Fashionable folk-rocker Ryan Montbleau got things started Saturday with a breezy set of acoustic driven rock, blue-eyed soul, and bluesy Americana. Poetic and personal, Montbleau delivered sets twice over the weekend, with Saturday's highlighted by originals "Grain of Sand," "75 and Sunny," and an arrangement of The Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows."
|Bear Creek 2009 by Chapman|
KDTU drummer John Staten unveiled his solo project On The One early Saturday to those who were up and about. The performance featured tracks from their debut record, Love Addiction.
Zach Deputy seemed to be playing somewhere at all times. A regional mainstay, Deputy performed at the Campsite Stage as well as during changeovers in the Purple Hat Tent. Deputy is a huge part of the Bear Creek experience, and his trademark 'hoot' loop could be heard reverberating throughout the woods all weekend. Deputy's falsetto, looped-up tropical flavors, and sharp acoustic guitar patterns earned him even more fans at BC09.
Austin, Texas veteran Papa Mali is always a favorite in the swampy confines of the Suwannee. On this afternoon Mali would be backed by a crack-band of Galactic's Stanton Moore and Robert Mercurio, as well as Fred Wesley, Bernie Worrell, and The Shady Horns. Exploiting these riches, Mali let loose with his countrified, backwoods-blues and a little Cajun-fried Texas tango for the funk n' jammers sprawled across the lawn.
Jacksonville Beach buzz band Saltwater Grass delivered their sun-baked Southern redneck boogie to faithful local devotees and first timers alike. A blend of early Panic and Stevie Ray Vaughn spiced with surfer slack attitude, the boys applied a jazzy sensibility to their Southern rock in the Music Hall.
|Papa Mali & Moore :: BC09 by Chapman|
The Heavy Pets returned to the stage on Saturday with a blistering set of aggressive jam-rock and progressive material that clearly shows how far the band has grown from its humble beginnings. Highlights included the infectious opener "Help Me Help You," "Kavorka," and "Holy Holy." The future looks bright for these Broward County young'ins.
Robert Walter's acrobatic handiwork propelled the 20th Congress through diverse original material culled from various 20th Congress and solo/trio efforts. The reemergence of former RW20 percussionist Chuck Prada beefed up their sound and added a healthy dynamic to the West Coast boogaloo. But the player who complemented Walter most was his longtime foil Cheme Gastelum, whose bright saxophonics and cool-is-back vibe were a welcome departure from the intensity found in other sets. RW20 was a perfect afternoon jam.
Steve Kimock Crazy Engine was another refreshing breather from the uncompromising funk and electronica. Kimock's set was perfect for a heavenly autumn afternoon. Ably augmented by Jerry Garcia Band organist Melvin Seals and son John Morgan Kimock, Kimock unveiled an arsenal of guitars with such harmonious tones that Crazy Engine delved into 75 minutes of transcendental bliss. Highlights of the midday set included "A New Africa," an animated "That's What Love Will Make You Do," "Three Days More," and set closer "Crazy Engine," the latter featuring pedal steel guitarist Roosevelt Collier of The Lee Boys.
It was barely approaching dusk when Garage a Trois set about blowing the roof off the Purple Hat Tent, the site of many incredible performances. Now thoroughly comfortable with his role, keyboardist extraordinaire Marco Benevento took the lead early and often. Benevento was operating primarily on Hammond B3 organ, with Rhodes, Wurlitzer, and a laptop amongst his arsenal of weaponry. Drummer Stanton Moore glued things together; the lone cool, calm, and collected band member. Skerik dug deep into his demonic persona, unleashing a myriad of frenetic solos, colors, and echoes, while Mike Dillon went for broke with punked-up percussion and staggering vibraphone runs. The GAT set was comprised primarily of songs from their newest CD, Power Patriot, as well as a couple selections from Marco's solo offerings. New track "Fat Redneck Gangster" could not have been more apropos for an inland Northern Florida audience, and was a riotous display of spastic limbs. Garage a Trois is boldly getting back to the cacophony of their early Tipitina's Uptown days. Moore then bottled up this rambunctious energy and toted it over to the Uncle Charlie Stage for the first of two Galactic sets.
|Steve Kimock Crazy Engine :: BC09 by Chapman|
After the Kimock set Roosevelt Collier could be found sitting in with Galactic, along with Mike Dillon on percussion and Robert Walter on organ. The Galactic boys reached back to yesteryear with older favorites "Crazyhorse Mongoose," "Garbage Truck," and "Baker's Dozen." More recent numbers like "Boe Money" displayed the crew's recent development. Corey Henry, (trombonist of Rebirth Brass Band) has been touring with Galactic for over a year; on this day Henry stole the show. He led Second Line chants, comically introduced band members, and covered Rakim's "Paid in Full" verbatim. Henry could be found climbing speakers and stage-diving throughout both of Galactic's sets, as well as battling sax player Ben Ellman every other song. Galactic answered the bell at Bear Creek, squashing any talk about the 'Galactic Prophylactic' falling off in any way.
About this time, things got really hairy in terms what to see versus what to miss. At their first set of the fest, Dumpstaphunk began with "Living in a World Gone Mad" and "Meantime," and got Dirty South down from the jump. During their set, there were seemingly endless sit-ins, most notably Derek Trucks, Kofi Burbridge, The Shady Horns, and Skerik. Nigel Hall got his Mick Jagger on, fittingly, with a primo cover of The Rolling Stones' Some Girls classic "Miss You," perhaps the funkiest song the Stones ever dropped.
|Corey Henry - Galactic :: BC09 by Murphy|
At this juncture, your humble narrator made what can only be described as an executive decision: I left the Big IV Stage amidst the aforementioned parade of champions. Despite how hot the jam was getting, it was a bit similar to the epic collaborations of Bear Creek '08.
As he left the stage after their PA set Thursday night, Pnuma Trio's Alex B gregariously promised lots of entirely new music for Saturday's Purple Hat Tent set. The proclamation was full of unadulterated enthusiasm, a decision made of sound mind.
"We haven't really played as Pnuma Trio in Florida for quite awhile," Alex B explained, "and recently [with] so much new music, both from me personally, and us as a group, I am really trying to decide what material is right for the band and our newer directions, and what I will use for my project, Lipp Service, or whatever. Even though Bear Creek is primarily a funk festival, I/we felt that the massive/crowd/audience is so cultured and open-minded [that] it was a perfect opportunity to deliver a full taste of what Pnuma has in store for 2010."
The now Boulder-based trio kicked things off with a volcanic "More Samples," and the Pnuma massive was deeply ensconced from jump-street, like one large tribal ritual. Soon "Variations" gave way to "Spain," which in turn led to a brand-new Alex B conception. The band let loose emphatically behind his new creations, and seamlessly oozed into "When I'm Leaving," yet another slice of fresh fruit from the Botwin/Hazelgrove tree. "Off-Balance," from their latest release, Character, manifested a rumbling roller, with Shaw roaming a jungle landscape with joyful recklessness and Alex B's bass lines, triggers, and synthesized juno-rolls rumbling beneath as Ben Hazelgrove's textures wove an electric afghan of sonic color.
With a nod to their roots, Pnuma reached back for the seminal "Bufkins Tank," a number that showcased their formerly jazzy, experimental origins. Mostly, Pnuma Trio's set was brimming over with sampler-processed vocals, deep dub bass lines, oscillating elements of broken beat and blip-hop; in short, a synchronicity of ethereal soundscapes that achieved particular resonance. Far and away, the single most impressive electronic music performance of the weekend.
|Derek Trucks w/ Lettuce :: BC09 by Murphy|
Lettuce also delivered a bombastic Saturday evening set at the Big IV Stage, this time calling out an army of guests to sit-in and wow an already impressed Bear Creek massive. Unlike their Friday show, Dumpsta's Ian Neville joined Lettuce on guitar for the entire set, but unfortunately bassist E.D. "Jesus" Coomes was conspicuously absent again. Neal Evans handled bass duties on organ with his vicious left hand. Opening with the colossal trifecta of Rage-era tracks "Salute," "Last Suppit," and "Sam Huff's Flying Ragin' Machine," Lettuce came out the gate swingin' like late '80s Mike Tyson. Adam Deitch's drumming during this particular opening stretch was, to put it plainly, absolutely disgusting. The kid is just inhuman at times; he made the sea of heads bob like emergency brakes. A touching Dilla tribute, "Mr. Yancey," featured great horn layering, fat-ass synth-bass and organ from Evans, and a critical beatdown from Deitch on the kit.
To close the performance, Lettuce welcomed friends Kofi Burbridge and Derek Trucks onstage to reprise last year's epic collaboration, with the now-swollen band playing "Make My Way Back Home," which was highlighted by a steamy axe-duel between Kraz and Trucks. At one point, I counted twelve players onstage, including those mentioned already plus John Staten and Rashawn Ross; apparently nobody wanted to miss out on the rage! Nearly everyone knew what was on deck when Nigel Hall was ushered onstage to scores of screams, hoots, and hollers. Again freshly dipped in white on white, Hall proceeded to croon the Curtis Mayfield tandem "We're a Winner" > "Move on Up," with Trucks' slide wailing soulfully away, his sweet tones mellifluous and joyful.
Though I had anticipated becoming reacquainted with The Slip, their set time was difficult to catch due to the host of other performers who were simultaneously onstage elsewhere. This Jazz Fest-esque conundrum unfortunately cost me nearly all of The Slip's performance on Saturday. Mixing songs from their two most recent studio efforts, Eisenhower (2006) and Angels Come on Time (2002), The Slip's reemergence was long overdue, but unfortunately the slotting made it difficult to reconnect with the avant-indie trio.
|B. Barr - The Slip :: BC09 by Chapman|
The New Mastersounds final U.S. dates of 2009 landed the Brits in Live Oak for two shows, and they continued to impress Americans with their clean, pure, and faithful rare-grooves. From the opening number, "Coming Up Roses," the band was firing on all cylinders with their vintage Blue Note sound. With a style that would make Rudy Van Gelder proud, the Mastersounds broke it down to basics with a simplistic approach to improvisational music seldom chosen today. Guitarist Eddie Roberts displayed a Grant Green-esque virtuoso as he and B3 bully Joe Tatton torched the Uncle Charlie Stage. Trombonist Fred Wesley hopped up for a tune, and later Skerik displayed his jazz roots and joined in on the fun with sparkling sax solos. The road-weathered lads brought it all back home with the walloping caboose of "One Note Brown, Parts I and II." Festivalgoers could be overheard all weekend singing the praises of these prodigal U.K. sons.
Initially billed as a Saturday night mystery set, Soulive took the tent stage just after 11 p.m. Drummer Alan Evans had flown in from New York just before showtime. The Brothers Evans and Kraz donned their trademark dark suits, with the guitarist ditching his trademark Kangol for a fedora, and assumed their positions. A throbbing "Steppin" opened the festivities. Immediately, Neal Evans' left hand commandeered the ship. Seemingly awoken from their lengthy slumber, the trio tore through classics "Uncle Junior" and "So Live," vintage Soulive tracks recalling their Velour period. To say the band had not sounded this inspired, loose, and downright nasty in six or seven years would not be an exaggeration.
The Shady Horns soon got involved - Sam and Zwad toured with the 2002 Soulive Revue – and the big horn leads atop an enthralling "El Ron" shifted things into another gear entirely. The Evans brothers stomped and strutted along, as Kraz ripped sweet hollow-body leads. A neck-snapper break propelled the gluttonous outro jam that saw Kininger, Zoidis, and Kofi Burbridge get busy as the grandiose climax closed "El Ron" with authority. The superstar Mr. Nigel Hall was again introduced to much fanfare. He took the stage with swagger and owned that shit immediately. Soon, Hall had the entire tent eating out of the palm of his hand with his incredibly soulful voice and powerful stage presence. A screaming "Too Much," the Hall/Soulive collabo, dripped '68 JB's. When the horns came in on the one with razor sharp precision the funk was simply too much to stand! What followed was a NOLA-meets-go-go cover of the ageless MAZE classic "Joy & Pain" (yep, the EZ-Rock/Rob Base sample), which pushed many over the edge. For a moment there I was transported to the Congo Square Stage with Frankie Beverly & Co. sweating in the Crescent City heat.
|Soulive :: BC09 by Chapman|
Hall then cozied up to the mic stand like the Godfather himself, half-open stance, one knee quivering along with the hi-hat. With a gangsta lean, trademark James Brown gesticulations, spastic squeals, Hall's Godfatherisms had military precision. This was the Dark Star Orchestra of a James Brown experience. "Licking Stick" > "There Was A Time" > "Goodfoot" > "I Feel Alright" was an eight-plus minute relentless throwdown. Hall was even calling out the hits, the stops, and signals with little more than a shrug or a twitch. It's safe to say that after Reggie Watts and later Toussaint, Soulive has finally found a frontman.
Nigel Hall, the Shady Horns, Kofi, and Dubconscious trombonist John Lloyd relinquished the stage back to the trio for a triple encore. And what an encore it would be. First it was more Beatles with a rearranged "Eleanor Rigby" done jazzy drum and bass, breakbeat style with clean, emotional licks from Kraz. That banger segued directly into another timeless Fab Four cover, a crunchy, distortion-laden, Band of Gypsys styled "She's So Heavy (I Want You)," which saw the same aggressiveness Kraz brought to "Manic Depression" a day earlier. The set could have ended right there, but the trio graciously invited Karl Denson onstage for a tenor sax workout, another harbinger for the funk still to come. At this moment I caught a glimpse of fest curator Paul Levine in full Bill Graham mode, side stage, viewing the carnival he had so masterfully created with an enormous grin.
|The Duo :: BC09 by Chapman|
Though their Saturday night time slot left a bit to be desired, the Benevento/Russo Duo made the most of their appearance at Bear Creek. The North Jersey bred wrecking crew laid down extensive, mind-bending arrangements of tracks from their vast catalog. Cacophonous compositions like the seminal "Becky" saw drummer Joe Russo get busy on his wooden percussion boxes near his trap set. Marco Benevento was a mad scientist, spinning between a Hammond B4 plug-in, Fender Rhodes, and a laptop containing samples of many toys he has accumulated through the past few years. When "The Three Question Marks" segued perfectly into "Impact," The Duo shattered any sense of categorization that one may be tempted to apply to their art.
Next, the long awaited return of the late night funk champ and his posse was upon us. After some nagging sound issues (one of few complaints for the entire weekend; it seemed sound issues dogged every third band in the tent), KDTU took the late night stage and ran thru a stout boogaloo that served as de facto soundcheck and allowed the crowd to prepare for the forthcoming onslaught. Suddenly, the lights went out and familiar synth chords unveiled "Thriller." The vast, crowded, and dank circus tent grew dark and the costume-clad freaks got dirty. "Thriller's" lengthy outro-jam was a raucous hoedown, as Chris Stillwell, Staten, Brian Jordan, and keyboardist David Veith laid down the Quincy Jones base while Denson and Chris Littlefield got their King of Pop on, video dance moves and all. The Tiny Universe didn't come up for air, diving headfirst into a gigantic version of Band of Gypsys' "Power of Soul," a longtime set staple that kept the energy level at a fevered pitch. Brian Jordan was wailing away on a green Gibson SG, while Staten channeled his inner Buddy Miles, the hard-hitting skins steering the vessel.
And the haymakers just kept on flying from the stage, first with more Michael Jackson with a spunky, harmonious "Pretty Young Thing (PYT)," which segued flawlessly into the flute-driven title track of Denson's 2002 Blue Note solo album, Dance Lesson #2. An exercise in dexterity, this number shifted the KDTU paradigm back towards jazz; only to have Denson direct the troops back to finish "PYT." A succulent "Cool Is Back" brought back the plump West Coast boogaloo at its finest, with Veith's bubbling B3 washing Stillwell's nimble bass lines. Denson, Littlefield, and Jordan passed the jam around the horn during this unadulterated acid jazz showing.
|Karl D :: BC09 by Murphy|
At this juncture, Karl D dropped the bomb. "Groove On" has long been the anchor of this band, a Jazz Fest anthem harking back to halcyon late night shows deep in the Quarter. Subtle accents and communal focus has always been a hallmark of the Tiny Universe, and Staten added a certain flair with electro handclaps during the verses, while Littlefield chimed in falsetto vocal harmonies on each bridge ("even giants...)". Brian Jordan's funky chicken scratch guitar strutted along, paced perfect for skanking. At this moment, as the magical brass head atop the "Groove On" outro-jam soared skyward, the Purple Hat Tent detonated. I mean it exploded! For the very first time since Karl Denson reformed his squadron nearly a year ago, the heavyweight champs of the late night funk finally reached the nasty disposition that had first crowned them kings many Jazz Fest moons ago. The lucky Bear Creek '09 faithful were again treated to something special - the reawakening of a giant.
"Rumpwinder," Denson's saucy update of the Lee Morgan chestnut "The Sidewinder," was rotund rare-groove that served as shelter from the atomic bomb that preceded it. The Dance Lesson #2 track was a playful romp that showcased fine trumpet work from Littlefield, clean hollow-body axe-manship from Jordan, and superb flute from Denson.
KDTU briefly left the stage at quarter till 4 a.m., but swiftly returned to deliver a two song encore. "Shake it Out," also played on Friday, was a slice of adult-contemporary R&B. Disappointing, but short. But we all know that Denson would "neva go out like that, out like a sucka" (EPMD), and he did no such thing at BC09. For a grand finale, KDTU unleashed a colossal rendition of the title track to their new record, Brother's Keeper. "Part I" called to mind Earth, Wind & Fire with stirring vocal harmonies on the chorus wedded to brilliant brass leads for a intoxicating mix. "Brother's Keeper Part II" was chock-full of pimp-slappin' swagger, KDTU's rugged funk calisthenics on torrid display. Jordan's dirty minor chords and Staten's tent-quaking thump directed the chunky groove, and Karl D blessed us with one final majestic throw down. Have mercy!
As he left the stage and headed for the tour van, I grabbed Chris Littlefield and asked him what he thought about the festival and their performance.
"This shit is off the hook yo! Off. The. Hook," said Littlefield.
Continue reading for Sunday's coverage of Bear Creek...