Bear Creek Music & Art Festival :: 11.10.11-11.13.11 :: Spirit of Suwannee Music Park :: Live Oak, FL
Extensive photo gallery below review!
Cozy sunshine by day, arctic chill after dark, the always luxurious confines of the Spirit of The Suwannee Music Park served as an enchanting host. Rolling Spanish moss, wrapping picturesque tree lined heights, unsullied nature provoking a romantic dalliance with the soul. The fantastic staff labored like none other, and they are a downright pleasant crew. And the mighty assembly of musicians looks forward to Bear Creek above all other happenings each year, counting the days until they get down by the river again.
Dr. Lonnie Smith’s byzantine jazz lesson offered hard-hop for the lifted and layman – the purest jazz on the river all weekend, pure authenticity on display. Special props to drummer Jamal Williams, who provided the first (of many) “Holy Sh*t!” moments of the fest. This cat is serious on the kit. Smith’s trio worked up furious speed-jazz, bursting into tranquility in a bed of B3s and hollow-body.
Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe rose to the occasion with their boiling Thursday night performance, serving notice that new guitarist DJ Williams is ready for the bright lights. Unveiling new songs from the forthcoming KDTU record steeped in scorching tradition, KDTU was brought their considerable mojo to the marquee. Drummer John Staten durably pushed, keyboardist David Veith acted as glue, washing organs and slipping Rhodes into passageways. Artist-at-Large/Greyboy Allstars keyboardist Robert Walter added Hammond B3 to a sweltering “Satisfied” that evolved into Middle Eastern-infused Brit-garage beat science. Burlesque sensation Lady Gingerlicious sashayed to a spiraling “Dance Lesson #2”as Joey Porter pranced the Hammond B3. Denson himself, after a particularly dope flute workout augmented by Chris Littlefield’s lively trumpet, jumped on keys for a jam ala James Brown. The set’s more heated exchanges were let loose during a still-sensual “Fallin’ (the BBQ Song)” as the dancing in the audience stoked the Universe flame to erotic proportions. There were tasty soundclashes between dub-reggae and progressive rock, and a reworking of the Cold War Kids “Hang Me Out To Dry”. The encore, a Williams-penned monster titled “No Ammo”, the new axeman slew the Creek with Eddie Hazel-like might as the band stomped and stutter-stepped in reborn style.
Skerik’s skronkaphonics were a promiscuous presence all weekend. Freekbass and Skerik in the Silent Disco dished out diverse insanity and disturbed cacophony mid-afternoon. Later, it was a jumpsuit apparatus and padded walls when Garage a Trois took the Purple Hat Stage. As nightfall arrived, Marco Benevento, Mike Dillon, Stanton Moore, and Scary Eric continued their descent into maniacal madness. Dark Magus gone Clash with drunk-era Beastie Boys mixed in the gumbo was the flavor during GAT’s set, which warbled a tweaked and twisted tone with a demonic Skerik and Benevento at the helm. There he was, fifteen hours in, summoning dawn alongside partner in psychosis Mike Dillon (himself crowd surfing shirtless in a punk-in-drublic moment), with Hairy Apes BMX. Sitting in with Marco Benevento, Lettuce, The Trio, Dumpsta, Orchestra at Large, and many more, Skerik was the ultimate Artist-at-Large, bringing his inimitable personality to every situation, and leaving an indelible imprint in your skull.
Medeski Martin & Wood celebrated their 20th Anniversary with panache. Friday the trio incorporated Johnny Vidacovich and percussion pupil Stanton Moore, injecting Crescent City shuffle into their Manhattan mojo. The gooey “Uninvisible” explored the roots of groove, and Artist-at- Large Pee Wee Ellis fortified the funk ‘n’ jam on “Where’s the Music” and “Think”. The frigid air reminded one of Manhattan as a palpable sense of fear infected the heavily imbibed massive, and MMW crafted an appropriate soundtrack for the surrounds.
The First Family of Bear Creek, Royal Family absolutely runs shit every year. 2011 saw DR. KLAW, Lettuce, Chapter 2, Soulive, and a pile of sit-ins from the Shady Horns sound the shofar, letting funkateers know exactly what time it was at any given hour. It’s the closest thing in La Cosa Nostra to an authentic hip-hop crew, each member bringing a certain steez to the equation, and the whole vibe soaked in wet, beat-mining mathematics.
Greenhouse Lounge engulfed the Purple Hat Stage mid-afternoon, and the North Florida trio was supported en masse. GHL jammed Aphrodite and Michael Jackson through a blender to maximum effect, their searing set a touching swan song for drummer Jason Honeycutt. “Return to Jedda” was raw jungle bliss, and sacred hymn “Sands” sent the drummer off in stratospheric style. Adding insult to onslaught was a robust reworking of the King of Pop’s “Scream”
The New Mastersounds boogaloo bang theory is play enough undeniable rare grooves and people will dance their asses off. Robert Walter, Johnny V (“Pure”), Roosevelt Collier (“This Ain’t Gonna Work”), Zach Deputy, Marco Benevento, Michelle Sarah, and more hopped onstage with the British bandits over the course of two sets on the Porch Stage.
When the august Lower East Side freaks added a dignified maestro, Medeski, Scofield, Martin & Wood were astounding. A swingin’ “Little Walter Rides Again,” Warhol-ian Beatles cover “Julia”, “Hottentot”, and seminal “A-Go-Go” all exemplified MMW’s dexterity with John Scofield. Hushed tones came over the audience as a steady selection of jaw-droppers piled one atop another with focused resolution. Roosevelt Collier joined the fray, weeping lap steel, Johnny V. brought patented NOLA shuffle to “Yoo Yoo Ma.”
Purveying endless workouts with uncompromising fury, Lettuce would repeat nary a song over two days, the band, internally battling in hip-hop tradition, with either Kraz, Neal, Jesus or Shmeenz sneaking in undeniable samples/teases into fills and measures. A careful listen revealed snippets of Roy Ayers, Grover Washington Jr., JB’s, Parliament and Herbie, as well as countless classic golden-era hip-hop breaks. Lettuce remains in permanent scholarship, dishing out bombastic bear hugs for the forefathers. When Nigel Hall finally took the stage, exclaiming he was home, the adulation was overwhelming. Hall and Lettuce broke out the D.C. Go-Go with “Making My Way Back Home” where Lettuce’s full-tilt rage upped the ante for the festival headliner to follow.
Aided by prodigious keyboardist Ray Paczkowski, Anastasio flexed within vamps on “Simple Twist Up Dave”, “Sand”, “Mr. Completely”, and “First Tube”. “Small Axe (instrumental” was the closest Trey came to ethereal during this set and an animated run through “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” inspired the regional redneck within. Jennifer Hartswick ‘s femme flow on the Gorillaz “Clint Eastwood” and set-closing larceny on Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” drove Bear Creek ecstatic. The adoring crowd was blissfully adrift, but injecting myself into the moment, I’d dreamt it up a certain way. In the end, Trey’s bark was loud, but his bite wasn’t vicious.
Fans split between midnight sets from electronic duo Big Gigantic, rising stars Dopapod, and the annual Dumpstajam, a Jazz Fest inspired super-jam led by the Dumpstaphunk krewe. Breaking out Sly Stone (“I Want To Take You Higher”), The Rolling Stones (“Miss You”), and Parliament (“Dr. Funkenstein”), the squad included Zach Deputy, Eric Krasno, Billy Iuso, Shady Horns, Skerik, Jonathan Lloyd, Andrew Block, Matt Grondin, Will Bernard and more. A fifteen-minute “What is Hip?” soared into the night.
Deep into the morning, Break Science again proved why they are the best duo in live electronic music. Dishing out devastating blends of hip-hop, breakbeat, dubstep, soundsystem, tech step and a myriad of points between, Adam Dietch and Borahm Lee reinforced revolutionary bass music spliced with verbal jousts from Outkast, Rick Ross, and Talib Kweli. For an encore, Break Science merged marching band, Afrobeat and the spirit of Aphex Twin with Glaspie and Topaz in tow.
Immediately thereafter, Marco Benevento blessed the afternoon with a second set of distinctive material. A ragtime piano duel with Robert Walter on a boogied up cover of Amy Winehouse’s “Baby, You’re No Good” provided a stirring moment. The Bangles “Walk Like An Egyptian” and Elton John’s “Benny and the Jets” got the trio treatment. Marco’s set was most impressive when he coalesced with virtuoso bassist Reed Mathis and drummer Andy Borger on frenzied takes on originals “RISD” and “The Real Morning Party”. Benevento finds himself in bloom at Bear Creek, swilling Maker’s Mark onstage with a shit-eating grin before matching Haas’ tweakery with his own wicked concoctions of upright piano, toy noisemakers, obscure synths, and tube amplification. Benevento is always a joy to observe at Bear Creek, his unmitigated art on childlike display.
John Scofield and Piety Street was yet another Crescent City treat. Home to a legendary recording studio in a ‘hood steeped in music tradtion, Piety Street is an apt name for this mighty assemblage of NOLA royalty. George Porter Jr. and drummer Shannon Powell anchor Jon Cleary’s piano, and they don’t just back the masterful Scofield – the legends served as guides through the distinct sounds of NOLA neighborhoods. It was idyllic for a Sunday afternoon, debauched gospel with jazz affectations and a funky good time, too.
Lettuce took the stage for seconds and more obliteration was on the menu. George Porter Jr. and E.D. “Jesus” Coomes squared off in a bass duel for the heavens, Crip-walkin’ low-end theory with uncompromising crunkadelics from Deitch (the Boy Wondrah!). Kraz tore into the hard-hitting jams with maybe his best-ever tone. “Need to Understand” raised the terror level, but it was a double encore that sent shook ones into the night. New song (tentative title- “Mean Funk”) was the perfect amalgam of a Diamond D break and a punishing Clyde Stubblefied rumble, and “Reunion” was bruising; an apt and emphatic sendoff.
Tradition and collaboration is the lifeblood of this familial gathering on the Suwannee River. Once again, the annual Sunday night Tree House Staff Party jam was extravagant (catering!). Dozens of artists passed the groove, as marquee names congregated with up-and-comers. The “Flood in Franklin Park,” starring Walter/Roberts/Deitch and augmented by a circle of friends, was the spirit of the Creek soundtrack. The result was a glorious blend of jovial music and the magic of community set by a campfire at the foot of a tree house. Like nearly everything Bear Creek, you had to see it to believe it. The remaining minions drank and danced on the final moonlight mile, hugging and chanting a legend that swells with majesty each revolution around the sun.
JamBase | Down By the River
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