Written by Jill Ashley. Edited by Mike Evans. Photo Credit Bear Creek House Photographers: Jeffrey Dupuis, Rex Thomson, Greg Horowitz, and Nick Sonsini. Upful Photographer: Elizabeth Scranton
True to its name, Brrr Creek opened its gates to welcome families and friends from across the country to gather in the name of funk. On one of the chilliest weekends this year in Florida, the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park was ready for another Bear Creek Music Festival. This Royal Family Affair, started as “Down on the Farm” eight years ago and has evolved into one of the most funkiest events on the east coast to date. This hybrid of vibes and inspiration stems from events like High Sierra Festival in California, Jazz and Heritage Festival of New Orleans, and Jam Cruise and has spiraled into a four day long collaboration of its own.
Why is this experience such a rush? The sheer number of collaborations stimulate solos and duels between sit-in artists and incredible bands. Bands are assigned sets and then have the opportunity to invite guests on stage. Guests also collaborate in an “Orchestra at Large” on Sunday afternoon to help round out the festival. Think of the magic that flocks the best venues and dive bars late night in the Crescent City during Jazz Fest. That is the essence that Bear Creek captures through out the event which sets the experience apart from most festivals I have shaken my tail feathers to in the US. The community comes together for this experience to bring out their best dance moves and warmest bear hugs, giddy to overdose on the vibrations that spill over the stages non-stop.
My name is Jillian Ashley. I am known in the festival community as Jill TrAshley, for that is the department where I have found my passion. I usually spend the bulk of my festival experiences behind the scenes, working with a motivated krewe to collect and sort all of the waste generated at these events. Aside from these juicy endeavors, I have stood next to the side of The Upful Life and Times since it’s birth and first debut at Bear Creek Music and Arts Festival in 2011. Bi-coastally and internationally, it has been such an eye opening experience to see this project eb and flow the way it has, affecting not only the loyal readers from Jam Base but also to the curious bystander questioning my camera lenses or Bee Getz’s dance moves. People are curious about what is going on and how to live the ‘Upful Life.’ That is an article for another time. Maybe an article the size of a novel! For now, I am taking an educated whack at producing a well-rounded and passionate account of my 6th Bear Creek experience. I am no story teller by trade, but I harnassed the spirit of Upful’s creator and verbal jouster, Bee, within me this very weekend. I will now allow the spirit of funk to flow onto these pages, ensuring you Getz a good buzz going.
For veterans, this gathering is not referred to as Brrrrr Creek for nothing… Here’s the low down on the themed costume nights;
Friday: Warm and fuzzy! People were seen layered up with animal accents expressing their inner spirit animal. This was the coldest night and a grrrreat excuse to find yourself a cuddle puddle amidst the campgrounds when taking a break from the dance flow.
Saturday: Cops, Robbers and Super Heroes….oh my! This theme speaks for itself. If you made it to Hulaween, you saw that the inspiration was still going strong in pushing the limit to dress expressively and responsibly.
Sunday: #PurpAllDay. In memory of dear friend and fellow funkster, Rachel Morningstar Hoffman. Many friends and family of the Suwannee adorned themselves in purple on Sunday and joined forces to “go to church” with The Nth Power, Dumpstaphunk, and the legendary Bear Creek closers, Lettuce.
I began my weekend by volunteering time with the Green Team and inspecting the potential crime scenes where stolen hearts and cut up rugs would be found very soon. As we dropped trash cans and recycle bins in their respective locations, I realized the layout had shifted from past years. The Uncle Charlie Porch Stage was one of the launching pads for Lettuce and home base for bands like Zach Deputy, The New Mastersounds and Orgone. This stage was not open for show biz this time around. The Campground stage, located lakeside in the middle of the camping area, was also not in service. These two stages met halfway with a new stage, dubbed the DC’s Forest Stage, named after the legendary staff member of all trades who had been fighting cancer until earlier this year. This stage took on a whole new vibe and zone that the festival had never experienced. Many bands new to the Bear Creek line up were given their debut on this stage. It also housed more intimate double features of bands like Zach Deputy, Locos por Juana, Orgone, Turkuaz and Tauk. To the left of the stage, the healing arts and yoga center encompassed daily yoga workshops and doubled as a silent disco late night. This stage was a progressive move on the festival’s part, and was widely received by fans and musicians for its convenient location and sound quality. Surrounded by trees, the location was gave the illusion of an intimate enclosed space, while still being close to the campgrounds.
A highlight of the Forest Stage includes Asheville, NC based band, The Broadcast. They opened up on Thursday in the chill of the night. It was a sight to see the front woman, Caitlin, with her empowering roar, black pumps, and disco tank. Each song told a story; she lead everyone through the story of her life in the song, Sirens. Weaving through originals, The Broadcast debuted a new brand new song named Every Step. These songs were akin to classics like The Doobie Brothers’ “Long Train Running.” They continued into Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll,” and had the crowd bouncing. These renditions were no doubt sane, rich, and happy. Just when you thought their set was over, their drummer massaged his percussion into an uplifting solo that set the whole band off into a frenzy, showcasing each members’ ability to get the funk down.
Carly Meyers’ ensemble Yojimbo was another chronic fusion, full of organized chaos. It honestly doesn’t matter who Carly is on stage with; it is always a cute and creepy experience that leaves you exhausted. Her show is riddled with high levels of energy. One’s eyes are left to wander around the stage following her countless wardrobe changes, instrument mad libbing, and infectious growling that works its way back and forth into her girlish and melodic tone. Towards the end of the set, the stage warmly welcomed her Crescent City compadre, Khris Royal, and his horns for the thrilling and chilling collaboration of the Pirate Song.
Born in Jacksonville, FL and now based out of Asheville, NC, The Fritz returned for their second run this year at this adult playground. They were stoked to harvest the last hours of daylight before the moon shine fell onto the Suwannee. All rhythms on deck were tastefully buffered by the saxy, soulful voice of Jamar Woods, who holds down a grounding sensation as this ensemble takes you down the rabbit hole through a groovy psychedelic journey fusing funk rock and unforgettable gnarly solos. The band wrapped up the set with a newer tune, Trinitite, which featured drummers, Mike Tillis and Mike Evans, and the song ended with a humorous, dramatic band freeze frame.
I moved into the festival grounds. The legendary and favored stage of thousands was renamed the Buffalo Amphitheater this year after the passing of another hard working and genuine staffer of the Suwannee Family. Rest in peace, Buffalo and DC, your spirits lives on at SOSMP as does the music. The amphitheater is a breathtaking and historical piece of real estate where some of the most memorable collaborations and musical revelations have taken place over the years.
By the visual painters, I witnessed the second wedding proposal of the weekend during one of the dozen Zach Deputy sets. I hadn’t seen the bride-to-be since Wanee Festival of Spring 2013. After a warm bear hug, this lovely ladybird had her man on one knee, popping the question during their favorite set at their favorite stage on Planet Earth.
The Amphitheater was the crime scene where the Umphreaks threw down for not one, but three thrilling sets over the weekend. This was also the home base for the annual Dumpstajam, a featured set that jam musicians could not wait to sit in on. From the New Mastersounds to Orgone’s saxy stylings to the renowned hosts, Dumpstaphunk, this was definitely the most accommodating setting for patrons to put it in the Dumpsta. Whether it be chilling in one of the hundred hammocks that people entrust to leave hanging throughout the sprawl of trees, or to be raging the front rail with your krewe, the collage of instruments became the soundtrack your dancing feet yearned for all year. Moss-covered cedar trees, oak trees, and Function Forms gave this area proper covering, transcending the line between shade and art. Over the years, the festival grounds have accumulated a collection of handmade artforms, ranging from childhood characters to mysterious aliens. In combination with the cascading landscape, the festival retains a whimsical character that one is sure to remember.
Even though I’ve been to the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park numerous times, I still catch myself admiring the surroundings as if it were the first time. This particular venue is a comfortable setting to enjoy nature in all four seasons. Since Bear Creek is in the Florida “winter,” water activities and bee keeping become less attractive, in favor of campfire activities and disc golf. With temperatures dropping each night, Bear Creek is the perfect festival to nourish yourself with a beverage of your choice around a fire. As temperatures cool and the moon shine falls upon the park, one can find themselves seeking warmth inside the Spirit of Suwannee Music Hall. The SOS Music Hall is a dark and intimate space where bands like The Budos Band, The Main Squeeze, and Locos por Juana performed to full crowds. Keeping up with the outside world, you could find loyal FSU Football fans celebrating victory around a tiny TV screen at the bar.
The first collaboration I witnessed was in the Music Hall during Catfish Alliance, a Suwannee family favorite and ever evolving group of Tallahassee, FL funksters. Their performance showcased interpretive dance and cowbelling by the Sexual Manatee, the added guest blend of percussion by Luke Quaranta (Toubab Krewe), and the youngest performer who explored nearly a dozen sets throughout the weekend, Brandon “Taz” Niederauer. I had heard of this seriously talented, Krasno-faced wonder, who had made his mark jamming late night on Jam Cruise and Jazz Fest. The Catfish Alliance show was his Bear Creek debut. Well funk yeah! We were with it! The crowd loved it and eagerly egged him on, amidst the Sexual Manatee’s antics. The band was entrancing the crowd, full of Floridians galore.
We moved onto the crux of it all; the original merry funksters of our time who give Bear Creek its reputation, The Royal Family. This family, like most, is not your usual. It comes in many shapes, colors, affairs, and genres all with one goal in mind: the music they produce, independently and collaboratively, is pure medicine.
I have had the privilege to see these performers emerge from the Bear Creek Music Festival experience year after year, spreading their collaborative energy coast-to-coast. The Spirit of Suwannee Music Park has gained recognition in the scene for reinventing and revitalizing musical energy. Bear Creek lands between Suwannee’s newest festival, Hullaween, and Thanksgiving. Bear Creek is seen by many as the wrap up to summer festival season. Many members of The Royal Family complete their touring schedule at Bear Creek, celebrating with collaborations and guest performances that one would not usually find.
Lettuce continue with an Upful favorite who is undeniably a true example of medicinal funk fusion. Bear Creek has become the essential catalyst that blasted this band off! Wherever your personal paradise was, you just didn’t know until it hit you frontrow. This band’s music is unexplainable. From the moment that Jesus laid his graceful finger on the bass, people were on a journey way far away. Their celebrated albums, Fly, Rage, and Out of Here, support that mission fully. Lettuce strategically sprinkled in new songs in between classics effortlessly. Their engine was well-oiled from prior weeks of touring leading up to Suwannee along with an album they are currently recording between New York and New Orleans. When the set was over, people slowly guided down back into their own minds, taking some sweet time to recuperate. I floated over to Break Science.
This year, Break Science transmitted live from the Purple Hat Stage with bombastic sonics and a wildly growing sea of warm and fuzzy ragers. I have seen them evolve before my eyes with an experimental set from earlier this year at Lighting in a Bottle. What began as The Adam Dietch Project nearly a decade ago has transformed into a full time endeavor for Adam and coconspirator Boram Lee. Halfway through their set, Talib Kweli joined the crew onstage. Dietch and Kweli’s connection goes way back, as Dietch has produced several songs with him in the past like an Upful favorite, Live from Planet Brooklyn. This reunion gave the crowd a new flavor to sink their teeth into. Kweli later joined Soulive on stage, another band with a Kweli connection.
Two words that got folks worked up were flying around the Creek constantly: “Nth” “Power…” Put them together and you have something magical built on the foundation of LOVE. This ensemble is a righteous group that has evolved right before our very eyes. Born at JazzFest and christened at Purple Hatter’s Ball, it was only right that they took the stage at Bear Creek for two sets. Sunday’s show was akin to a powerful sermon, rightfully taking us to Church on Sunday. The Nth power loves Bear Creek, and Bear Creek loves The Nth Power!
In the words of Garcia himself, “Lately it occurs to me what a long strange trip it’s been.” Brrr Creek was an untouchable experience of all its own. The grassroots vibe is present and strong; it now has many other growing avenues of the SOSMP to explore. This transition gives the Big IV family more opportunity to implicate their experience into events at the park year-round like Hullaween and the non-profit based memorial, The Purple Hatter’s Ball. The charm, collaborative efforts on and off the stage, and the love is why Bear Creek has become a favorite annual Family Affair and has been affectionately been dubbed Land Cruise.