Bear Creek Music and Arts Festival :: 11.12.10-11.14.10 :: Spirit of Suwannee Music Park :: Live Oak, FL
The enchanting Spirit of Suwannee Music Park hosted its annual Bear Creek Music and Arts Festival for a four-day-plus dance party that delivered in spades. As stunning pines and oaks levitated, Spanish moss crept through the boggy confines, the raw natural environs leave one awestruck, and Bear Creek 2010 defined itself as the preeminent outdoor camping music event in the United States.
In many ways an amalgam of High Sierra, Jam Cruise and Jazz Fest, Bear Creek is an experience all its own. The brainchild of Paul Levine and Lyle Williams, Bear Creek bills itself as a dance festival – “a blur of music and color, a family reunion in the woods.” With over 70 bands, 6 stages, 15 visual artists, a picturesque setting complete with yoga, disc golf and a “Fear and Loathing Costume Party,” this year’s event was indeed the most grandiose yet most intimate of any Bear Creek thus far. Legendary Gonzo artiste Ralph Steadman even designed a choice festival poster.
For all the incredible music this writer engulfed, there were a plethora of artists I did not catch or cover; the schedule was chock-full every hour of the day over all six stages. There was more music available than any human could consume. After a pre-pre party that began Wednesday night, by Thursday midday, as most attendees got settled into cozy camping amidst a beautiful autumn afternoon, The Heavy Pets properly kicked off inside the voluminous Purple Hat Tent. The South Florida quintet had an energetic set highlighted by “Thank You Music” and a swarm of onstage dancers. Later, Asheville, NC’s Toubab Krewe‘s uniquely massive sonics fascinated with cacophonous, Middle Eastern/African appeal..
Later, producer wunderkind Alex B electrified the crowd with tracks from Moments, blazing new joints and fiery mash-ups. Rebirth Brass Band announced what most of us already knew: NOLA was in the building!! Mixing classic Crescent City melodies with “WHO ‘Dat?” anthems, a sly “Billie Jean” cover and a Chali 2na guest spot, Rebirth delighted. From Boston, by way of Ithaca, a reconfigured John Brown’s Body brought mid-tempo reggae/lover’s rock to the Music Hall, while a different kind of party went down across the way.
Umphrey’s McGee packed the tent on both nights they played, and the first was a two-set show that saw Bernie Worrell and Ivan Neville join in on “Nothin’ Too Fancy.” A clear highlight of the weekend for many was a version of Heart’s “Barracuda” featuring Jen Hartswick on vocals, a birthday present for UM’s Ryan Stasik.
Meanwhile, indoors, another Chicago prog-machine was firing on all cylinders. Garaj Mahal delivered odd-timed chops and quirky Zappa-esque themes. Masterful guitarist Fareed Haque was his usual jaw-dropping self, and his chemistry with Kai Eckhart and Eric Levy unambiguous.
Big Sam’s Funky Nation is always a treat at SOS, and this year’s NOLA-fied party welcomed guests Matt Grondin and Roosevelt Collier to the Amphitheatre early in the afternoon. The sensual sashaying of NOLA burlesque dance maven Lady Gingerlicious added a certain spice as well. Later, Greenhouse Lounge positively murked the Campground Stage, offering drum & bass/dub-step themed original tracks alongside remixes of 50-Cent’s “P.I.M.P” and Dead Prez’s “Hip Hop.” Also, the Sam Kinninger Band surprised with a bright afternoon set charging with funk. Kraz, Neal Evans, Nigel Hall and Alan Evansaiding the cause..
Truly an original concept, Brad Houser, Skerik and Mike Dillon came together as the Dead Kenny Gs. Rocking Kenny G wigs and blood spattered aprons, the band melded punk-jazz and metal to straight-ahead jazz. Mike D manipulated a pipe organ along with a drum kit and vibraphone simultaneously. The inimitable Freekbass lent hands to the psychosis.
Elsewhere, Papa Grows Funk, led by organist John Gros and guitarist June Yamagushi, enjoyed sit-ins from NOLA brothers in arms Ivan Neville and Tony Hall. On the Campground Stage, The Malah offered Orb-drenched electronics, the trio breaking out a psychedelic take on the Talking Heads “Crosseyed & Painless” at one point.
Mixing subtle arrangements and passages with world beat jazz flavors, Everyone Orchestra unveiled yet another unique lineup. Haque, Eckhardt, Jen Hartswick, Roosevelt Collier, and many others performed in the Purple Hat Tent. Later inside the Music Hall, the Tony Hall Band with Jen Hartswick, Fred Wesley, Skerik and more overwhelmed fans with aggressive, bluesy funk grooves..
Soulive at the Amphitheatre delivered probably the best set of the day. Opening with early classics in the trio format, the Brothers Evans plus Eric Krasno welcomed Kofi Burbridge and Nigel Hall on for an emotional cover of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” (including a Chali 2na verse). Later they unveiled the staggering breakbeat arrangement of The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” and a crunching “She’s So Heavy,” as well as a proper run through “Tighten Up.” British boogaloo stalwarts The New Mastersounds unleashed their patented thumping funk workouts deep into the night to close the tent, with Nigel Hall and Zach Deputy guesting on the set..
On Saturday, the Nigel Hall Band featured soulful crooning and Rhodes work from the bandleader, with Kraz on bass and Dietch again at the drum helm. Elsewhere, Maceo Parker had the people shaking everything they had while passin’ the peas. Also, Caddy Jones delivered in the Music Hall, and Snarky Puppy‘s impressive set saw many musicians in the audience diggin’.
Saturday evening, Paul and Lyle set up a schedule of performances that rivals any I have ever had the pleasure of attending. Break Science started this paranormal evening in ludicrous fashion; Deitch and Boram Lee delivering one of the best sets of electronic music in recent memory. In a word: Disgusting (that’s a positive). Hip-hop, breakbeat, dub sound system mash-ups, 808s, the grimiest dubstep and more were rolled up in a progressive, colossal display of the finest in live electronic music. Public Enemy, GangStarr, Jay-Z, MGMT, Snoop Dogg, Fela, and more were mashed up dirty for the South..
Then, Bonobo Live Band somehow managed to up the ante! Captivating and enrapturing, Simon Green‘s brainchild announced themselves to the Bear Creek massive in an astonishing set of transcendental bliss. Opening with “Flutter” and mixing classics with tracks from Black Sands, this collective simply wowed with bass, piano and conducting of Simon Green,the mesmerizing, sultry vocals of Andreya Triana and multiple multi-instrumentalists. Roosevelt Collier’s pedal steel sit-in with Bonobo Live Band was something to behold..
After Eliot Lipp‘s slammin set turned on many who did not know his game, a series of conflicts of interest arose.Chapter 2 offered a brief break from the tent, Kraz’s solo band augmented by the likes of Deitch, Neal Evans, Nigel Hall and the Shady Horns. At the Amphitheatre, Ivan Neville’s Dumpstajam saw a smorgasbord of players join in for the Sly Stone classic “Thank U Fa Lettin Me Be Mice Elf, Again.”
Meanwhile, The New Deal were destroying the tent, their uptempo, electro-house grooves ushering in a sea of ravers into a blitzkrieg of lasers and flashing lights. The trio’s energetic climaxes nearly blew the roof from the structure. Later, Bonobo’s DJ set harnessed tND’s energy and spun a dark, foreboding, dirty atmosphere, again impressing with mysterious sonics. Lettuce then took the stage and set it ablaze! Focusing on Rage-era songs, the longtime crew just relentlessly punished a teeming tent massive with psychedelic funk calisthenics deep into the night, wrapping at nearly 4 am. This was the exclamation point on a ridiculous evening of music in the Purple Hat Tent.
Sunday started with locals the Matt Grondin Band. Guitarist Grondin is now ensconsced in new hometown of New Orleans and it shows in the band’s flavor. A great way to start a Sunday at Suwanee.
George Porter’s Runnin’ Padnas proved an ageless Crescent City treat. The Meter’s bassist always fields a ridiculous collective, with this one featuring killer Ziga’fied drumming from Terence Houston and sax-man of the future Khrys RoyalKILLING it on a myriad of weapons. Classic Meters tunes and a crunk “Sneakin Sally” were highlights, with Fred Wesley, Pee Wee Ellis and Brian Stoltz also joining the fray for Porter’s set.
One of the most anticipated sets of the weekend was definitely Lettuce featuring Maceo Parker, Pee Wee Ellis and Fred Wesley (i.e. The JB Horns). Indeed, it was hard to tell who was having more fun, The Royal Family or the royalty they were hosting. Heated JB’s workouts galore abounded, with Nigel Hall assuming the Godfather role with authority. Highlights included the Wesley-led “House Party,” a slow, dirty version of “The Chicken,” “I Feel Good” and an unremitting “Superbad!” Afterwards, The New Mastersounds blessed another round of boogaloo until it was time for a special conglomerate in the Purple Hat Tent..
Dr. Klaw, equal parts Royal Family and N’awlinz crew, unleashed a gargantuan sound – funk so deep it pounded your chest cavity. Led by the undercurrent of Nick Daniels on bass and drummer extraordinaire Adam Deitch, the band dropped predatory takes on “Leave Me Alone,” “Higher Ground” and more crushing funk with assists from various players still on-site. DJ Logic got busy on the decks, droppin’ block rockin beats, electro and mash-ups as people kept the groove alive. As per tradition, Dumpstaphunk brought us home with their omnipresent NOLA-fied flavors, highlighted by “Meanwhile” and a parade of players and revelers as this thrilling event wound to a close..
No amount of superlatives could really do justice to the magnificent event that was Bear Creek 2010. Thanks and praises to Levine, Williams, their phenomenal staff and the SOS Music Park for again treating us to such a magical experience. Clearly, their intent is all for our delight. Next year, I’d be willing to bet that the dynamic duo once again ups the funk ante.
B.Getz’s BEAR CREEK 2010 All-Stars
Pee Wee Ellis