Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros are a 10-member musical troupe from Los Angeles. This October they performed inside a traditional circus tent alongside other local bands at the city’s State Historic Park as part of their own four-day Big Top festival. The band’s frontman Alex Ebert and Jade Castrinos talked to magician Christopher Wonder about the experience.
CHRISTOPHER WONDER—What were you doing when you first had the idea of the Big Top festival? Was it a spontaneous thought, or something you had planned and thought through for a long time?
ALEX EBERT—I can’t remember if I specifically thought of a tent, but the first time that the idea of a more antiquated, circus/troubadour kind of touring occurred to me was in Marfa, Texas. Our gig there got shut down after four songs, the electricity blew and the police showed… The next day we were walking through the barren streets and fields, playing and pounding on instruments, meandering around, into a hotel lobby, played the piano and shouted sing-alongs, and I remember thinking, This is the way. This is it. A day later, after gaining some fame in the small town, someone offered us their defunct bar to throw a show in before we left town. Four songs in, the police showed up again. I asked the audience if they wanted us to stop or if they were willing to go to jail. The place started chanting, “Jail! Jail! Jail!” The town of two police or so let us be, and the show continued. Those three days live in my memory as legend, and very much as inspiration.
CW—How did the rest of the band react? Were you all on the same page from the start, or did you find yourself trying to convince the others?
AE—As a band we are almost always up for adventure together, so there was no convincing, really. Where the convincing needed to happen was between our manager and some of the others involved on the money and logistics side of things.
CW—What are your most vivid memories of going to the Big Top circus?
AE—Watching you perform for the first time is one of them. I felt I was in the thick of a magical and very real time of wonder and richness. Another is the glory and poetry that I saw from that Ferris wheel; looking at the whole thing, it was very beautiful and overwhelming. And then there was performing – being on that stage and spinning around, seeing the beautiful audience in its entirety, nowhere to hide and no desire to hide – and knowing that all of the band were able to look into each other’s eyes, all facing inward in that circle. It is one of my all-time greatest memories.
CW—What inspired you most of the idea of performing in a big top? Is it an aesthetic appreciation or a way of life?
JADE CASTRINOS—There is something very wondrous about playing in an old-fashioned big top. It took me far way from time and everyday reality into a good dream.
CW—Round stage. Moving. Audience all over, spying your every move! How did that feel?
AE—Like getting drunk on magic.
CW—Every Big Top show was different – I noticed that you do not have a set list for your shows! It seemed to me, you were all pretty much in the moment. In my shows, I never have a list either, I just let myself enjoy the performance driven by the innocence and enthusiasm and wonder of a child. Does it work the same for you? Or, is there any other reason why you don’t like to plan what’s going to happen?
JC—It’s nice to keep it free-form because it gives us a chance to breathe new life into the songs no matter how many times we have played them. I think we will always avoid a formal set list. Every show feels like an adventure. I never know what’s going to happen next. It’s like swimming in the pacific.
CW—Big Top encompasses so many things. It transcended the idea of a concert, and even the traditional idea of a music festival. You had a kids’ show, a farmers’ market, vintage clothing vendors, local DIY crafts, and a Ferris wheel! Why did you decide to include all those other elements?
AE—I think we did what we did to add to the feeling of adventure and sort of “being alive-ness” that does not always easily accompany a regular club/theater/amphitheater gig. When you are a touring band, you’re in and out. It’s often a life-sucking hustle, streamlined in the interest of commerce. So in a way, the effort here is to create an arena for humanity, for life, for interaction and adventure, for more vital living.
CW—You pretty much decided to go “local” when choosing the artists for Big Top. How important is Los Angeles to you and the band?
JC—It was great to have friends come and share their gifts! I was particularly tickled that our friend Lily Ashwell came and set up a booth of her handmade clothing. Also our friend Emily came out from Canada and brought her handmade jewelry and head dresses with her. There were too many cool vendors to name.
CW—What is your most precious memory of the Big Top experience?
AE & JC—One highlight was meeting a really special guy named Ryder Buck. He told his story in the middle of one of our songs about surviving cancer and how music had helped him through it. We all talked afterwards and he came back the next day and brought his guitar along with him. He had a very angelic warmth about him and a contagious smile. We were all very saddened to learn that he passed away on Sunday, October 27. Our thoughts and prayers are with Ryder and his loved ones.
CW—Let’s talk about shoes. Why don’t you wear them?
AE—I don’t really know, except that it often helps me access the spirit of child-ness.
CW—How do you guys all get along? You’re so many!
JC—We all love each other a whole lot! Music always helps too…