Chris Castino is the primary songwriter for his longtime popular Minnesota-based rock’n’roll jamband The Big Wu. The Big Wu started in the mid 90’s and quickly ascended from the comforts of the local club scene to playing H.O.R.D.E Fest, Bonnaroo, Gathering of the Vibes, High Sierra, and the list goes on. Chris joined forces with the incredibly talented band Chicken Wire Empire from Milwaukee, WI, and took the opportunity, while sitting through COVID-19 lock-downs in 2020 and 2021, to arrange some of his catalog into impeccably fitting bluegrass tunes. With the addition of many of Chris’s lifelong musical heroes, including several GRAMMY winning artists (and some friends to the proGram) in the bluegrass & Americana: Sam Bush, Peter Rowan, Tim O’Brien, Jerry Douglas, Andy Hall, Vince Herman, Nick Forster, & Keller Williams, this feels like a classic bluegrass album and sounds instantly familiar. “Fresh Pickles” aims to satisfy your cravings—it is a light-hearted, down-home concept that plays with the idea that although some of the songs were written many years before, they now feel brand new. Fresh.
“Fresh Pickles” features 11 original songs penned by Chris. All of which, but one, were first released on four of The Big Wu’s 5 studio albums spanning from 1997-2019, and will be independently released on February 4. I had the opportunity to chat with Chris about this brand new and exciting project. From the moment we start talking about the songs – the process and the artists – you can tell there was an almost “Christmas morning for the kid” feeling in Chris’ Voice. And, anytime I can hear someone talk about friend of the proGram, Jeff Austin, I am all ears. Listening to his record, I can understand why. Bluegrass fan, Wu fan, maybe its jamgrass….but music fans alike will find the ear appeal. Finding out how Chicken Wire Empire, who many of us around here in Madison have been diggin’ on, is a story worth hearing, and the whole thing made me wish I was in the room when the record button was hit. Open the music jar and grab yourself some “Fresh Pickles”.