Take a Little Trip to Planet Bear Creek | JamBandsOnline.com

Take a Little Trip to Planet Bear Creek

Review by Shari Hartmann

Photos by Skip Tapp

6th Annual Bear Creek Music and Art Festival

November 8-11, 2012

Though I’ve been to many festivals at Spirit of the Suwanee Music Park in Live Oak, FL, this was my first time at Bear Creek Music and Art Festival.  I really wasn’t quite sure what to expect, except for some amazing music.  I assumed the crowd would be a bit younger than some of the other festivals at SOSMP, and it was, but not much.  I also expected it to be “party first, music second” and on that count I was completely and quite happily, wrong.  I suppose if you are going to a music festival in November and you are going to camp out in 28 degree weather, you going to be serious about the music.  And of course, with a lineup that included Umphrey’s X 3, Eric Krasno and his various creations, George Porter, Jr., and Zach Deputy, as just the tip of the iceberg, this festival was a nonstop funkedelic sensation. There seemed to be as many people at the late night acts as there were for the headliners.  Yes, great music, great party.

My second mistake was thinking that my “good to 40°” sleeping bag would be ok.  Unfortunately I was wrong about that. There’s no way to continue on about this year’s festival without first saying… it was cold!…Freakin’ cold! Truly, the days were beautiful reaching into the 60’s and even up to the 70s by Sunday, but the nights … once that sun went down, it quickly moved from chilly to freezing, “can’t feel my fingers and toes,” cold.  That didn’t stop anyone.  Not the music lovers, not the musicians.  And though there were plenty of comments about the weather, none were really complaints; just statements of fact that had everyone piling on the layers.  There were also plenty of fires at the campsites and around the festival grounds and, with all the hot music and everyone dancing at the amphitheater and stage areas, this festival remained a smokin’ event.

What I didn’t expect was how truly friendly and warm the all the festies were…  It was great to have people just come over to dance with you or grab you saying, “C’mon sister, lets rage!”  I would not have been surprised if things were a bit more raucous. Oh, I witnessed a few squabbles and a couple of people who had too much… something… including the guy who grabbed the dude at the raffle booth by the beard and exclaimed “You’re what god looks like!” (Reply: “then god must be a handsome man!”)  … but outside of those few, it seemed everyone was there to have a good time, rage,  see some of their favorite bands, and share their love of the music. 

I set out at 3 AM Thursday morning for Live Oak and arrived late morning.  I didn’t need to leave quite so early to find a campsite, there were still plenty of spots with most people not arriving until Friday, but there was plenty of time to prepare for an awesome weekend, setting up camp,  grilling some burgers, and then bundling up before heading out  to get transported into space and get thoroughly funkified.

Thursday’s line- up included the first of two sets scheduled from Khris Royal and Dark Matter, Zach Deputy, and Perpetual Groove.

Khris Royal and Dark Matter from New Orleans lit up the Porch Stage, the smallest of the three outdoor stages, located between the Amphitheater and “Purple Hat Stage” in the Meadow.    I’ve been catching this young saxophonist’s performances over the past few years, with George Porter, Jr., with Rebelution, and with DM, and almost feel as if I have listened to him grow up.  His playing just gets better, more polished, more soulful, every time I see him. And with Dark Matter, he shows not only his command of his instrument, the jam, and stage, but also his ability as a composer.  With his passion and charisma, he put on a brilliant show featuring his originals “Whyuwanna” and a jazzy “Big Booty Express” as well as a dark, funky cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstitious.”

Then it was time for the man who some are calling “Mr. Bear Creek,” Zach Deputy.   The crowd began to grow at the Amphitheater before and during his performance, piling in to see this one-man-music-machine. As he took the stage, they went wild.  Through straight up funk, pure improv, and island rhythms, Deputy had everyone dancing and smiling, warming everyone’s hearts as well as spirits when he says, “How you all doin’ family?”  It was really quite the scene, though, to see everyone in their winter gear — coats, scarves, hats, gloves — trying their best calypso dance to “Twisty Twist” and tossing around beach balls.  Deputy even got up once, as the looper continued, to toss a stray beach ball back into the audience. And of course, he had everyone singing along to “Lunch LadyLand” and “Chicken Pot Pie.”  I’m still trying to figure out the “Biker song?” myself.   I was dancing and having a great time but looking around to see if anyone else seemed to know what he was playing? Like, is this a song I should know? But of course that is the genius of Deputy….

Once Deputy was finished and everyone moved on to the next artist, I realized how cold it was without all the warm bodies dancing around me.  My toes were numb and I was getting quite chilled. I had promised myself I would not do any shopping at this festival.  I have enough “ugly” skirts to clothe the whole tribe, but I couldn’t stand it and stopped at the Wormtown booth for a wool hoodie, and then over to my favorite cold weather vendor, the coffee man.  No amount of cold or lack of sleep was going to keep me from catching Perpetual Groove.

P’Groove, with the return of original keyboardist Matt McDonald, played Thursday and Friday nights, Thursday at the Amphitheater and Friday at the Porch Stage, and I heard both sets in full. If I have to say one was better, I think Thursday was the better set, though really it’s just a matter of opinion and taste.  Possibly too could be the difference in sound systems.  I did not investigate, but it seemed to me that the overall sound quality at the Amphitheater was better and that with some of the bands at the Porch stage, whose sound was cranked, there was some distortion and if I moved further away it dissipated.  Nevertheless, P’Groove’s Friday show was gorgeous, and I floated on the outskirts to a psychedelic “It’s Bad You Know” with Roosevelt Collier and Robert Walters, and a gorgeous, 20-min “Sweet Oblivious Antidote.”  Thursday’s P’Groove set though was also amazing, truly trippy, and totally worth hanging out in the cold. Though the band was wearing jackets and ski hats, as they moved about on stage through the smoky mist and the ever-changing rainbow of lights they seemed as if in another realm. They set the stage on fire with “Robot Waltz” and kept me transported into the ether with “Stealy Man,” “Lemurs,” and “Teakwood Betz.” 

There were two standouts for me as far as “new” bands — I mean new to me — and they both played Thursday. One was Kung Fu.  Having heard great things about them, they were on my must-see list. They played before Zach Deputy and aside from the little bit of Bright Light Social Hour’s rockin’ set, they were the first of the festival for me and what a cool way to get grooving.  They blew me, and the rest of the audience, away with their fusion of jazz, funk, rock and electronica.  I was hooked immediately.  By the time they got to a 9-min “God Made Me Funky,” there was no doubt that she did! It was their incredibly skillful musicianship — individual talent on the jams, super tight as a group, and compositions that blend genres smoothly yet keep you on your toes not knowing what to expect next — that made them the musical “find” of the weekend for me.   When I finish this article, I’m going to download everything of theirs I can find. 

I really thought Thursday couldn’t have been any better until a friend took me to the Music Hall to see March Fourth Marching Band. I had no idea what fun I was in for.  My jaw dropped as soon as we walked in.  It’s almost impossible to know where to start.  With all the musical instruments of a marching band, plus an accordion, an electric guitar and bass, they have the sound of a marching band funked up.  They were in uniforms that loosely matched but each made unique…certainly not anything I’ve ever seen at a college football game half time show.  The tight-fitting pants of the men, the fishnet stockings and ruffle-bottomed short-shorts of the women; they were a true spectacle resembling a vaudevillian or a circus show.  And then there were the acts … the dancers, the men on stilts, the hooper, the acrobatics and high jinx of the musicians themselves.  This group was crazy fun.  Even leading the audience in a dance that had everyone “slapping their neighbors” on the ass.  When I finally stopped gapping in delight, I turned around and looked at the audience.  And I realized that they, we, looked just as freaky as the band.  Even the band leader said, “you are a fun group… you should see what you look like from up here.” I’m pretty sure he called us freaks, but I was laughing so hard I missed it.   Really, it was hard to say who looked freakier, the band or the audience, both donning the requisite Bear Creek animal head hats and funky outfits, wigs, hats, ruffled bell-bottoms and even some complete costumes… there were several alien sightings! And I mean the festies, not M4, as the band’s fans refer to them.  They did a second set the next day at the amphitheater to a full house, which was remarkable considering they were one of the first performers of the day and many campers were just waking.  Oh, and I really need to say the music was just as dazzling showing influences from pop, rock, world music; they are not just amazing performers they are excellent musicians as well! 

Friday afternoon there was also a great performance by Flannel Church who has made several appearances at SOSMP this year.  At the core of this group has been Duane Trucks on drums and bassist Kevin Scott, both of whom played with Col. Bruce Hampton’s Pharaoh Gummit, so this is a group that knows funk.  But they blend that with blues, gospel, and rock and for Bear Creek they even added a brass section for part of their first set and all of their Saturday set — the Atlanta Funk Society horn section.  Constantly changing and evolving, the band was not afraid to push their own boundaries.   Marshall Ruffin bluesy vocals were incredibly soulful and agile and Dave Ellington burned up the keys as they did “Tailor,” “Psychotic Girl,” and “Soldier On.”  But, I have to admit, I was particularly smitten with guitarist Lawson Feltman taking lead on Lennon cover, “Jealous Guy.”

Friday night was another cold one but there was an extra reason to keep warm in a fun way.  It was also Animal theme night.  There were bears everywhere! And not just bears leopards, chipmunks, chickens and even a pig.  Some dressed in full costume.  Most wore animal head hats, some with a full head sitting on theirs; others had a fuzzy hat with ears and long floppy sides with mitten like bottoms.  I had to join in.  I put on my fuzzy badger ears and headed off to what it seemed everyone was waiting for…Umphrey’s McGee! Time to Rage!

From the second UM hit the stage it was gold! Starting with a slow controlled “Catshot,” they captured the anticipation of the crowd. “Phil’s Farm,” a perfect call with all the animal heads bouncing around, turned into a total musicgasm that they ended with a shout out “Let’s have a great fucking weekend!” They ended their first set with “Bright Lights, Big City,” to rage sticks bobbing, glow sticks flying, LED everything, and  leaving everyone wanting more.

Between the two UM sets, The Werks played at the Porch Stage.  This was their second set of the weekend, and I heard the first set was killer, though I didn’t make it to the Music Hall to see them. I did hear they played “Psycho Killer,” which I would have loved to have heard.  But their Friday night set was all kick ass jam, just four songs in the 45-min set, with sit-ins from pedal steel whiz Roosevelt Collier and Todd Stoops of Kung Fu on keys, starting with “Cloudhopper” and ending with “Galactic Passport.”  As ragers skipped through the crowd they would stop and give a hug or a high-five – everyone dancing and laughing — everyone knowing they were experiencing something special this weekend.

UM took the stage for their second set and when they opened with a hypnotic “The Floor” we knew were in for a special show.  “1348” was explosive, and segueing into “The Triple Wide” and back to “1348 Reprise,” it turned into an almost half-hour jam. One of the true highlights of the set which had everyone shocked and talking about all weekend was the shout out to the Allman Brothers Band with “Jessica.” This was only the third time they have played it since 2006. The response was so huge, Bayliss said, “We can do it again if you want.”   They ended the evening with a rare cover of “Hot for Teacher” and fan fav “Puppet String.”

Lotus took over the Amphitheater at midnight.  They were also on my must see list, especially having missed them when they were in my city a couple of weeks before.  I was one of the first back in the amphitheater, sitting on the steps, watching as people started trickling in when suddenly I realized that was a bad idea. Ragers started flooding in.  The amphitheater floor and most of the bowl was filled in just a few minutes ready to rage on!  And rage they did. 

Lotus, really, I’m at a loss for words.  Sick! It’s so easy to get lost in the mesmerizing rhythms and to just let them take you on a magical journey.  Starting their set with a beatastic, 10-min “Suitcases,” they had everyone movin’ and groovin’.   When they played “Greet the Mind,” the real trippin’ began. With the Amphitheater blanketed in a  pink mist, it started with classic meandering psychedelia  that moved into old school funk into classic rock and then into fierce Zappa-like psychedelia that builds to a frenzy with its wailing guitar. Lotus propels your mind into the far reaches of the galaxy and then suddenly drops into a cool groove and pulls you back to earth… for the moment.  Finishing out their set with mind-bending “It’s All Clear to Me Now” and a super funky “Jump Off” that ended in a totally feverish rage with lights racing and crisscrossing in a fit over the jumping, head -bobbing ragers, Lotus had the trippiest set of the festival. 

This was like I had died and gone to jam heaven.  UM, The Werks, UM, P’Groove, Lotus.  Six hours straight of steady jam bliss.  If only a girl didn’t have to eat and sleep that could easily have turned into 10 hours.  I missed most of The Heavy Pets before UM and Dr. Klaw after Lotus which was disappointing having heard later that there were a number of sit-ins, including George Porter, Jr.

Saturday afternoon I saw the second sets of Flannel Church and Zach Deputy. Flannel Church had another fantastic set with a small but loving crowd at the small Campground Stage.  Roosevelt Collier sat in on an original gospel song by Marshal Ruffin, “Light the Way.”  As they overlapped, I only saw the end of Zach’s set, but what killed me was that I missed an impromptu set he did in the campground.  But even catching a bit more Zach is always something to be happy about. And since the weather had warmed Saturday, Zach’s grooves were perfect for just a fun laid back Florida afternoon in the woods.  I walked up to the Amphitheater just in time to share some “Sunshine” and dance with the other hippie-chicks.  Even better, Roosevelt Collier somehow beat me from Flannel Church and was now sitting in with Zach!  Not wanting his own set to end, Zach sang in his falsetto” I don’t want to go” and then, thanking the crowd, said “I love ya… I love y’all very much.” 

The Billy Martin and Wil Blades Duo then took over at the Porch Stage continuing to bring the good vibes as people migrated over to catch some extraordinary talent.  As Martin, of Medeski, Martin and Wood, launched into a solo, people all around me yelled “Billy!”  With every right to have a huge ego, Martin introduces himself so unassumingly saying simply, “My name is Billy Martin.  I play the drums. I’m here with Will Blades on the organ … he’s amazing.”   And they both were, playing some tunes from their new album Shimmy, the virtuosic duo laid down funky, sometimes intricate, rhythms and with grooving melodies on “Pick Pocket“and “Les and Eddie” to an enthusiastic and appreciative audience. 

With a full night of jams ahead of me I needed to head back to camp for dinner and to change for “Warm and Fuzzy” theme night, not to mention my running shoes.  If there was a night I needed to be two people, this was it. I was able to catch a little of the incredible New Mastersounds with Robert Walter, but thinking I’d get to see their second set on Sunday, I begrudgingly tore myself away.   I stopped at the Purple Hat Stage to hear a little from Eric Krasno and Chapter 2 on my way back to camp as well.  The “Royal Family Affair” was underway, but my belly couldn’t wait.  But I could actually hear Chapter 2 from my campsite.  I gobbled down fried chicken and danced at the same time to what seemed like a 20-minute smokin’ “Sneakin’ Sally.”  Who gets to do that? 

The Royal Family continued with Soulive, the third on my must-see list for the weekend.  I got there in time for a soul-melting “Spark” and a chilling “Eleanor Rigby” that picks up speed and sends the crowd erupting in cheers and yells.  It was time to get thoroughly funkified and the crowd swelled and screamed, “You Rock! I love you!” I began to catch sight of musicians in the audience.  It seemed no one wanted to miss Krasno’s blistering solos, the contagious grooves of drummer of Alan Evans or the lightning fast fingers of keyboardist Neal Evans.  But what draws people to them is the explosive energy between them and put simply, they are just cool!  And, of course, there wasRoosevelt’s sit-in.  He and Krasno had the most heartfelt conversation guitar-to-guitar. Breathtaking.

Next up at the Purple Hat would be Lettuce but not before  Umphrey’s  3rd set,  an extra dark coffee with a shot of espresso  and stop at the Porch Stage where The Heavy Pets were taking the crowd from chilled reggae to a full on funky-folky jam to  out-of-this-world rocking sensations… and all this in one song, “Hedi Sigismondi. “  These guys are seriously good as they blend and move from genre to genre seemingly effortlessly which also made drummer Rob Chafin of The Werks a perfect sit-in.  The band closed out their set with “Dewpoint” and a sit-in by Roosevelt Collier, giving a little “Birdland” tease at the beginning.  But the band had another surprise… ribbon aerialist Rachel Lancaster, who mesmerized the audience with her angelic poses as she spiraled and floated above the stage. 

Umphrey’s McGee final set of the festival was really a full 2-hour concert with no breaks except the 5 minutes before the encore.  They started with an entrancing “Flamethrower.”  They then funked things up with “40s Theme.”  “Push the Pig” was amazing with Dr. Dre teases which I admittedly didn’t know, but the guy next to me was happy to clue me in. They then launched into a 75-min basically nonstop jam that included “Booth Love,” “Resolution,” and “Wappy Sprayberry.” And the unreal lighting that was almost like another member of the band transformed the Amphitheater into a true chimera. Adding to the effect, amongst glow sticks and lighted rager poles, from the center of the crowd, a rager sent up webbing that was passed from person to person, pulling and stretching in a radius, until it covered everyone.  

This set was full of surprise covers too that had the amphitheater reverberating with roaring cheers.  The first was Pink Floyd’s”In the Flesh” > “Another Brick in the Wall” that started the off the hour plus jam.  Thank goodness for the tapers because I can barely hear Joel Cummins’ spot-on vocals over the screams of delight around me on my own recording. But it was show ender, Motorhead’s “Ace of Long Nights,” that momentarily sucked the air out of the amphitheater from the gasps of surprise.  This was only the second time UM has covered this, the first only a week prior. No one could have anticipated that!  Sunday people were still reeling in disbelief and satisfaction.  What could they possibly do for an encore? I asked my new fest – friend and his response was, “I don’t know. They played everything I wanted to hear… and more!” They came back out with an explosive” Miss Tinkle’s Overture”, but then shocked again as teases of Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” crept in until they made a full segue into Don’t Stop ‘til You Get Enough, “ another rarely played cover.  Motorhead and Michael Jackson… Uh Huh, I got that right.  Bayliss said during the set that they had realized this was their last set of the year, and they were gonna give it everything they had. Hell Yeah they did!

If that would have been the end of the festival, I would have been quite satisfied, but the Royal Family was still phunkin’ it up at the Purple Hat stage with Lettuce and the Royal Family Dumpstajam still to play.  Good thing I went for the comfortable, if silly looking, running shoes, not only to make it back to the Meadow, but also because this was a nonstop dance-my-ass-off-night.   By the time I got to Lettuce, all my batteries were dead, my camera my phone, my recorder.  Oh well, what’s a girl to do? Pretend. And “Free your mind, and your ass will follow…” So that’s what I did…hung out at the side stage with the photographers and musicians and danced, danced, danced.  If there was a good time for it to happen, it was then.  Lettuce is definitely a band you just want to take in and enjoy and to let them take you away as well. This was some of the finest dirty funk you’ll find, and they totally raged on “Madison Square,” “Lettsanity,” and, well, everything! And I was elated when Alicia Chakour came out and gripped everyone with her sultry, yet powerful vocals. Lettuce was like a magnet for fans and musicians alike and they killed it!

The party continued at the Purple Hat Stage with the Royal Family Dumpstajam. What is there to say except the best funk of New Orleans, including a bundled up George Porter, Jr., meets the best funk of New York and what you have is some seriously funking cool grooves that turned up the heat on another chilly night, including an awesome “Welcome to New Orleans” and a brilliant cover of “Down by the River.”

Sunday morning the camp was packed up, and having to go back to my day job early Monday morning, I had planned on leaving early.  Still, I couldn’t tear myself away, and ended up staying for the first three sets Sunday that included the Orchestra at Large, an “everyone orchestra” that included at various moments George Porter, Jr., Robert Walter, Jennifer Hartswick, Billy Iuso, PeeWee Ellis, Michelle Sarah, Natalie Cressman, Atlanta Funk Society horns, Nigel Hall, Wil Blades, Roosevelt Collier, Will Bernard, Andrew Block, Derrick Freeman, Billy Martin, Skerik and Freekbass.  It became apparent to me immediately what a day I would be missing.  This was really the musician’s day and the day for the hard-core music-lovers.  Although this was the ’everyone orchestra’, every set that day would be an ‘everyone orchestra.’  An all day and into the night jam session with musicians and you never know who, jumping in at will. There seemed to be as many musicians hanging at the side stages or in the audience as there were fan- funk-atics. And with the majority of the campers clearing out Sunday morning, it was even possible to meet and chat with the musicians quite casually.  (I grabbed a hug fromRoosevelt!)   I stayed as long as I could, hearing jazz giant Grant Green, Jr. and Friends which included Ike Stubblefield, Duane Trucks and a sit-ins from Pee Wee Ellis, Robert Walter, Wil Bernard, Wil Blades and Roosevelt Collier.  Green and the Atlanta Funk Society horns were just explosive on “Ball of Confusion” and “What’s Going On?” and a divine original “Atlanta Girl.”

I ended my Bear Creek experience, which by Sunday afternoon was quite warm again, with George Porter, Jr. and Runnin’ Pardners, whom I can never get enough of.  After a smokin’ “Funksomethingness,” “Mister Charlie,” with Billy Iuso, “Sailin Shoes,” I thought, I must go, but when he started into “Sneakin’ Sally through the Alley,” I knew I was there until the end. Porter ended with “I Get High>I Need More Time.” That was exactly how I felt.  And I wanted more time!

Tearing myself away, with more sets from New Mastersounds, Dumpstaphunk, and Lettuce to come Su and knowing I missed other great sets that weekend like Sharon Jones, Beebs, The Budos and Moon Taxi,  to go back to planet Earth was awful! I would not have missed Thursday for anything… but next year I will have to plan to stay through Sunday and the day job will just have to get along without me.

 

 

 

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