Words by: B. Getz | Images by: Allison Murphy & Rob Chapman
Bear Creek Festival :: 11.13.09 - 11.15.09 :: Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park :: Live Oak, FL
The Spirit of The Suwannee Music Park is a celebrated venue amongst Southern festivalgoers‚ and what transpired at the Bear Creek Music Festival 2009 was the funkiest assemblage of artists and audience I can remember in some time - a sonic gumbo of epic proportions. The festival channels the spirit of New Orleans' Jazz and Heritage Festival mixed with the High Sierra Music Fest, both of which influenced Bear Creek curators Paul Levine and Lyle Williams to develop this fertile scene for all things funk, swamp boogie, jazz‚ and rock. The distinctly Southern Gothic hinterland, complete with boggy lakes and miles of towering pine and oak trees swathed in a fuzzy moss, provides a certifiably invigorating atmosphere. With magical surroundings filled with crazy costumed freaks and dirty, bass-laden rhythms, the place was really happening.
|Bear Creek 2009 by Chapman|
If Levine's vision set an agenda for Bear Creek at its inception three years ago, then the senseless 2008 murder of native Tallahassee funkateer Rachel Morningstar Hoffman gave the gathering its sense of purpose and its Ner Tamid (Eternal Light). Rachel's fuzzy, purple top hat is omnipresent on the festival site, and in its collective heart. This great Floridian bash serves as a commemoration of her special life. These disparate energies, juxtaposed, have birthed a jamboree cut from righteous cloth.
Levine's motivated staff assembled another phenomenal collection of musicians for 2009. The festival has always been a carnival of funk, but this year Bear Creek upped the ante. The lineup was littered with a who's who of the NOLA/NYC/Bay Area funk scenes, with an assortment of live electronic artists, roots music favorites, and whoever else seemed to fit on the bill.
|Toubab Krewe :: BC09 by Chapman|
The Bear Creek Music Festival 2009 began Thursday night, with a small lineup scheduled to play indoors as campers got settled and the festival underway.
The Pnuma PA set was delivered by bassist/production virtuoso Alex B and Pnuma Trio drummer Lane Shaw, and was a very strong start. Manipulating sounds and beats behind an array of synths, laptops, gadgets, and wielding a bass guitar, Alex B worked the crowd over with a mixture of glitchy tech-step, psilocybin G-funk, and stutter-step beat-science. The duo traversed terrains sensual and sadistic. The highlight for this writer was a crippling remix of the Clipse/Pharrell anthem "Mr. Me Too.
South Florida jammers The Heavy Pets have been a band on steep ascent, and Bear Creek showcased how far the quintet has come in a short couple of years. Thursday's set at the Music Hall was bursting with force. Guitarists/vocalists Jeff Lloyd and Mike Genius left strong impressions, early and often, and Jim Wuest's velvety keyboard flourishes complemented the axe-work. A lengthy, intricate "So Thank You Music" opened new eyes and ears to THP, the reggae-tinged opus bouncing off the hall's walls, Lloyd's bug-eyed vocal plump and convincing. The intense, open-ended jam out of "Sleep" knocked a few people over, as in literally off their feet.
A prodigious world-beat collective of players hailing from Asheville, NC, Toubab Krewe blessed early birds with a tremendous performance to close the Music Hall Thursday night. With their huge, swirling psychedelia and intercontinental instrumentation, the rapidly growing crowd was whipped into a whirling dervish during highlight "The Tacomba."
Celebrating their Billboard #1 Roots Album, Bonerama dropped a boisterous set at the big stage, mid-afternoon on Friday. Opening with "21st Century Schizoid Man," then bringing out Fred Wesley on "Shake Your Regulator," the lively ensemble even debuted a new tune, "Funky Brown Shorts." The Meters medley was definitely a favorite, and they closed with a Pigpen-styled "Lovelite" with Skerik and Mike Dillon in full effect. This set was obviously led by the stellar brass section, but was also filled with heavy B3 organ. The funky drums were courtesy of Eric Bolivar, who is also touring with another Bear Creek secret, Pimps of Joytime.
|Bonerama :: BC09 by Murphy|
This is where the Royal Family throwdown began. Though this crew would assemble variably throughout the weekend, Chapter 2 announced that the Northeast was most definitely in the building. Led by Eric Krasno, joined by Adam Deitch, Nigel Hall, and bassist Louis Cato, Chapter 2 mixed Meters-style funk, Cosmic Slop black rock, and thick jazz grooves for over an hour.
"Be Alright" saw Kraz get really loose, more demonstrative onstage than I ever remember him being. After a few tunes, the core four was joined by Fred Wesley, Kofi Burbridge, Skerik, and The Shady Horns. Throughout their late afternoon set, Chapter 2 delivered monster versions of classics. A thoroughly reworked "Manic Depression" (which appears on Kraz's new solo CD) absolutely CRUSHED, and displayed even further colors from Kraz, Hall and Deitch. The Beatles' "Get Back" sounded like late '60s Blue Note rare groove on roids. Nigel Hall's absurd Moog/synth game was on full display throughout Chapter 2's hour of chaos. The set ended with a choice surprise Tears for Fears cover, "Everybody Wants to Rule the World," which teased Kanye's "All Falls Down" throughout.
Skerik and Mike Dillon, both artists-at-large for the weekend, dropped a duo set mid-afternoon Friday. The Frog Brigade freaks mixed drum n' bass, D.C.-go-go, jazz, punk, and metal. Skerik augmented Dillon's maniacal rhythms with dubbed out horn chants that recalled Lee Perry's Arkology. This set was a precursor of things to come.
|Skerik :: BC09 by Murphy|
Other artists-at-large for the weekend included The Shady Horns (Ryan Zoidis and Sam Kininger), and Kofi Burbridge (flute, keys, percussion, and whatever else he saw laying around the stage). These players could be found sitting in with various performers throughout the weekend, making for a NOLA-esque vibe all weekend.
Dubconscious' Friday set in the circus tent was unfortunately marred by sound issues and tensions within the band, however, they still impressed many in attendance. Word traveled throughout the festival that their Sunday set would be their final show.
Toubab Krewe picked up where they left off Thursday, wowing everyone with melodies derived from various cultural traditions. Toubab introduced many to their diverse instrumentation, which incorporated kora (a 21-string harp-lute), kamelengoni (a 12-string harp-lute), and soku (a Malian horsehair fiddle), all juxtaposed against two electric guitars, electric bass guitar, trap drum set, and African percussion. This made for two thoroughly enjoyable sets from a band on the rise.
Telepath arrived in Live Oak by way of Philadelphia via Asheville, and though the trio were dressed for a night out in Tel Aviv, their music was ideal for Bear Creek. Initially skeptical, the big block rocking beats and coalition of electronica and arena rock sold this writer early on their late afternoon set. Triggering samples of Arabic vocal chants, tranquil flute loops, and Afrobeat horn stabs, Telepath's execution and confidence was on point. Curt Heiny's rotund bass lines strutted alongside Michael Christie's alluring synth loops, all unleashed over Mike B's electro-tribal undercurrent. Telepath left the stage to a roar from the Purple Hat Tent massive.
Greenville, SC trio The Malah, three time Bear Creek alum, delivered their spacey mid-tempo electronica to rabid ravers twice this weekend. A psychedelic crystallization of youth and technology, this trio expanded on last year's campsite sonic horizons, channeling the likes of Massive Attack and Orbital while developing their own sound to fantastic response. Both sets this year garnered rave reviews.
|Trombone Shorty :: BC09 by Murphy|
New Orleans lady killer Trombone Shorty brought his razor-sharp band Orleans Avenue to the Uncle Charlie Stage, delivering a high energy gig heavy on brass with a vast bottom end. Shorty and Co. mixed today's pop music trends with classic R&B themes, all the while keeping things NOLA to the core. Shorty fancies himself a sex symbol, overtly playing to the ladies, and this day was no different. He played various instruments besides trombone and bounced around the stage with vigor. Aggressive funk begat sultry crooning all steeped in the sound of a Second Line running down the street. Troy Andrews piloted his jubilant troupe with a brashness that was infections.
In the circus tent, Philadelphia's Lotus bestowed a mind blowing set of organic drum & bass, live breakbeat, and dark, distorted jamming. Often the bass took a backseat to the music's melodic enterprises. Jazz poked its head in a few places, particularly when Lotus slowed the tempos. There was a distinct jamming element throughout their set, and it felt as if the band at times was trying to service different audiences simultaneously, which occasionally bogged things down. Mike Greenfield (formerly of The Ally), more than ably filled in on drums, rolling away with reckless abandon, bringing that Philly jump-up. Jesse and Luke Miller on bass and guitar, respectively, unleashed torrid assaults. The Millers built tension/release in an economic fashion. Luke also employed emotive guitar solos, flaunting disparate styles like flamenco and shred-metal. Percussionist Chuck Morris navigated this tightrope at a feverish pace. The collective Lotus sound was extremely dynamic, utilizing complex layering, underneath accessible melodies. Highlights included "Suitcases and Sandwiches" (with the studio intro) and the closing "Hammerstrike" and "Spiritualize" with distinct Fleetwood Mac teases.
Karl Denson's Tiny Universe's first appearance at BC09 was Friday night at the Big IV Stage, and the entire set included guest percussionist Mike Dillon, who toured with KDTU for over two years. The band ran through a strong set, mixing older rarities like "Make it a Cosmopolitan" with newer material from the recently released Brother's Keeper. Denson welcomed Greyboy Allstars bandmate Robert Walter on organ for a scorching "The Answer," and local guitar prodigy Matt Grondin came up for the Afrobeat inspired "Freedom." A rearrangement of classic KDTU track "Fallin'" was unveiled to mixed results. One of the more robust new tunes was the reggae-tinged "Mighty Rebel," with its lover's rock tempo and Dean Fraser style horns. KDTU teased a taste of the funkiness to come with a stock cover of the immortal Jackson 5 track "Dancing Machine."
|Robert Walter :: BC09 by Murphy|
One of the more low-profile performances of the weekend was the Friday night set from 3rd Stone, a Gainesville-area reggae/funk/rock group. The young phenoms, joined by Fred Wesley and keyboardist Bernie Worrell, delivered a choice cover of Worrell-era Talking Heads tune "Crosseyed and Painless."
The producer/live drummer electro duo Break Science, with Adam Deitch on drums and Borahm Lee on laptop and keys, produced a performance designed as a live hip hop mix tape. Deitch and Lee plays the roles of producer, programmer, and composer, unveiling sonic layers that run circles around many of the other electronic artists that permeate the scene. Break Science effortlessly navigated neck-snapping boom-bap, glitch, broken-beat, dub, drum & bass and hip hop. Deitch seized the moment and, with Lee in tow, put on a colossal display of sonic eruption. Lee mixed and matched samples and synths wedded to Deitch's wicked breaks. No doubt the highlight of this set, "Cycletron/Harmonic" was a dark, sinister break that featured the late, great Notorious B.I.G. rhyming over superb production from Lee and filthy Deitch.
Speaking of Deitch, one of the most anticipated sets of the weekend was Friday's Lettuce late set. Needless to say, my memory is a little fuzzy on this one, and my chicken scratch notes weren't much help. Dropping standout tracks from last year's impressive Rage, Lettuce may have been down a couple members (Adam Smirnoff is on tour with Lady Gaga, Sam Kininger missed his flight and arrived Saturday, and E.D. Coomes was M.I.A.) but the Beantown/NYC clan more than made up for it with sit-ins from percussionists Chuck Prada and Mike Dillon, as well as a star-powered turn from superstar Nigel Hall. This man channels the spirit of James Brown like no other performer I have ever witnessed. His jolt of energy and stage presence transforms the band and the room; he is announced with grandeur and takes the stage draped head to toe in all white. When leading the crowd through a Curtis Mayfield medley, the man was a picture of glory. Several more Godfather-of-Soul grooveathons ensued, with Deitch doing his best Big Man Clyde as keyboardist Neal Evans pummeled with vicious left-handed organ-bass, rocking pedals and drawbars like a madman. Louis Cato filled in capably on rhythm guitar, and The Shady Horns stepped up with big ol' JB's horn breaks. The shit was ON! Think a couple thousand freaks wylin' out at BC09's first late night show, everybody onstage with big chips on their shoulders and the chops to match, and consider the Deitch factor. It was basically 75-plus minutes of four-to-the-floor funk n' brass that exploded through the circus tent roof and into the heavens.
|Lettuce :: BC09 by Chapman|
As the campers descended into the Suwannee woods, parties sprung up all over the campsites. Jacksonville Beach's dubstep scientists Greenhouse Lounge erected a stage and huge tent deep in the forest and raved to throngs of revelers till nearly 7 a.m. The Heavy Pets' bassist Justin Carney sat in for almost two hours of continual breakbeat insanity. GHL bassist Dave McSweeney and his Greenhouse cohorts would also play a music hall set later in the weekend.
Continue reading for Saturday's coverage of Bear Creek...