Bear Creek is not just a music and art festival. It’s more of a way of life. Year after year, music lovers of all kinds make their way to the enchanting Suwannee Music Park for five days of live music. For some, Bear Creek has become a ritual, a tradition, a promise to return the following year. For some, like myself, it is the first time experiencing the tight-knit family of the Creek. After seeing Bear Creek for myself, I can see why they would want to come back.
The drive to Bear Creek Music and Arts Festival was bleak. It was raining and foggy. You could barely see 50 yards ahead of you. I expected the weekend to be the same. People who have been to festivals all over the country and the world and have been to Bear Creek have said it is the best. I was hoping the weather wouldn’t interrupt my first experience of this magical festival.
The weather turned out to be OK for the majority of the weekend. The overcast atmosphere allowed for a cool wind and for it to not be too hot or too cold. We arrived on Friday in the early afternoon and set up camp. After getting settled in, we started the weekend with Antibalas. They brought an intense energy that matched the crowds. In every direction, people were dancing. Bear Creek was in full swing.
The Motet was up next. If anyone can make funk intense, it’s these guys. The soothing voice of Jans Ingber compliments all of the instruments so well. Drummer Dave Watts, founder of the band, has made the cohesiveness of the members one of the main components, and it shows. Roosevelt Collier and Nigel Hall made “artist at large” appearances, and all around, this was one of the more fun and powerful sets of the weekend.
We headed to Galactic for a set full of diverse covers expanding from hip-hop to rock. There were guest appearances by David Shaw, Maggie Koerner, Chali 2na and Roosevelt Collier. We, then, decided to split up the time between Greenhouse Lounge and Kung Fu. It ended up being a wise choice. While I’ll always love Greenhouse Lounge, going to the Music Hall for Kung Fu worked out well. The building was heated, it wasn’t too packed, the bathrooms had lights, and KungFu rocked. The lead singer from the Motet, Inger, stopped in for a song or two. But Todd Stoops from Kung Fu playing four keyboards at once will forever amaze me.
As we made our way back to the Amphitheater Stage, I started getting jittery and more excited. Bonobo was up next. It’s hard to describe this set because, for me, it’s indescribable. The mood, ambiance and sheer brilliance of the music took me by surprise. We engrossed ourselves in the middle of the crowd while Simon Green took us to far-away places with his soulful and emotional songs.
Immersed in the forest, the Amphitheater Stage was the perfect place for a Bonobo performance. Szjerdene was even more intriguing with her outstandingly warm and beautiful voice. The production, particularly the visuals and lighting, were top quality. From ambient to funk to tribal drums, Bonobo and his band made you want to jump up and down, stand still with your eyes closed, and gently sway with the rhythm all at the same time. He played for an extra 20 minutes, and when he finally did end his set, Green mentioned that he had been looking forward to performing at Suwannee again. This was definitely my favorite set of the weekend and I would recommend his music to anyone.
After such a mind-altering performance, I went back to my campsite and got a good night’s rest. I knew I was going to need it for Saturday.
I awoke to the chatter of the early risers and a trumpet. The Campground Stage was having a sound check, and after, I cooked lunch to the sounds of Lucky Costello. Their remixed Star Wars soundtrack was a perfect way to start the day.
If I had to describe Saturday of Bear Creek in one word, I would call it “funky.” Bootsy Collins and the Funk Unity Band transported all of Bear Creek back to the 1970s. Sporting multiple outfits and instruments, including a star-shaped bass that lit up, Bootsy Collins was a sight to see, if not, a spectacle.
If you look up “funk” in the dictionary, I’m pretty sure a picture of Bootsy Collins will be there. With more than enough sexual references to make your grandmother uncomfortable, Bootsy had everyone poppin’ their thangs. Fully engaged with the audience, Bootsy started several chants and even attempted to make his way through a gap that the audience formed, but ultimately, didn’t make it 10 feet because the crowd swarmed him. His alter ego “Casper, the friendly ghost” made an appearance, along with long-time partner George Clinton and Bernie Worrell. Bootsy showed a modern-day crowd what funk is really all about.
The Roots were another notable act from Saturday. Probably the most anticipated set by the festivalgoers, I hadn’t seen the Amphitheater Stage that packed throughout the entire weekend. Seamlessly merging one song into the next, hip-hops only band put on a performance that had the crowd dancing the entire time. They played some of their classics, like “Table of Contents” and “The Seed (2.0),” and live reworks of classics, like “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and “Welcome To Jamrock.” Questlove and Black Thought proved their talents, each through their respectable skill. Questlove’s drumming was a prominent presence, as always, and Black Thought’s rapping was smooth as butter.
Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe was a nice surprise. I, coincidentally, ran into a group of my friends, and for a second, I felt like it was fate that brought me to this set. As the “unofficial eighth member” of Slightly Stoopid, Karl provides a driving saxophone and flute line, but it is reminiscent of the older James Bond movies. Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe has a jazzy feel, but puts a modern twist on psychedelic funk and rock.
The Bear Creek All-stars were up next. This was a collaboration set featuring Lettuce, Dumpstaphunk and almost every other artist at Bear Creek. They slowly introduced one, two, three musicians until the stage was completely full. Alecia Chakour, Nigel Hall, Neal Evans, George Porter Jr., Nikki Glaspie, the list goes on. The audience witnessed a mass of contributions to produce one sound; it was beautiful. There were so many instruments being played and so many voices singing, my ears felt overwhelmed with musical delight.
Instead of going to the silent disco, we decided to check out Zach Deputy’s late-night set at a random campground. It had started raining, but the tree canopy was protecting us for the most part. By the time we got to the front of the crowd, it had doubled in size and there was no telling how many people were behind us. A fog machine engulfed the crowd, making people disappear into the clouds and rain. It got so rowdy, the cops had to shut it down.
On Sunday, the festival cut back to only two stages, the Porch Stage and the Amphitheater Stage with no conflictions. To my surprise, a lot of people decided to pack up and leave, missing some of the best music of the weekend.
The Jennifer Hartswick Band featured many sit-ins, including Jans Ingber, Natalie Cressman, George Porter Jr. and more. My favorite part of this set was Hartswick’s take on Janis Joplin’s “Little Piece of My Heart.” She almost made it sound better than the Queen of Psychedelic Soul herself. Jennifer Hartswick voice is so emotional and soulful that it’s hard to not listen to her when she sings.
However, the most moving performance of the day, possibly the festival, was Roosevelt Collier and Nigel Hall’s Gospel Surprise. For a lot of musicians, religion plays a major role in developing a style, and that proves to be extremely true for Collier and Hall. Their Sunday mass was something I had never seen before. Gospel music rung through the trees as musicians took their turn belting into the microphone, singing hymns and traditional church songs. Alecia Chakour, Natalie Cressman, Erin Boyd and Jennifer Hartswick took the role of the choir, and their voices merged together to create a sweet and angelic sound. Collier’s steel guitar and Hall’s piano resonated throughout the amphitheater. It was a religious experience, even for those who are not religious. Some were brought to tears and some danced joyfully.
After church, Zach Deputy served us some good ol’ chicken pot pie – well sort of. He was about to close his set with one of his most beloved songs, “Chicken Pot Pie,” when he was cut short because of time restrictions. Festival favorite and Bear Creek veteran, Zach Deputy is a “ one-man army, fighting for yo groove.” His Caribbean-infused, island style music instantly got the crowd to move their feet. He proceeded to display his talents in bluegrass, the blues, gospel and soul, live looping, guitars and harmonicas. Everyone I saw at this Zach Deputy set had a smile on his or her face.
As the festival started winding down, the crowd size was noticeably smaller. Dumpstaphunk was the second-to-last-performer, but they energized and brought all of the patrons to the Amphitheater Stage for the last magical moments of the weekend. The bittersweet end came with Lettuce. They brought out the stars of Bear Creek to perform one more time until next year. When they exited the stage, the crowd erupted with, “We want the funk! Gotta have that funk!” Lettuce came back for an epic encore with “Madison Square.”
And just like that, it was over. It seemed to pass in the blink of an eye, but as the saying goes, time flies when you’re having fun. Until next time, Bear Creek.
via Bionic Beatlab