After winning this year’s Battle of the Bands, student band The Big Ones are set to open up Springfest on Saturday, April 13. Comprised of five members — Hannah Hoffman ’19 on vocals, Jack Libresco ’19 on guitar and vocals, Geneva Gaukel ’19 on upright bass, Robbie Cahoon ’21 on drums and Mac Doherty ’19 on saxophone and keys — the group could not agree on one way to describe their sound. According to Doherty, it’s “dance-y folk” with “a little rock” and a little jazz and soul mixed in too. Whatever the genre, their music is lively and energetic, with a strong beat that really makes you want to move — even the musicians start dancing along.
The band formed only one week before Battle of the Bands. Hoffman and Libresco, however, have been singing together on and off since their first year. The two were on the same plane from Massachusetts on their way to Macalester for the first time. “I was walking out of Dupre on the first day and Jack was on the field playing frisbee, and he ran up to me to say, ‘We were on the same plane!’” Hoffman recalled.
They bonded over a South African song they both knew, and the rest is history. When it came time to play this year’s Battle of Bands, they worked to get the rest of the band together, finding people they knew through the music department: Cahoon had played with the pair last semester in a different band, and he and Gaukel are both in Mac Jazz, which accounts for some of the jazz influence.
But their musical influences come from all over. Libresco, the genius behind the band’s entirely original set list, says his music has evolved as more members joined the group and is shaped in part by his affinity for The Grateful Dead. Hoffman mentioned her love for singing bluegrass and Amy Winehouse, which comes out in her velvety vocals. The pair’s voices complement each other in their many harmonies. One song they are currently working on, “False Night on the Road” is a “revamped 15th-century folk song of unknown authorship” that Libresco morphed into a jazzy hit with plenty of melodious saxophone solos. The Big Ones’ sound showcases how music can be inspired by anything and everything.
While Libresco is the main brain behind the songs, the band works together to figure out details. A lot of their music is in development, with members often trying out new things during rehearsal. Before I talked to them, the band was experimenting with possible endings to one of their songs. Libresco laughed, explaining “We discovered today that all of my songs follow the same metrical pattern.”
As for lyrics, Libresco said that, “there’s some kind of weird stuff going on.” As they have added more members, the added sound is “to some extent a vehicle to disguise” the words. To understand what he means by this, you will have to go to Springfest and listen to the lyrics for yourself, because the balance in their rehearsal space made them hard to hear. The disguise definitely works, because if you aren’t paying attention to what is being sung, the songs’ peppy rhythms and jazzy instrumentation are enough to fool anyone.
Many people have fun ideas for band names stored away, but The Big Ones didn’t pull their name from one of these lists. Hoffman told the story of how they landed on it:. “Jack wrote a song called ‘The Big Ones’ a while ago, maybe sophomore year, and it’s been a song the two of us play together a lot. When we were thinking of band names, we threw around a bunch of names and then Jack suggested The Big Ones and we liked the sound of it,” she said.
This band may be new, but they have high hopes for continuing to perform after Springfest. They already have a gig at a benefit concert for Stop Line 3 — an organization that opposes the proposed Line 3 pipeline which would pass through Ojibwe treaty territory — planned for April 19, and another performance on April 20. At their rehearsal on Monday, Libresco also announced to the band that they might have a third show on May 4 or 5. While The Big Ones are excited to play at Springfest, they are disappointed that the performance will likely take place indoors due to the weather. Still, their energy, enthusiasm and lively beats will help brighten audience spirits on a possibly gloomy day. They will be performing at the WMCN stage at 2:00p.m. on Saturday.