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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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.
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.
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.)