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Top 10 moments in Next Big Thing's history

It's a formidable task bringing together talented and — let's be honest — temperamental modern rock bands for a one-day show. But that's just what radio station 97X has been doing for the past decade. WSUN 97.1‑FM started the Next Big Thing in 2001 as a marketing tool for the fledging station and a pre-holiday gift to fans. Over the years, it has evolved into a major music event, drawing some of the biggest names in alternative rock. Show producers worked extra hard this year to make Next Big Thing 10 one of the most memorable yet. They brought back My Chemical Romance, a 97X favorite, which just put out a new album, Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys. They also added spontaneous acoustic sets throughout the 1‑800‑Ask‑Gary Amphitheatre so fans can interact with bands up close. So in honor of the show's 10th anniversary, the station's DJs — Fisher, Seth, Shark, Phoebe and Danielle — put their heads together to come up with the top 10 moments in Next Big Thing history. Here they are, as described by promotion director Dan Connelly, who has witnessed it all firsthand. — Susan Thurston

10 OK Go's dance routine at Next Big Thing 6

For the last part of their set, OK Go put down their guitars and broke into a well-choreographed dance routine, lip-synching the music. ''It was one of those moments when the crowd was asking, 'What are they doing?' No other band had ever done that. Fans loved it," Connelly said. The dance ended an already noteworthy performance. Right before, the band performed hit song Here It Goes Again while a woman who won tickets to the concert ran on a treadmill on stage. Apparently, the show's producers tried to get the band to do the song on treadmills, but they said no way.

9 Ludo leading the crowd in a sing-along of Jingle Bells at Next Big Thing 8

Who says hard rockers don't have a soft spot for Santa? Fully aware that NBT happens during the Christmas season, Ludo cut from their music in the middle of their performance and started singing Jingle Bells. The crowd of 15,000 merrily joined them.

8 Pulling the plug on Abandoned Pools during Next Big Thing 1

Coordinating a dozen bands in one day is bound to result in some hairy moments. The most infamous happened during the first show, when the lineup was running 25 minutes late. The manager for Disturbed told the NBT production team that if the band didn't go on right at 5 p.m., they were packing their car and leaving. Producers persuaded most of the bands to shorten their set — except for Abandoned Pools. Rather than end at their scheduled time, they rolled into another song, forcing Connelly to run on stage and yell "Cut it! You're done! You're done!" When the lead singer didn't, Connelly got on his walkie-talkie and pulled the plug mid song. The band stormed off stage. Fans never knew what happened, and the show got back on track in time for Disturbed's 5 p.m. start. And go figure: Abandoned Pools wasn't invited back.

7 Jared Leto of 30 Seconds to Mars performing at the sound board at Next Big Thing 6

Girls already go wild for hot lead singer Jared Leto, who has appeared in Fight Club and Girl, Interrupted as well as other films. So imagine the thrill when Leto left the stage with his microphone and started singing from the sound board in the middle of the audience. Once show producers got over the frightening shock of it, they loved it.

6 Silversun Pickups' Brian Aubert walking all the way to the lawn at Next Big Thing 7

Brian Aubert broke the record for traveling the most distance while still performing. In an obvious desire for a change of scenery, the frontman for Silversun Pickups grabbed his guitar and made his way to the lawn area of what was then called the Ford Amphitheatre. He managed to stay in beat with the band the entire song and get back to the stage by the end.

5 Matisyahu stage-diving with the lead singer of Cage the Elephant at Next Big Thing 9

Show producers were thrilled when Orthodox Jewish reggae singer Matisyahu agreed to perform last year and knew he would put on an amazing show. But they weren't expecting him to risk life and limb. In what must have been coordinated ahead of time, Matisyahu and Matt Shultz of Cage the Elephant took a running leap off the 5-foot-tall stage, landing in the pit several feet away. Matisyahu came out unscathed. Shultz hit his wrist on a barricade and broke a finger. Station managers only found out about his injury a few months ago when he was back in town.

4 Bert McCracken from The Used smoking on stage at Next Big Thing 2

Toward the end of their set at Coachman Park in Clearwater, The Used's lead singer Bert McCracken pulled out a joint and started smoking on stage as authorities looked on in disbelief. Police stormed the stage, and he fled. Show producers got a call from the band's tour manager at 3 a.m. the next day, apologizing for bolting before they could say goodbye. When the band returned two years later to headline Next Big Thing 4, police arrested McCracken immediately after his set and drove him away in a squad car. Show producers had no idea he was going to be arrested but were grateful police waited until after the performance.

3 Jared Leto climbing to the roof of the stage at Next Big Thing 5

The 30 Seconds to Mars frontman made the list twice, thanks to his over-the-top antics. During this show at Coachman Park, Leto stuffed his microphone into pants, climbed the scaffolding to the top of the 40-foot stage and sang acoustic for most of a song. "Clearwater, you look beautiful from up here," he yelled. Producers weren't sure whether to cheer or call for a stretcher. "He wasn't attached to anything, and if he fell he was going to be hurting," Connelly said.

2 Claudio Sanchez from Coheed and Cambria performing acoustic at Next Big Thing 4

A week before the show, the station got a call from the band's management saying there had been a death in the family and the band wouldn't be able to make it. Producers remembered Sanchez had performed some acoustic songs for the station's charity CD and asked if he'd be willing to do a few at Next Big Thing. Sanchez was reluctant at first but showed up last minute and walked on stage with just his guitar. "It was one of those goose-pimple moments. You could hear a pin drop," Connelly said. It turned out to be a great moment for Sanchez, as well. After the show, his people asked for the video footage of it.

1 My Chemical Romance and Taking Back Sunday combining forces at Next Big Thing 4

The morning of the show, the station found out that Gerard Way, the lead singer of My Chemical Romance, had strained his voice in a concert the night before and couldn't perform in Tampa. The rest of the band flew here anyway, and Shark convinced them to let Adam Lazzara, the lead singer for Taking Back Sunday, fill in on My Chemical Romance's hit single, I'm Not Okay, I Promise. They printed out the lyrics, and Lazzara sang them on stage, even though the show had announced My Chemical Romance wasn't performing. "It's a tough song to sing because it's very fast. But he hung in there. Everybody realized it was something cool," Connelly said. "It's never happened before, and it will never happen again."

97X Next Big Thing

Next Big Thing 10 is Sunday at the 1‑800‑Ask‑Gary Amphitheatre, at Interstate 4 and U.S. 301 in Tampa. Tickets start at $30. Here is a schedule of the bands:

Set It Off, 10 to 10:20 a.m.

Not Tonight Josephine, 10:40 to 11 a.m.

American Bang, 11:20 to 11:50 a.m.

Finger Eleven, noon to 12:30 p.m.

Neon Trees, 12:50 to 1:20 p.m.

Switchfoot, 1:25 to 1:55 p.m.

A Day To Remember, 2 to 2:35 p.m.

Paper Tongues, 2:55 to 3:30 p.m.

Against Me!, 3:35 to 4:10 p.m.

The Dirty Heads, 4:15 to 4:55 p.m.

Sick Puppies, 5:15 to 5:50 p.m.

Cage the Elephant, 6:10 to 6:50 p.m.

Chevelle, 7:10 to 7:50 p.m.

The Black Keys, 8:15 to 9 p.m.

My Chemical Romance, 9:25 to 10:45 p.m.

Top 10 moments in Next Big Thing's history 12/01/10 [Last modified: Thursday, December 2, 2010 7:06pm]
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