Malcom X Abram
Nov 24, 2023
AKRON, Ohio - On Saturday evening, at the Highland Universal Gatheringspot (a.k.a HÜG, 133 Merriman Rd., Akron), Akron band Big Pop will put on an ambitious show as big as the band’s name. Tickets are available at Akron Soul Train for “pay what you can,” but the suggested donation is $10.
The show, at 7:30 p.m., is called The Big Pop Picture Show and will feature the band, led by singer-songwriter-guitarist-producer Jeri Sapronetti, playing along to seven videos they collectively managed to produce with videographer/editor/director/co-writer David Burdge over about three years.
The band will perform the live versions of songs featured in the videos, which are episodic and form a surreal, humorous, pop-culture-filled virtual reality and David Lynch-inspired narrative behind the band’s weird adventures that take place in and around familiar Northeast Ohio spots.
The show will have two sets: the first will feature the band and the videos while the second set will be a more traditional rock and roll show with several guests, including former Tin Huey bandmates Harvey Gold and Chris Butler, the latter of whom will join in on a version of Butler’s “Christmas Wrapping,” along with saxophonist Taylor Macintosh, former Big Pop guitarist Cody Miller and guitarist-vocalist Lauren Brabson.
“The Big Pop Picture Show” is sponsored by the Akron Soul Train and Akron’s arthouse cinema, The Nightlight.
The “Big Pop Picture Show” was born in Sapronetti’s brain during the claustrophobic, home-bound days of the pandemic for the former member of the band Time Cat. Making the videos and completing the project has been a combo platter of artistic labor of love and the creative equivalent of passing several large, sharp kidney stones.
“Well, actually, we were just going to make a stupid music video on a boat, like some “Step Brothers” stuff,” Sapronetti said from her Cleveland Heights apartment and home studio.
“A friend of mine had a pontoon boat, and boat people know other boat people. So we’re like, ‘Oh, we can get multiple pontoon boats.’ So, we’re on Lake Cable in North Canton, we have it scheduled, and then it rains,” she said.
But that misfortune led to the idea of the second “Sledgehammer” type video, and the story arc, the characters and the concept for the Picture Show grew from there.
“Originally, I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to do seven videos.’ I don’t know why I picked seven, exactly. And wouldn’t it be amazing to project the (videos) behind us? To do the live score like the Cleveland Symphony does ‘Stars Wars’ at Blossom?”
Sapronetti was assisted in her grand vision by her artist-in-residency at the Akron Soul Train, an art program with an artist-in-residency program designed to connect and empower local artists with resources in all creative disciplines formed in 2016. The program provided resources that helped Sapronetti push through and finish the project.
“It’s like, you get a bunch of good people, and you can make it happen because when I first thought of the idea, it was sort of a daydream, and then in my application, it was all about finishing these videos Akron Soul Train. “And like having that got me on the hook. So then I was, `I can’t quit, I can’t give up,’ she said, noting some of the videos took several months to complete between scripting, storyboarding and scheduling shoots.
“And they were particularly excited about the fact that I feature a lot of Akron landmarks and local businesses. We go to Flury’s Cafe, we go to Baxter’s Speakeasy. We’re all up in Kenmore and the Rialto (Theatre), and then we go up to Cleveland, and we’re showing off all those landmarks and stuff. So they really appreciated that there was a community thing to it,” Sapronetti said.
Six of the episodic videos are available on Big Pop’s YouTube page, with the saga’s seventh video and grand finale being premiered at the show. Big Pop’s music style is teased in the band’s name, an amalgam of unabashed melodic, hooky rock and roll evidenced in episode one, “Can’t Even Tell,” which rides a bouncy ‘80s pop-rock groove with a catchy chorus. The first episode finds the band casually rocking out to the song on pontoon boats while being watched by a mysterious villain dubbed “Kron,” played with scenery-chewing glee by Akron area drummer-producer and Free Black! member Holbrook Riles III.
In episode two, the synth-pop tune “No Way,” Sapronetti and singer-guitarist Corey Jenkins land in a portal into the “Retroverse,” where they find themselves in a retro ‘80s video and parody of the old Pop Up Video show with a cameo from vocalist keyboardist Samantha Grace. Things just get weirder from there.
Musically, the tunes show the range of the band and include a synth-pop ballad, like in episode three’s “Lookin’ Good,” a ‘60s-inflected torch power ballad, and episode four’s black and white shot “The Depths,” the title of which was inspired by a tremolo effects pedal made by EarthQuaker Devices, one of the show’s sponsors.
In episode 5, the alt-rocking “Coming Down,” Sapronetti basks in her David Lynch and Twin Peaks obsessions, playing a coffee-loving Dale Cooper-like character as she and her bandmates try to figure out what is happening to them.
In the penultimate episode for the glam-rocking song “Smooth Rider,” Sapronetti and Jenkins steal a “Blues Brothers” mobile and “drive” (with help from a green screen) around Akron and Cleveland to a live show shot at the 2023 Ingenuity Festival in Cleveland.
Across the three years, Sapronetti said she and the band members began to notice disturbing parallels to their actual lives involving band members leaving the group, interpersonal relationship chicanery and the exhaustion caused by trying to bring your odd creative vision into a tangible form.
The Saturday-night Big Pop Picture Show will be performed only once and will feature the current iteration of the band: Sapronetti, guitarist-vocalist Corey Jenkins, vocalist, keyboardist Samantha Grace, bassist Shaun Berringer, and drummer Mike Karl.