closing with “Fucked Up World.” As singer Taylor Momsen gyrated against the drum kit, standing in front of a gigantic logo that almost looked like an inverted cross, she repeated variations on “fuck” more than 20 times in four minutes before bidding the (quiet) crowd adieu.
Strangely, this sort of attempt at edginess served as the Shindig’s recurring theme. Only 20 minutes into their set on the side stage, Foxy Shazam
frontman Eric Nally begged the crowd for cigarettes, lit one and ate it before launching into “I Like It,” a song about the white singer’s fetish for the posteriors of black women. His vibe was professionally naughty. Bear Hands signed off by wishing everyone a “fuckin’ good day,” while Fuel’s Brett Scallions nipped gingerly—and then more copiously—from a bottle of Maker’s Mark between songs. It might as well have been called the Big Sindig.
“We’re here to play some heavy fuckin’ guitar-driven rock music,” Scallions opined between mouthfuls of whiskey. “Just watch out for each other in the pit.” As Fuel rolled through new material, a few people crowd surfed, a few sang along, but most just stared blankly ahead or took swills from guitar-shaped drinking apparatuses. There was no “pit.”
Several parent/child combos exited during Fuel’s between-song profanity, and more left after the third time Scallion’s voice cracked while searching for the high notes in “Shimmer.” Those who stayed seemed more interested in popping tallboys than listening to pop music. Eventually, the edginess did me in, too, and I headed home after four hours. I left as Fitz and The Tantrums
took the stage, but not before hearing “That’s goddamn right!” make its way from the large speakers into the parking lot.
It was a far cry from the Big Shindig I remember, where Smash Mouth’s lyric about buying the world a toke was the worst offense (my mom covered my ears when Steve Harwell sang that) and throngs of preteens chirped along to every exuberant chorus. Instead, at the rejuvenated Big Shindig, folks got lost inside their cell phones or at the bottom of their beer cans, and parents of the young seemed uncomfortable. It wasn’t a shindig at all; it was just big, dumb rock concert with two stages.
Strangely enough, I suppose Fuel made the most poignant statement of the night, then: “I have found that all that shimmers in this world is sure to fade.”