Hometown Love

Jacksonville’s musical history is littered with hometown heroes who’ve started small and moved on to greener pastures. One Duval native who’s paid it back in a big way is Danny Wimmer. The one-time Milk Bar partner and 618 owner never forgot his roots, even as he latched onto Limp Bizkit’s rapid ascent and eventually rose to management positions with Epic and Atlantic Records. Since leaving those major labels and co-founding the Los Angeles-based outfits Right Arm Entertainment and Arms Division Records, Wimmer has organized wildly successful festivals like Rock on the Range, Carolina Rebellion and Epicenter Festival. But his biggest claim to hometown fame is The Big Ticket festival, which kicks off its third edition Dec. 2 at Metropolitan Park.

In addition to major national sponsors like Monster Energy Drink, MetroPCS, Miller Lite, Bubba Brands and Jägermeister, Wimmer credits Jacksonville alternative rock radio station X102.9 with being The Big Ticket’s prime local catalyst. “We put on 10 major festivals across the country each year, and it’s really important to have a strong media driver,” Wimmer says. “X102.9 has really moved the needle with their audience, which created a real opportunity for us to produce something that was more alt [rock]-driven than anything else.”

Fans of alternative rock certainly won’t be disappointed by this year’s Big Ticket lineup. The biggest treat comes from a rare U.S. headlining appearance by English rock band Bush, which sold more than 10 million records in the 1990s on the strength of mega-hits like “Everything Zen” and “Comedown.” But The Big Ticket isn’t just wallowing in nostalgia; political punk band Rise Against is the co-headliner, promising that multiple generations of music fans can coalesce at one event. “Bush has such a huge catalog, and [lead singer] Gavin Rossdale really cares about the future of his band,” Wimmer says. “They still write songs that are relevant today, so it really makes sense to pair them up with a band like Rise Against. That means a father and a son can really come together at The Big Ticket.”

Other top Big Ticket draws include established national acts like Flogging Molly, Silversun Pickups and Anberlin, international upstarts like Of Monsters and Men and The Joy Formidable and young buzzworthy bands like Grouplove, Paper Tongues, Imagine Dragons and twenty | one | pilots. Wimmer’s most excited about New York indie pop darlings fun., which has rocketed to huge success in the last 12 months. “They played The Big Ticket last year after I got a call from Atlantic Records telling me about this unknown band,” Wimmer says. “I think we paid ’em $250 in 2011 — and this year they’re one of the headliners. I love seeing an artist that was opening on the second stage going to the headlining stage in one year’s time.”

Wimmer says that kind of big-time media exposure is exactly what The Big Ticket is all about. Several battle-of-the-band-style qualifiers were held at Jack Rabbits throughout the fall, with the top 10 bands culled from each show performing Nov. 24 at Freebird Live for a chance to perform at the big shebang on Dec. 2. “That’s a very important aspect of the festival,” Wimmer says. “I call it ‘feeding the machine’ — you have to keep finding new talent and give them the opportunity to play in front of a large audience with major record labels, radio representatives and managers in attendance. You’d be surprised how many times a band opens a bill and gets discovered as a fluke.”

At the end of the day, Wimmer says The Big Ticket festival is just another way for him to stay connected to his hometown, where he hopes to return with his wife and kids in the near future. “The Big Ticket provides a great opportunity for me,” he finishes. “Between that and the Welcome To Rockville show I do in late April/early May, I can serve the alternative rock crowd in Jacksonville while exposing newer bands that might never come here to my hometown. This is our third year with The Big Ticket, and 2013 will be our third with Welcome To Rockville, so I hope they both continue to grow so I can stick around.”

Nick McG