Big Ass Boombox’s Greatest Hits

The Hoot Hoots at Big Ass Boombox 2016 (Photo by Christine Mitchell)

Big Ass Boombox celebrated its fourth year of free, all ages entertainment with a slew of creatively charged up and coming local bands, filling The Crocodile for two nights of fun. So much fun, in fact, that it would be impossible to unload it all here. So instead, consider these “greatest hits” from Big Ass Boombox 2017:

  • Locomotive may have been the very first band on the festival’s schedule, but this rock trio made sure that they wouldn’t be forgotten as the performances piled up. First off, they rocked hard. Second, their stage presence was top notch. Third…they’re all teenagers, which, in light of the first two points, obviously makes them superheroes. Bella Mariani and Ryan Horn headbanged on bass and guitar, respectively, while Ethan Horn expertly bashed it out on the drums. Ethan Horn? Seventh grader. Un-freaking-believeable. One can only imagine what Locomotive will be when these kids grow into their britches, but if imagination serves, they’re going to be a serious contender in the Seattle scene. Locomotive slathers on new fans wherever they go, and they deserve every one. Never you mind that they played a cover of Naked Giants’ “Easy Eating” with NG’s drummer, Henry Lavallee as a guest. Sweet!
  • Skates! (and everyone yells “SKATES!”) took the main stage dressed for the office, and it quickly became obvious why: Skates! are professionals when it comes to rocking asses off. Lesli Wood killed it onstage, whether she was singing, shredding on the guitar, throwing devil horns, or leaping into the air (all of which she did repeatedly and very well). Skates’ brand of surf rock had folks dancing in the pit, which served to feed the band more energy, which they repaid in full.
  • Actionesse was the last band to play the Back Bar Stage on night one, and it was a bit comical to see five grown men crammed into the corner with their various instruments. The microphones didn’t fit on the low stage and were instead placed on the ground in front of it. But Actionesse’s performance, while swirling and demented, was anything but cluttered. Ian Reed and Paddy Moran traded emphatic vocals paired with Reed’s frenzied guitar and Moran’s speedy basslines. The Back Bar got crazy, with fans reaching toward the stage in unison and banging their heads in time with the music. Joel Kenworthy, who makes up the band’s brass section (trombone, flute, saxophone), broke the stage barrier during the band’s closer, “Shark Hunting,” as he pushed through the crowd and stood in the middle of the bar area, trombone blaring. It was zany and amazing.
  • The Hoot Hoots closed out night one with their singular style of music, which is a mishmash of rock and roll and all of your favorite video game soundtracks rolled up in rainbows. The band’s sunny atmosphere permeated The Crocodile, starting with their coordinating, colorful outfits topped with LED sunglasses and radiating out with their happy music and a colorful light show. The crowd grooved and danced along. It was a great way to close out night one, and great to see festival organizer Adam Prairie, who is also The Hoot Hoots’ frontman, headlining Big Ass Boombox after a break of two years.
  • Saturday’s Back Bar Stage lineup was stacked with fun. below blackstar’s set, while plagued with technical difficulties, was musically quirky and interesting. Their sound came across as hardcore country prog rock. If that has never been a thing, well, it is now. To make things even more memorable, frontman Christopher Lopez at one point soloed on his guitar using a hot pink vibrator. What that might mean is open to interpretation, but below blackstar definitely got folks’ minds turning.
  • 52 Kings also played the Back Bar, and his rap-on-rollerskates had the crowd smiling and playing along with his antics. At one point, he had everyone in the room squatting low to the floor as he wound out his tales. He controlled his music using a wireless control pad on his wrist, and when he moved, his rollerskates lit up.  52 Kings was full of humor mixed with a zest for life, and it was great fun.
  • The main stage on Saturday was a stark contrast from the Back Bar. Serious, moody bands prevailed, with the shoegazy Season Of Strangers leading the pack with their dreamy, indie sound. The band seemed lost in the music, eyes closed, swaying. The crowd followed suit.
  • Meanwhile, two high energy bands closed out the Back Bar: Wild English and Wall of Ears. Wild English’s angular, old school punk rock energized the crowd, including several attendees who had obviously walked in fresh off of the high of the Seahawks’ wild card game win. One Hawk fan in particular took the time to personally engage with the band as they performed, standing directly in front of the guitarist, yelling back as he sang, and then completely lifting the bassist in a bear hug at one point. What? But seriously, Wild English was great.
  • Wall Of Ears’ frontman Chris Lott won the award for most eclectically dressed at Big Ass Boombox. His overlarge sunglasses, spiky hair, and meshy blouse projected a mashup of Elton John and John Lydon.  And interestingly enough, Wall Of Ears’ sound artistically veered between those two as well, though definitely leaning more toward PiL than “Rocket Man.” It was a complex yet earnest performance that connected with the audience. Lott went out into the crowd several times to interact with people, making new fans as he moved around the room.

Big Ass Boombox paid off due to the hard work of many volunteers and the music of so many bands. If the mission of Big Ass Boombox is – as they state on their website – to showcase “some of the best music that this city has to offer while removing every possible barrier keeping new fans from discovering them,” they did that and more, as they also empowered the next generation of Seattle bands to lead the charge into the future.

Christine Mitchell has been poring over album liner notes pretty much since she acquired the skill of reading, and figured out the basic structure of rock songs at an early age. Whether it’s the needle popping into the first groove of the record, the beeps that signal the beginning (or end) of a cassette tape, or digital numbers ticking off the seconds from zero, music brings Christine happiness, ponderous thought, opportunities for almost scientific study, and sometimes a few tears. When she started attending live shows two decades ago, a whole new piece of the puzzle clicked in and she has been hooked ever since.