This year marks the 20 year anniversary of Minneapolis band The Big Wu's formation at St. Olaf College. Bassist Andy Miller lovingly refers to the band's aesthetic as "White Guy Jam Rock," and confirms that the songwriting process hasn't changed much at all. "The songwriter brings in the bulk of it and then you just start hitting it with the band," he says. "We start playing stuff that we're not sure how to get through on stage because we're gonna play it anyway. We're the Big Wu, and we're gonna fucking wreck it."
The Big Wu gained a strong following starting in the mid-'90s based on their great reputation as a live act, and an ability to balance well-executed covers with originals night in and night out. In the years after Jerry Garcia's passing, when the central followers of the Grateful Dead splintered into varying jam cells, the Big Wu were pioneers for the midwest scene. The band got their first break when they landed a spot as the house band at the Cabooze bar in Minneapolis. It was a gig that gave them a regular Wednesday night platform with which to grow their fan base, a group fondly referred to as "The Wu Family."
It's more than appropriate that the Big Wu's 20th Anniversary Show tonight will be held at The Cabooze, where a lot of it began. "It's gonna be perfect" says Andy Miller, "the show's gonna be fun and there's plenty of people coming out. Some guys who were in the band since the very beginning are gonna do some appearances, and the Cabooze is the perfect place to kick off the tour." The concert kicks off a tour of the Midwest and Colorado.
Anticipation is high among Wu Family members. With two full sets planned for the Cabooze concert, for a band that at one time boasted the ability to play over 150 Grateful Dead songs, it's reason enough for a vaulted level of excitement. Miller teases that the anniversary might also see the gang giving the Who's "Baba O'Reilly" a go as well. He confesses that after searching for the song's signature sound for their keyboardist, they finally secured it on a three and a half inch floppy disc.
After Cabooze, The Big Wu will move onto one of their tested traditions, a two day winter show at Papa Charlie's in the Lutsen Ski Resort. It's a party they do yearly -- a winter sister show to their annual Big Wu Family Reunion, held in a midwest campground every summer. But these days, apart from those long-standing traditions and with two stay-at-home dads in the band's ranks, a full-fledged tour has become a tricky and significant thing. Right now, the significance of a 20-year benchmark has the Wu themselves as geared up as any fan. "Everybody in the band has been looking forward to this for a long time," Miller says. "Usually we're just looking forward to the next show but this one is different, we've been thinking about it for a while. It's gonna be a good one, I think it's gonna be something good."