Q&A With Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros' Fan Site Co-Founder About The Inaugural Big Top Festival
Over the weekend, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros hosted their one-off, circus-inspired festival Big Top at Los Angeles State Historic Park. Modeled after a traveling circus, the event brought together a variety of performers including acrobats and puppeteers and finished each night with a headlining set from Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.
The spirit of ESMZ fueled the idea. The band is known for its communal, troubadour-esque vibe, and this sort of festival encapsulated what frontman Alex Ebert had wanted to do since the beginning.
"These days a band is a fast machine, cramming in dates, cutting fat, making the most money it can. Far gone are the ancient days of the traveling troubadours, lingering in towns, meeting the people, entertaining for days," Alex Ebert said in a release. "If you tour, or you have been to a 'professional' show, you may have had the sense that something is missing from the experience...And so, here comes the idea of Big Top — a one-off experiment in reaching for a more colorful, soulful, way to tour."
To see if the festival was all Ebert had hoped it would be for ESMZ fans, Music Times spoke with David Wexler, the co-founder of the band's fan page JanglinSouls.com, about his experience and what he thinks of the future of Big Top.
Describe your experience as a fan?
Big Top was an event unlike anything I have ever seen. There was so much positive energy and good vibes throughout the entire four days. It was intimate, it was magical, it was like living in a dream.
They had a little bit of everything for everybody — acrobats, contortionists, sword swallowers, puppet masters, and a whole matinee concert for families. There were activities before the shows, such as tambourine painting for kids, arts and crafts, yarn knitting and an open area to play your own music.
Do you see Big Top having a future outside of LA?
The band has already tweeted about where to put on a Big Top next. If they keep it small and intimate, like they did at LA Historic Park last weekend, I see no reason why this even wouldn't take off in the future. So many fans walked away feeling so moved; for many fans that we talked to, it was a life-changing experience.
The band started out every show by asking fans what they wanted to hear. There were times when they didn't know what they were going to play next. It was that spontaneity that made it so different than your typical concert.
What was the best set of the festival?
After Friday night's set, I came away thinking it was the best Edward Sharpe show that I've ever seen. Then on Saturday, just when you thought it couldn't get any better, they took it a whole new level. With her mom in attendance, Jade performed a new song called "Car Crash" (I believe will be on her new solo album), a real mellow song that takes your breath away and just gives you goose bumps. The band performed an incredible version of "Om Nashi Me," that seemed to move you and lift up your spirits, and take you to a happy place.
Then, during "Home," Jade invited Jorge Narvaez and his daughter Alexa to the stage to sing the rest of the hit song with fans cheering along. But the real highlight was what happened next. Alex invited the audience to meet outside after the show in the middle of the bazaar area for an impromptu gathering in which the band played nine more songs, including "All Wash Out," "Brother," "Lean on Me" and "Stand By Me." More than 200 fans gathered in a circle around a piano, singing along with Edward Sharpe. Alex asked fans what they wanted to hear and just played music.
It was like a small community gathered together in one place to hear beautiful music that touched your soul. They gave fans more than their money worth; it was so personal and intimate and full of emotion, and felt like they were singing directly to you.
What did you think of the other bands?
There were several smaller up-and-coming bands. The Giving Tree opened for Edward Sharpe during the summer. The Saint James Band, with Jade's father, George Castrinos, performed. They normally are a three-piece band, but had eight musicians on stage for their short, four-song set. George actually played the slide guitar one night with the band during "Fiya Wata."
Aaron Embry, a former pianist for Edward Sharpe, was back with his old friends. Alex invited Aaron to the stage on Sunday during their family matinee show to perform "Another Part of Me," a fun song that he used to play with the band.
Would it have been better with a larger lineup?
No. Keeping it small and intimate is what made it so special and unique.
What surprised you during the weekend?
Edward Sharpe has played on a bridge, in Old Vic Tunnels, in airports, on trains, but I really didn't know what to expect from a Big Top circus. But they managed to keep it so real, interact with the fans, and make them feel like part of the show.
What was your favorite Big Top memory?
It is very rare to find a band with 12 people who are so real and so free, that simply want to create beautiful music and positive vibes. The band performed for nearly an hour after Saturday night's show, which didn't end until shortly after midnight. On the last evening, they performed a rare, impromptu acoustic version of "A Million Years" from Alexander Ebert's solo album inside a "beer garden."
Another time, the band walked through the public bazaar to perform an acoustic version of "If I Were Free." It gave everybody a chance to be a part of something special and see them play, even if they didn't buy a ticket.
What did your fan website, JanglinSouls.com do?
JanglinSouls.com was there to give fans that could not be there a glimpse of what was happening every day. We took pictures and videos and posted daily concert reviews, and talked with fans of all ages, many who traveled long distances to be there. We wanted to make people feel that they were still part of Big Top, even though they couldn't be there. If they weren't there physically, they were there in spirit.
What do you want people to know who weren't there?
No matter where you live, if you like to laugh, dance and love, you need to be at Big Top. Big Top was also the last show for Nora Kirkpatrick, who is leaving the band to focus on her acting career. She was recently casted on new TVLand show starring Jamie Pressley. The band bid her adieu during the encore of Home on Sunday night, almost brining her to tears.
Were you at Big Top festival? Share your experiences in the comments section below!