“Guys, where the fuck are we? What is this place?”
We’ve spent the past 36 hours trying to come up with the words to describe our Saturday spent in the boonies surrounding Gallatin (itself something of a boondock) at The Big Nashty, but no matter what, we keep coming back to those two sentences, blurted out by Natalie Prass while playing the festival’s “Big” stage. What is this place? Who are these people? Why did someone build a grade school across the street from a cemetery (or vice versa!)? Does someone really live in the school’s basement? We repeat: Who are these people?
We never did find the answers to any of those questions. What we did find was a surprisingly sincere tribute to local rock straining hard against its own considerable weight and weirdness.
With a little help from Google Maps and a single handwritten sign leading us on a winding road eight miles north of Gallatin, we arrived at Bush's Chapel School — an abandoned schoolhouse that looked like the backdrop of a particularly bad teen slasher flick — unscathed around 4:30 p.m. By then, the festival was already half over, with seven bands we’d never heard of (and Siberian Traps) already done for the day. As far as we could tell, it was mostly Belmont-educated randos that we missed, and frankly, we don’t feel too badly about it. Sorry, Belmont randos — we’ll catch you another time, if your band survives the semester.
The festival’s vibe fell somewhere between “Gathering of the Juggalos” and “oversized campus rager” on the party spectrum. For what it lacked in helicopter rides and guest appearances by Rowdy Roddy Piper, The Big Nashty made up for in food trucks, a pair of sad-looking beer pong tables, a sparsely populated camping area and dozens of drunk college kids. Inside the gates, maybe 150 hipsters and punks (but mainly hipsters) in their early to mid-20s were milling about. It was the kind of crowd that would’ve meant a good night at The End, but those numbers spread awfully thin when stretched between two stages.
But, despite the sparse turnout, you have to hand it to the Nashty folks: Their conditions may have bordered on decrepit, but they clearly went a long way to make their festival something. The outdoor stage behind the school was sturdy, the sound and lighting were at least on par with some of the lower-tier music venues around these parts (if not better), and a lot of trouble was gone through to make sure that the night didn’t end in total failure. To their credit, we spent all day listening to people rattle on about what a cool thing Nashty was — even though it was more or less an enormous house party featuring bands that you could see a dozen times over in the span of a week.
As for the music, it was about what you would expect. We’ve seen the back half of this schedule — Evan. P. Donohue, Bad Cop, Natural Child, Cy Barkley and so on — a thousand times, and though seeing some of them play in a ratty elementary school gymnatorium imparted some novelty to the occasion, it was more or less like seeing them at any other venue in town. Except colder. And with more earnest speeches about community from dudes in bands we’ve never heard of.
But still! There were highlights! Reid Magette remains as one of Nashville’s greatest undiscovered treasures. We’ve seen him play with a handful of different band configurations, but he’s really onto something with the punked-out-Bruce Springsteen thing he’s now pursuing. All sharp edges and whiskey-soaked choruses, Magette’s anthemic rock music hits us in the same way that The Hold Steady does. Somehow this band manages to take all of the things we normally find cheesy in rock music — saxophones and guitar solos in particular — and make them palatable. Though the sax player we’ve seen in the past wasn’t on hand (thanks to a wedding), the accordion did the job well enough.
As the hours went on, the night got weirder. Gradually, unwanted elements started to invade the space between sets. We were subjected to white dudes free-styling (one, clearly shitfaced, dropped the N-word liberally. He would later tell us to go fuck ourselves when we observed that the backstage keg was tapped), live dubstep, and — the final straw — a drum circle that was onstage instead of Faux Ferocious. Our compadre, who shall go nameless, named them Bro Ferocious and it felt like we had crashed a drum major’s senior recital. This thing was going off the rails fast, and the guy who kept trying to start circle pits and kept getting onstage to skank with Faux Ferocious — a band that is decidedly not ska — didn’t help normalize things.
By the time D. Watusi arrived onstage, the festival was already an hour-and-a-half behind schedule. This meant that headliner Hans Condor likely wouldn’t set foot onstage until 4 in the morning and that we were officially over it. We can’t find much fault in the Nashties’ “Let’s put on a show,” can-do spirit, but they’ve got a lot to learn if they do it again next year. But if they do, we’re pretty sure there’s an abandoned insane asylum in Johnson City that would be a perfect venue.