The band played their first gig on February 14, 1992 in the Lion's Pause in the basement of the old Ytterboe Hall at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. Every song played was a cover by the Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, or the Allman Brothers. The Big Wu continued to play every three weeks or so in town above the Reub-n-Stein, the most popular local bar at the time. Big Wu shows quickly became one of the biggest events on campus, and posters littered the cafeteria walls at both Carleton and St. Olaf.
On September 11, 1995, the Big Wu played for the first time at the Terminal Bar on Hennepin Avenue in Northeast Minneapolis. This gig started a run of shows that lasted from the end of 1995 into most of 1996. A little over a month later on October 28, 1995, they debuted their first original song "Silcanturnitova." Over the next four years an onslaught of new songs were written including "Bloodhound", "Red Sky", "Precious Hands", "Kangaroo", and "Puerto Rico." It was also at the Terminal Bar where the lineup was solidified, with Chip House, Andrew Eklund, and Nathan Eklund all leaving the band to pursue professional careers. At the time the Big Wu was looking for a keyboardist and bass guitar player. Andy Miller, also a St. Olaf College graduate, got the job playing bass, and several months later, Al Oikari sat in on keys and eventually became a member of the band.
At the end of 1996, the Big Wu got the job as the house band at the legendary Cabooze Bar in Minneapolis. Wednesday night became a regular night out for what became known as the "Wu Family," who served as the test market for new songs as the band reshaped their shows around original music and playful lyrics.
On September 12, 1997, Tracking Buffalo Through the Bathtub, the Big Wu's debut CD was released. Though a CD release party was held at the Cabooze, the CD itself did not arrive at the show due to shipping problems, and the album wasn't available for purchase until the following week. Similar gaffs and logistical ironies would plague the band over the next several years, prompting a gentle self-mockery that became a staple of the band's onstage humor.
On July 17, 1998, the Big Wu hosted the first ever Big Wu Family Reunion at Latch Lake Studios in Eagan, Minnesota - the local studio where Tracking Buffalo Through the Bathtub had been recorded the year before. The next year, the Family Reunion was held at Harmony Park Music Garden in Geneva, Minnesota, and the event would be held at either Harmony Park or the Jamboree Campground in Black River Falls, Wisconsin thereafter. The Family Reunion drew thousands of concert-goers each year during the early 2000s, and the festival served to introduce the Midwest to a number of jam bands that would later find a national audience.
Short tours throughout the Midwest and periodic gigs in Colorado led the Big Wu to hit the road full-time in 1999, and they would average 150-200 shows a year for the next several years.
On October 17, 2000, the band released their second album Folktales on a small jam band oriented record label out of New York called Phoenix Rising Records. The album enjoyed a good ride, but was quickly forced into the abyss when Phoenix filed for bankruptcy a little over a year later. For the following two years, the Big Wu were unable to sell CDs to the public because the assets of the record label (including Tracking Buffalo Through the Bathtub and Folktales) were tied up in bankruptcy court.
While the band was in record label limbo, they took to recording a third CD, Spring Reverb. The album was produced by Bill Cutler, a veteran producer who had worked with the likes of the Grateful Dead. With Bill at the wheel, the Big Wu created what's generally their most well-regarded album, recording at Pachyderm Studios in Cannon Falls, Minnesota, and at Oar Fin Records in Minneapolis. At the end of the summer in 2002, the Big Wu's contract with Phoenix was nullified, and they were able to buy their assets back, making the release of the newly finished album possible. The Big Wu played a CD release party for Spring Reverb at the Historic State Theatre on November 2, 2002.
On June 21st, 2002, The Big Wu's rising fame gave them the opportunity to open the first ever Bonnaroo Music Festival. Their afternoon set attracted 50,000+ fans and the band churned out a historic performance in the blazing sun. "Rhode Island Red" was selected from their performance to represent the band on the inaugural "Live from Bonnaroo - Volume 2".
During the 2002 Harvest Festival at Harmony Park Music Garden, the Big Wu played two long nights of music. The first ended up being guitarist Jason Fladager's last show. There was no announcement from stage, although the band knew that Fladager had no intent on returning for the second night. The second night of the festival, the Big Wu played a long set without one of their founding guitarists. A few days later the band announced that Fladager had left the band to be closer to his family. The guitarist's absence prompted the band to reinvent itself as a four-piece.
The Big Wu released Tool for Evening in 2004, their first record as a four-piece. A live album followed in 2006. Following the band's 2006 fall/winter tour, which included a run of shows in Japan, the band took some time off the road, playing only a handful of shows in 2007 in their home state of Minnesota.
Wu's next? NEW GROUPS ARE NIPPING AT THE SANDALS OF THE BIG WU FOR DOMINANCE OF THE MINNESOTA JAM-BAND SCENE.(ENTERTAINMENT)
May 22, 2005; Byline: Chris Riemenschneider; Staff Writer Chris Littleman was in a jam-band lover's nirvana last month at the Cabooze in...
tragically HIPPIE; Being a jam band, the Big Wu has more than its share of critics. But the Twin Cities group also has a national profile, local attendance records and the most devoted fan base in the Midwest. Come on, get happy.(FREETIME)
Aug 24, 2001; Byline: Chris Riemenschneider; Staff Writer RSEC: + "So. You're the enemy." This was Big Wu guitarist Jason Fladager's greeting,...