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Six former Next Big Thing bands who blew up (and a few who still might)

When local alt-rock station 97X launched its first year-end rock festival in 2001, it adopted the moniker Next Big Thing — the idea being that the festival would showcase not only the hottest rock acts of any given year, but also those that might be radio mainstays in the years to come. • The station doesn't always pick 'em right — hello, Stroke 9 and Flickerstick! — but more often than not, Next Big Thing's youngest bands do go on to, well, much bigger things. Scrolling through the lineups of Next Big Things past, it's striking just how many now-huge artists played early in the day — before noon, in some cases — before blowing up the following year. • With 97X Next Big Thing returning to St. Petersburg's Vinoy Park on Saturday, we decided to look back at some of the festival's best early-day bets over the years — and predict which young acts from this year's lineup might be all the rage in 2014. Our advice: If you're going, plan to get there early. — Jay Cridlin cridlin@tampabay.com

2002: OK Go

Three years before the launch of YouTube, 97X gave its 12:30 p.m. slot, to an up-and-coming power-pop band from Chicago called OK Go. Three years and four treadmills later, OK Go were an international phenomenon thanks to the viral hits Here It Goes Again and A Million Ways. When they returned to Next Big Thing in 2006, they danced, rather than performed, their way through A Million Ways.

2003: Switchfoot

Christian-leaning alt-rock act Switchfoot were a surprising choice to open Next Big Thing 3, taking the stage at 10:45 a.m. They had just released what would become their most popular album, the multi-platinum The Beautiful Letdown, featuring the hits Meant To Live, Dare You to Move and This Is Your Life. Today, the group remains one of the most popular crossover Christian acts in the country, winning a Grammy in 2011 for Best Rock Gospel Album.

2005: Thirty Seconds to Mars

Singer Jared Leto and Thirty Seconds to Mars have a long relationship with 97X, and you could argue it started with this 1:35 p.m. slot at Next Big Thing 5. The Jared Leto-fronted band returned to Next Big Thing in 2006 and 2009, performing in prime time both years. This year — with Leto a likely Oscar nominee for his performance in Dallas Buyers Club — they'll headline the entire festival.

2007: Mutemath

In 2007, New Orleans rock group Mutemath were best known for singer Paul Meany's keytar and an eye-popping video for their song Typical, so a 10:30 a.m. time slot seemed fair. But over three albums, they've evolved into a dynamic live band, with a massive sound and stage presence rivaling that of much more famous acts like Muse and Coldplay.

2011: Fun.

Next Big Thing 11 featured arguably its most stacked lineup ever, so it's no surprise 97X had to schedule a quality band way down at 11:30 a.m. What nobody could have predicted, however, was just how big Fun. would become the following year. We Are Young and Some Nights were Top 5 hits, and the band won Grammy Awards for Song of the Year and Best New Artist. Fun. returned to Next Big Thing in 2012, partly out of appreciation for 97X's longtime support of We Are Young.

2012: Twenty One Pilots

Ohio alt-pop duo Twenty One Pilots had a little bit of buzz before playing Next Big Thing at 11 a.m., but they blew up big-time afterward, especially in Tampa Bay. They sold out the State Theatre in March, co-headlined 97X's Memorial Day Backyard BBQ in May, opened for Fall Out Boy at the USF Sun Dome in September and packed the Ritz Ybor in November. (Bonus trivia: Before dropping out at the last minute due to illness, Imagine Dragons were set to take the stage at 12:30 p.m. Within a few months, they were headlining arenas.)

The next Next Big Things

This year, Next Big Thing is splitting its artists across two stages, meaning the day will be a little shorter — doors open at noon, and the music begins at 12:30 p.m. There are some big, familiar names at the top of the poster — Thirty Seconds to Mars, Jimmy Eat World, Stone Temple Pilots with Linkin Park's Chester Bennington — but who among the newer acts might you hear more from in 2014? Here are four predictions.

Saints of Valory

Saints of Valory scored Next Big Thing's opening slot on Saturday, an honor that has become something of a vote of confidence from 97X. Formerly of Rio de Janeiro, now based in Austin, Texas, they specialize in big, sweeping alternative rock in the vein of Imagine Dragons (see Neon Eyes and Long Time Coming), but check out their stripped-down YouTube cover of Lorde's Royals for a hint of the adventurous style that sparked a major-label bidding war for their in-the-works debut album.

Sleeping With Sirens

Singer Kellin Quinn has the soaring tenor (and shaggy 'do!) of a boy-bander, but Sleeping With Sirens are being taken seriously as rising stars in the world of post-hardcore metal. The former Orlando band's album Feel debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard charts, and they headlined the main stage of this year's Vans Warped Tour. Their gentle acoustic cover of the Goo Goo Dolls' Iris, however, proves they could be capable of a mainstream crossover.

Frank Turner

English folk-punk poet Turner has been at it for more than a decade, cultivating critical acclaim and a rabid cult following in the process, but it wasn't until this year's Tape Deck Heart that he found a wider audience. Lead single Recovery, a bouncy yet brutally honest barroom rocker about addiction, was a surprise radio hit.

Sleepwave

When British alt-rock group The 1975 dropped out of Next Big Thing last week due to a schedule conflict, 97X turned to the Tampa Bay scene for a replacement. Sleepwave is a brand-spanking-new outfit led by Spencer Chamberlain, the singer of hugely successful Christian metalcore outfit Underoath, who disbanded following a final hometown show at Jannus Live in January. Sleepwave — which played its first-ever show in November, at the State Theatre — may have more mainstream potential than Underoath; grunge-punk single Rock And Roll Is Dead And So Am I sounds a bit like Mutemath channeling Linkin Park.

97X Next Big Thing

Gates open at noon Saturday at Vinoy Park in downtown St. Petersburg. Tickets are $65 though Friday via Ticketmaster, $80 at the gate if available. At 9 p.m. Friday, there will be a free Next Big Thing kickoff party featuring an acoustic performance by the Dirty Heads at Hogan's Beach, 7700 Courtney Campbell Causeway, Tampa. For more info, see 97xonline.com.

Set times

8:40 p.m.: Thirty Seconds to Mars

7:15: Stone Temple Pilots with Chester Bennington

6:05: A Day to Remember

5: Jimmy Eat World

4:30: Dirty Heads

3:30: Sleepwave (second stage)

2:50: Frank Turner

2:15: Sleeping With Sirens (second stage)

1:35: Pepper

1:05: Saints of Valory (second stage)

12:30: Manchester Orchestra

Six former Next Big Thing bands who blew up (and a few who still might) 12/04/13 [Last modified: Thursday, December 5, 2013 12:11pm]
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