By Chyrisse Tabone, Rock At Night Tampa
Live Review: 97X Next Big Thing Festival – The Sound, Clearwater, FL – December 3, 2023
It has been a longstanding holiday tradition for folks in Tampa Bay to attend the 97X Next Big Thing festival since 2001. The one-day event showcases bands that are up-and-coming or have been a staple in the indie music scene. This year’s event was held on Sunday, December 3rd, in the area’s newest venue, The Sound at Coachman Park. The festival featured The Black Keys as the headliner, but also Bleachers, Lovejoy, MisterWives, Little Image, and local Battle of the Band winner, Summer Hoop.
Director of Special Events Cox Media Tampa said, “We can’t think of a better backdrop for the 97X Next Big Thing than the amazing water and sunset views at the Sound.”
Rock At Night arrived at The Sound in the afternoon—and the set by Little Image was sorely missed. Walking into the venue, we could hear them—and they sounded incredible. According to a concertgoer, the “lead singer jumped into the audience,” and the “show was unbelievable.” We will keep our eyes out for them in the future!
At 3:45 p.m., the band Misterwives was set to grace the stage; an emcee walked out, introducing two “super fans” named James McKinney and Kara Viola. Before we knew it, McKinney grabbed Viola’s hand and began giving what appeared to be a wedding proposal. Looking shocked, she covered her mouth, as he went down on one knee. With a quivering voice, he asked for her hand in marriage. When she responded “yes,” the audience roared and clapped in approval.
Within minutes, Misterwives’ lead singer Amanda Lee emerged, sporting a short tartan skirt onstage and sporting her trademark long red locks. A cloud of smoke filled the air as she belted out “Out of Your Mind.” The crowd of mostly teens and 20-somethings (along with their parents, likely there for the Black Keys) clamored toward the barricade, waving their arms in unison. Lee, the consummate frontwoman, danced and coaxed the crowd into a dancing frenzy. She said, “The next song is about resilience,” as the band jumped into “Rock Bottom,” which featured a cool sax riff. Well-received songs were “SUPERBLOOM” and “Nosebleeds.”
Unlike with most festivals, the bands played for almost an hour so the audience could taste more of their music. While the equipment was being broken down or assembled, the audience would gazed at the screens mounted on each side of the stage. Interviews with featured bands, as well as ads for marijuana dispensaries, upcoming concerts, and diamond rings, were shown. As the bands appeared in the interview, a deafening (and, yes, I mean loud) scream from the audience rang out. Throughout the day, as emcees or even a lone roadie set up equipment, a loud cheer or scream was prompted. I haven’t heard this much screaming since a Greta Van Fleet concert.
At 5:15 p.m., Lovejoy, the band I eagerly awaited to see, walked onto a smoke-filled stage. After today, the Brighton chaps may be everyone’s “new favorite band.” Their music sounds alt-rock with touches of New Wave, punk, and pop. To our delight, singer Wilbur Soot does not try to Americanize his voice like some Brit bands do. The four-piece band features guitars and fleshes out its sound with keys and even a trumpet in the song “One Day.”
Soot chatted with the audience between songs, saying it was the band’s first time in Florida. He remarked about “how nice the weather was here as opposed to England.” He later touched on the topic again, saying, “In England, all we talk about is the weather. We got here yesterday. We were even at a Publix.” The crowd roared with laughter as the grocery chain was a staple in the state. He continued, “I bought a sugar cookie and the guy there asked, ‘Are you from the UK? Your accent is weird.'” Soot replied, “It’s very normal in London.”
As the sun dropped below the horizon, most audience members held large, colorful, lit tubes. During the band’s set, one could see a sea of waving tubes from the stage up to the lawn. Soot appeared gobsmacked at the sight as he remarked, “It’s lovely. You look guys like a bunch of jellyfish.”
With all the dancing and tube waving, we were disappointed the set was coming to an end. The band ended with “Concrete,” “Portrait of a Blank Slate,” and “The Fall.”
At 6:50 p.m., the stage darkened, and the song “Fairy Tale of New York” played in honor of Shane MacGowan, who passed away last week at 65. Suddenly, lead singer/songwriter Jack Antonoff appeared on stage like a bullet. Although looking conservative in his yellow shirt and suede jacket, he is anything but traditional. He is an award-winning and highly sought-after Grammy producer, having worked with notables such as Taylor Swift, Lana Del Ray, and Lorde. The man is a furious force of nature as he strums the guitar, belts lyrics, and jumps off the drum riser. The larger than normal band, almost an orchestra, features a sax section, percussion, acoustic, and electric guitars in complicated arrangements.
Antonoff asked, “So how has your night been?” before performing an epic version of “Everybody Lost Somebody” and the poignant “Good Morning.” At one point, he asked, “Can everybody come down to the front? Are we allowed to do that? I want everybody to sit on someone’s shoulders.” Droves of people from up on the lawn dashed down the aisles, crowding at the front of the stage. The band performed “Rollercoaster” and featured a killer sax duo with Zem Audu and Evan Smith during “Don’t Take the Money.” A touching moment was when Antonoff hopped off stage to grab a fan’s sign and write a note on it.
The air was a cool 70 degrees by the time the Black Keys took the stage at 8:25 p.m. Patrick Carney’s kit was sitting near the front of the stage, next to singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach. Highlights were “I Got Mine,” “Tighten Up,” and a cover of the Sonics “Have Love, Will Travel.” By this time, the kids had either departed or were calm—no tube waving in sight. However, the “grown-ups” were digging the swampy guitar tone and drumming of the Black Keys. The band never disappoints blues-rock fans with numbers like “Wild Child” and “Howlin’ for You.”
I have to say the one-day festival was a treat, especially with the holiday season upon us. Most concerts are on hiatus for a couple of weeks or more. Seeing all of these old (and new favorite) bands was the perfect way to end the year.
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