In the world of live music, festivals function like incubators for artists, allowing them to gain exposure to potential fans who might not see them otherwise. But the relationship between artists, their fans, and the festivals that bring them together each year goes much deeper than that.

Big Something knows a thing or two about that bond. The North Carolina alt-rockers arrived at ACE Adventure Resort for the inaugural Mountain Music Festival in 2014 with no idea what to expect. Over the years, the sextet has gone from playing modest daytime time slots to headlining late-night sets, steadily developing a dedicated following of West Virginia fans who eagerly await the band’s annual appearance at the festival. Something special happens when the elements of band, fans, and festival come together—something BIG, if you will.

Despite its name, Mountain Music Festival is about more than just music. In addition to three days of performances, attendees can enjoy a host of outdoor adventure experiences in a scenic mountain setting. Some options include whitewater rafting, mountain biking, rock climbing, stand up paddle boarding, and zip lining, plus an entire waterpark and a popup art gallery hosted by Pigment Sanctuary.

Mountain Music Festival will return on June 2nd–4th to New River Gorge, WV, where Big Something will perform alongside a lineup featuring GalacticCory WongRipe, Doom FlamingoSpaffordThe MotetMoon HoochThe Nth Power, and more. It will also include a performance by supergroup TAUK Paper Scissors! featuring TAUK, Antwaun Stanley of Vulfpeck, Karl Denson, Jason Hann of The String Cheese Incident, James Casey and Jennifer Hartswick of Trey Anastasio Band, Clyde Lawrence and Jordan Cohen of Lawrence, and Kanika Moore of Doom Flamingo.

We sat down with Big Something’s Nick MacDaniels to get the inside scoop on what sets Mountain Music Festival apart and discuss what it’s been like for the band to grow alongside the annual event.

L4LM: Big Something has played Mountain Music Festival every year since its debut in 2014. How would you describe your relationship with the festival, and what keeps you coming back?

Nick MacDaniels: We’ll keep coming back as long as they keep inviting us! It’s a really fun event, and we’ve loved growing into it over the years. When we first got started, we were lower down on the lineup and played during the day. As the years have gone on, we’ve gotten into more of a headliner role and have been playing sets later at night. We’ve had a couple of late-night sets there that have been really fun. It’s really cool. It’s given us a home base in West Virginia, which isn’t too far from North Carolina, where we’re from. The people there are just really awesome. There’s a water park on-site. The first few years, we all got to stay in cabins. They took us whitewater rafting. It’s got a summer camp vibe to it. There’s a little bit more to it than just your normal music festival. There’s a comradery and a cool energy to it that makes it unique

L4LM: Cool. Yeah, I want to get to all of that stuff they offer at the venue. But first, I wanted to ask about your first year there and if you remember anything in particular about your experience that year.

Nick MacDaniels: I remember when the promoter called me. Some of the funniest phone calls I’ve ever had from a festival promoter. He’s like, “We’re throwing a festival. It’s 1500 acres of party.”

We were like, “Sure, man, that sounds cool. Let’s do it.” We ended up confirming it. They had us playing… I think it was kickball in the middle of the day with all the festival attendees there. The pitcher’s mound was a toilet bowl, and home plate was a cooler of PBR. Its first year was very humble. It was super grassroots, everyone just hanging out. We were there both as a band but also as fans getting to see like The Wood Brothers and just hanging out as a band. We were still pretty new to everything at the time. It was like one of the first medium to bigger size festivals we got to play as a band. That made it special too.

L4LM: Do you feel like the festival has grown with you since then?

Nick MacDaniels: Absolutely. Yeah. They started bringing on bigger acts, and you could tell that they were putting more and more energy into it every year. They started bringing in this really awesome giant art gallery called the Pigment Sanctuary with a bunch of visual artists. It was really cool, and they started doing a bunch of performance art and just incorporating all sorts of creative ideas into the experience. Being at a whitewater rafting company in the mountains of West Virginia… It just made for this cool little oasis. It definitely grew over the years. They started bringing in acts like Umphrey’s McGee and Tyler Childers. I think the year that they had Tyler Childers was one of the biggest years they’ve had. He started off there and then blew up eventually. It got pretty big over the past couple of years. It was fun to watch.

L4LM: I was looking at our coverage from last year and there was a feature that was basically describing how surreal it was to be back at a music festival after being in isolation during the pandemic.

Nick MacDaniels: It was really crazy, man. Mountain Music Festival was the one festival that was hanging on for dear life while everyone else was canceling. They just held onto their guns and were like, “No, we’re doing it.” When we all got there and it happened, it was definitely like that first moment where there was a huge crowd of people in a field with no social distancing. It was that first magical moment of “wow, we’re finally back from everything getting canceled, and the pod shows and all of that.” It was really special. It felt great. I think everyone there had the same collective feeling.

L4LM: Were you guys doing a lot of touring then, or was that a one-off thing because everything was getting canceled?

Nick MacDaniels: It was a one-off. Yeah. No, we still weren’t really touring a whole lot yet. That was definitely the first big thing back from the pandemic for us, where there wasn’t social distancing or anything like that.

L4LM: I’m curious how things feel different this year for you guys gearing up for it and what you’re looking forward to about this year.

Nick MacDaniels: It feels like there’s a large part of our fan base in West Virginia. There’s just some really cool people. Any time we get to go play there, it’s really fun. I think we’re doing another either late-night set or something like that on the Saturday of the festival. They just get rowdy. It’s always just such awesome energy. It seems like they appreciate us there for some reason more than other places. We feed off of that energy a lot. I don’t know if it’s a whole lot different than it’s felt from the past year. Things are definitely feeling a lot more back to normal. We’ve been touring a lot and working on a lot of new music, and working on planning a special set for the event because it always feels like such a special show for us. We try and put all that energy back into it on our end.

L4LM: Awesome. Do you feel like that enthusiasm has more to do with the festival or more to do with the location? If you booked a show in the same region, do you think it would be the same? Or do you think it’s something about you guys and the festival that’s really special?

Nick MacDaniels: Maybe a little bit of both. We’ve been playing West Virginia for a while now. There’s just a really good crew of music fans there. But at the same time, we built all of that up by playing Mountain Music Festival. It’s all working hand in hand.

L4LM: Right. Okay. Last two questions I have are related and you’ve touched on both of them already. First one is, what’s your favorite part of the festival, and what do you think makes it stand out from other events? And then, you may not get to experience it as a performer—I’m curious if you do—but what do you think of the adventure park and the art collective? How do those offerings affect the overall festival experience?

Nick MacDaniels: The art community and the art gallery and the flow performers… That’s something we’ve been doing with our festival, The BIG What?, since it first started. We’ve always loved incorporating other creative minds, not just musicians and bands but other creative people, and trying to support the whole community of artists that there are out there. We’ve always really tried to do that with our festival. Seeing Mountain Music Festival start to take that on and do more and more with it as they’ve grown as a festival has been awesome. I’m in full support of it. I think it’s a really cool aspect to the event.

But one thing that they do have that makes it really special and really fun is it being in the West Virginia mountains. There’s cabins everywhere with hot tubs. You hop on these school buses that drive you all around the property. There’s a cool little bar down at the bottom of the mountain with this awesome lake full of water inflatables. There’s the blob from that movie Heavy Weights that people get bounced off of. Just being at a whitewater rafting company, being able to go to the river, hang out on the river, whitewater raft, stay in cabins with your friends, go camping… It’s definitely got a unique vibe as far as a festival goes with that added outdoor adventure element. That, I think, is one thing that makes it really special and unique. For us as a band, when they took us whitewater rafting, it was a really cool way to bond as a band. You take that experience and then go play a show. It’s really fun both as a band and, also, to have that experience with the fans too.

L4LM: They have a zip line there, right?

Nick MacDaniels: Oh, yeah.

L4LM: Is that available during the festival?

Nick MacDaniels: Yeah. There’s a zip line over the lake that you can ride. It’s not super huge or anything. But you can climb up this tower and zip line down into the lake. It’s pretty cool. Then, I think they have some ropes courses and stuff, too, throughout the property. I’ve never done any of the ropes courses. But there’s definitely a lot of cool-looking stuff that you can do there.

L4LM: Is that stuff popular with the festival-goers?

Nick MacDaniels: Yeah. Yeah. It seems like everything gets pretty booked up as far as all the activities go when the festival’s happening. You can tell they really appreciate having the festival because it’s a seasonal business. When the festival comes in, you can tell it means a lot to the town and to everyone there. They definitely put a lot of good energy into it.

Tickets for Mountain Music Festival are on sale now. View the complete 2022 lineup below, and for more information and to purchase tickets, click here.