Bear Creek Fest | 11.16 – 11.18 | Florida

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Words by: Alexander Borsody | Images by: Zach Mahone

Bear Creek Music & Art Festival :: 11.16.07 – 11.18.07
The Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park :: Live Oak, FL

Bear Creek 2007
The first annual Bear Creek Music and Arts Festival was a weekend for new music, new friends and a last minute new venue. Originally set to take place in Quincy, Florida, the festival was denied permits by Gadsden County, but through hard work and determination a late switch was made to Spirit of The Suwannee Music Park.

Compared to similar festivals, Bear Creek was relatively small, which made for an interesting dynamic. It was the first time I had been to a festival at Suwannee with so few people in the stadium, which created a low profile and intimate environment. Suwannee is a huge campground with acres of land, stables of horses, a canoe outpost and a caged area where massive emus run around. It’s truly a magical place, and the people that live there know it, which is why they are VERY careful everything is kept squeaky clean, even if that means constant bag checks and some casual arrests – the supposed trade off of civil liberties for safety that the South is notorious for.

Burning Spear :: Bear Creek 2007
The lineup was a little bigger and bolder then previous Spanish Moss fall festivals. One of the first bands I caught was a favorite from the 2006 late night shows, Cadillac Jones, who possess a truly unique sound with horns and a DJ reminiscent of ’70s Blaxploitation instrumental soundtrack like Shaft and Dolemite. One of the headliners, Burning Spear, came on later that night, playing to a small, cold, yet enthusiastic crowd. People danced, and all had a good time. The Rastaman vibrations cleansed any negativity that people still had with them from the previous week. At the end of Spear’s set the band gave the crowd up front a bunch of high fives, visibly pleased to be relating on a personal level.

This was a perfect weekend to discover smaller bands most had never heard of before. Bear Creek offered a sampling of the Southeast’s finest new talent. The Soular System is a ska-inspired gospel band that owns the stage when they play. Their live presence is electrifying and their energy infectious, forcing the audience to snap out of whatever comatose state they might be in. The Damn Diz, one of the two horn players, said that they had issues as they warmed up but as they got going people really got into it. Compared to other events at Suwannee, this crowd was short of people looking for a fight, and most folks seemed to have left their egos at the gate. Southern style permeated the grounds and central Florida’s The Legendary JCs, a gospel-rock band, stood out. The frontman commanded attention like a Sunday morning Pentecostal preacher. Yet, this was not Sunday, nor was it church, but this kind of music brings the soul back into rock & roll with a unique approach that tapped into the multifaceted tapestry of Southern and American culture.

The Soular System :: Bear Creek 2007
As a distinctively Southern gathering, the presence of the Allman Brothers Band was practically mandatory. There were constant reminders of their influence as the patriarchs of southern rock all weekend. ABB has their own festival at Suwannee called Wanee Fest, which is always a big deal. There was more dirty guitar heard rolling from stage-to-stage than any other event I have ever been too, and fans of good slide work couldn’t have asked for more.

The Ralph Roddenbery Band brought authentic southern rock that stopped me dead in my tracks as I was walked by them. Roddenberry’s lyrics touched upon a thought in my head and reeled me in, and before I knew it I was laying in a hammock getting lost in his words. In the traditional southern storytelling style, his lyrics were easy to relate to, intertwining common threads in everyday human experiences.

Zach Deputy is a South Carolina musician who’s not easy to define. With the aid of fast fingers, a percussionist (lifelong friend Paul Kearns) and a looping pedal, Deputy creates music that is hard to imagine coming from just two people – a full, complex sound that draws many parallels to Keller Williams but is more roots inspired with a stronger emphasis on world rhythms. It’s an interesting combination of sounds from a musician who captivated the attention of many this weekend.

Little Feat :: Bear Creek 2007
The ratio of onstage entertainment to offstage antics was especially high at Bear Creek. There was an incredible amount of energy in the campground, with lots of eager amateur musicians, who set up what I call “renegade stages.” One band brought their own P.A. and proceeded to rock the residential area like our own private house band. This, and countless other idiosyncrasies and shiny objects, created a Burning Man-like atmosphere, which was solidified by a traveling circus style art collective, The Circle of Love, led by Sheila McGuire.

McGuire has had a foot in the festival industry for years, including this year’s Ashefest in North Carolina. The group sets up thousands of dollars worth of instruments and a full generator-run P.A., as well as art supplies and places to sit. McGuire’s vision is to have people pick something up and make some music. The best efforts will be selected to perform at a future festival she’s planning. The various activities encouraged the socialization of the anti-social and were a great way for everyone to make new friends and have fun. The Circle of Love compound was a high point of the weekend for many. Amongst the unique art was a massive fire breathing metal sculpture made by Roc Art. The whole place felt like Never Never Land, where the lost boys finally find a place to call home.

Umphrey’s McGee :: Bear Creek 2007
Headliners Umphrey’s McGee and Little Feat, delivered on their top billing status. Two bands that attained success through hard work and hard knocks, they performed like true professionals at a festival that was most likely smaller then what was expected, though the crowd did not seem thin when Little Feat took the stage. Legions of their loyal, excited fans came out, singing along to every song, including a rendition of what they call the real “Jamaican National Anthem” from the Easy Rider soundtrack. I was speaking to the guitar tech and he was really excited about Little Feat’s upcoming new album which will include guest spots from lots of big industry names.

Umphrey’s McGee took the stage to a handful of people, as well as one or two hecklers. Like true professionals, they played right through until the whole place was packed with electrified dancing shoes. Reaching crescendo after crescendo the music was climactic, coming in waves of incredible guitar solos and jazz rhythms – perfect music to be pushed up next to a speaker stack or to sit under a tree with someone special. Other headlining acts offered no disappointments, too, including fine sets from Perpetual Groove, Dubconscious, Florida heroes The Burnin’ Smyrnans and British funkateers New Mastersounds who played an instrumental version of Sly and the Family Stones “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin).”

Fall Feels like the perfect time of year to celebrate the rich musical culture of Florida, the real stuff hiding beyond the strip malls and rapid development in the state. Even with circumstances and fate seemingly conspiring against the weekend, everyone who attended enjoyed the inaugural Bear Creek Festival. If anything, the event planning must have been a good learning experience for all involved, where everything that could go wrong probably did. Thanks to a colorful crowd and good, unpretentious music and musicians, one found nothing but smiling faces around the campground.

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