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It was 40 years ago this summer that a gathering of tribes occurred in a field in Bethel, NY.  With it’s three days of music, free love, drugs, and a muddy but communal vibe Woodstock became legendary and the high water mark of the hippie movement.   The problem is that when you set the bar that high you’re bound to see it crash to the ground, and four months later it did in the form of Altamont.  So what’s a hippie to do?  Stop putting together music festivals?  I think not.  Festivals continued, including two more Woodstock’s in 1994 and 1999, but none of them had the same vibe or lasting appeal of the original Woodstock.  That is until now.  Enter Zandergriff Miggs, the musical impersario behind Minnesota based Uncle Duff Records and the leader of the band Parliament of Owls, who’s latest creation is Under the Big Top:  A Carnaval of Musicophilia, a music festival being held on Nicolette Island, St. Paul, MN June 8 – 10, 2009.  Featuring an eclectic lineup of bands from the Uncle Duff Records roster, Under the Big Top looks to be among the top festivals of the summer season with appearances by Zandergriff Miggs and Parliament of Owls, Grover “Neck-Bone” Clifton, Secret Scurrility, Stalker Channing, Gunshot Love and Notorious A.i.G. among others.

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Zandergriff is an imposing figure in the Twin Cities music community.  Tall, thin, with a long beard that flows down his chest, Zandergriff is not exactly a hippie.  In fact, in his white shirt, brown herringbone vest and work jeans he’s more beat than hippie.  So why and how does a beat musician create a festival that everyone is calling the “next Woodstock?”  We visited the offices of Uncle Duff Records to talk with Mr. Miggs, and over some herbal remedies got some answers.

Figment News:  Zandergriff or should I call you Zander?  How did the Under the Big Top Festival come together?

Zandergriff Miggs:  You can call me whatever, but Zander works. That’s what most people I hang out with do. [pauses to pull from his pipestone bowl] Under the Big Top huh? [exhales and passes bowl to me] Well me and T’Cor (from the Parliament of Owls) were jamming in the studio and we got to talking about doing some kind of show, or more like a party to kick off the summer. We had just done the Old Winters Eve Festival in March and it just kind of grew out of that. The more we tossed ideas back and forth it took on a mind of it’s own till it became the big spectacle that I hope it turns out to be.

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Figment News:  The line up for the Festival is pretty eclectic and they’re all from the Uncle Duff Records stable of bands.  Is this really an Uncle Duff showcase or is it more of an attempt to create a lineup that has a little something for everyone?

ZM:  [smiles] Well…both, and neither. You know it is for sure a way to showcase some of the acts on the label and there should be a pretty diverse crowd.  When I think of some of the best shows I’ve seen, it’s always been a confluence of different styles. Like the Stickman benefit at the Cabooze in the late 80’s, or the first Lollapalooza.  I mean, look at Woodstock.  Now I’m not old enough to have been there, but that was an eclectic mix.  People often forget Sha Na Na played Woodstock.  So yeah, we want to bring that “something for every one” vibe for sure.  I’m a really big fan of Art for Art’s sake.  Just creating…working with whatever comes out and not concerning myself with accessability.  You want to connect with the audience, but if you make cool stuff, that connection will form of it’s own accord.  These are some bands creating some pretty interesting vibes and we wanted them all to be a part of it.

Figment News:  Times are tough for a lot of music fans right now with the economy in the shape it’s in.  Do you think a festival of this type is a good idea and what are you doing to make it affordable for fans?

ZM:  Oh, man, I’m so glad you asked that. It is 100% a good idea.  People right now need some fun.  The Under the Big Top festival is not about making money for the label.  It’s about giving a little fun to people, even if it’s just for a couple days.  If you get your tickets now it’ll cost you $10 per day.  Even if you buy at the gates it’s only $15.  That’s cheaper than you could see most acts at 1st Ave.  There’s a couple other deals going on…get a tat at the InkBlotz tent on the first day and you get in free the next two.  Also, a couple of Neckbones cousins are coming up to set up a Cue Pit.  They’ll be smoking birds and roasting hogs.  You can buy a plate of BBQ for a couple bucks.  We want every one who wants to be there, to be there.

Figment News:  Will the bands be playing full sets?  Will they be jamming with each other?

ZM:  You know…I’ve really kind of left that up to the bands.  There’s plenty of time for them to play full…or even multiple sets.  We’re a big family at Uncle Duff Records so I’m sure there will be some intermingling and cross jamming.  I sure hope so anyway.

Figment News:  Who will headline each day?

ZM:  Well, Eric, all these cats could hold their own as headliners.  But because some one has/gets to go on last…it’ll be Secret Scurrility on Monday night.  Neckbone closes things down on Tuesday night and the Parliament of Owls will hold court on the stage for all of Wednesday night.  But we plan to do a lot of bringing people up on stage to jam with us. There may even be some surprise guests, you never know.

Figment News:  Any plans to record the Festival for a possible album documenting it?

ZM:  Oh, for sure.  My engineer/sound tech extraordinaire Frey will be set up back of house tracking everything that transpires.  We’ll see how it comes out.  I don’t know if we’ll try to do one big release or let each band decide to do their own.  But, speaking for the Owls, we always encourage fans to make their own recordings as well.

Figment News:  What band are you most looking forward to seeing play live?

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ZM:  Can I say all of them?  Cause that’s the truth, but I’ll tell you…Grover Clifton, or Neckbone as he’s known, is about the most gifted musician I’ve ever heard.  That cat can jam!  He can take a simple phrase or 3 chord progression and turn it inside out in n-dimensions and then bring it all right back to the groove without even testing his skill.

Figment News:  With only 8 bands playing over 3 days, what other activities will be taking place at the Festival?  Any truth to the rumor that Devendra Banhart will be running a underarm braiding tent concession at the Festival?

ZM:  [laughs] Wow!  Devendra…he is welcome for sure.  Hell, if he shows up, I’m draggin’ him on stage with us.  I’d love to hear his warble over the purr and growl of my Leslie.  But yeah…there’s going to be all kinds of crazy stuff going on.  We’re bringing in a full size Ferris Wheel, lots of vendors and artists…one of our local glass blowers is settin’ up shop and people can get a custom one of a kind smoking utensil made for them right at the show.  Lots of other stuff too but I don’t want to give too much away.  You’ll just have to come see for yourself.

Figment News:  Any concerns that the Merchants of Metal Festival in Chicago will steal some of the audience for your Festival?  It is only 2 days before it.

ZM:  [more laughter] No man.  No worries on that front.  The public needs as many of these events as possible.  In fact…I plan on attending the Merchants of Metal Festival myself.  There’s some crazy bands playing that thing.  And that drummer from Zeroth…”K”…man that guy is nuts! Crazy with papers!  Have you heard him? He is outa control good.  And besides it’s only about a six hour drive from Chicago to the Twin Cities.  How cool would that be for people to hit them both and turn it into a five day party?!?

Figment News:  If you could have invited a band unaffiliated with Uncle Duff Records to join the line up, what band would it have been?

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ZM:  Whew, man there’s so many out there right now that I’m really diggin’.  I’ve been listening to the Rastapharaohs a lot lately, that would be cool, or like, Colonel Abstract & the Dangers, FusterCluck,  maybe Dementerhosen. You know, Neutron Emission is doing some pretty cool stuff right now…real earthy.  It would be cool to see Pusher jam with the Agua Netz, or Beijing Bling with Notorious A.i.G. I don’t know man…there’s so many.  I wish we could stage a year long festival.

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