Review And Media | Bear Creek Music Festival | Florida
Images By: Clint Bliss
Videos By: Randy Bayers and Jeremy Sewell
Bear Creek Music Festival :: 11.14.13 -11.17.13 :: Spirit of The Suwannee Music Park :: Live Oak, FL
Check out B. Getz’s full review after Clint’s gallery!
The Bear Creek Music & Art Festival is one of a kind. Yes, there are hundreds of music festivals, large and small, from jambands to funk to electronica and all points between. They literally dot the map, from spring through fall. Every year just before Thanksgiving, the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park plays a delightful host to thousands of funkateers and fanatics alike. Normally, the time of year and location call for a frigid party after the sun goes down. Yet on this occasion, the weather gods were happy to oblige with warm temperatures and very little condensation. The myriad of musical heavyweights that descended on Bear Creek 2013 responded in kind. This year’s event saw some of the most monumental and riveting musical collaborations in the festival’s storied history. From Philadelphia to Britain, with the usual suspects from NOLA and NYC in tow and a visit from the Mothership, all the regions of rage were firmly represented.
The seventh installment Bear Creek began in Live Oak, FL on Wednesday, November 13. Several bands and hardcore fans congregated at the Technaflora Music Hall with the proceeds of this first evening going towards the Michael A. Family Fund to benefit longtime S.O.S.M.P. production manager Michael Allegretto, whose wife Shelley tragically passed away earlier this year. A typically philanthropic cause for event organizers Big IV Productions, they were assisted by musical donations from artists that have come through the Bear Creek pipeline, like The Malah, New Mastersounds and festival favorites, the returning Toubab Krewe. South Florida live hip-hoppers Art Official brought the noise, did not sweat anybody’s technique and set the tone Wednesday night with a set that was all things jazz, funk, and boom-bap flames.
The people of Bear Creek began to arrive en masse mid-day on Thursday as temperatures warmed up to the sixties. Attendance was strong, despite the close proximity to S.O.S.M.P.’s newest event Hulaween, over Halloween weekend. Bear Creek is Florida’s true fall classic, and it was almost as if Hulaween allowed the Park, its staff and the vibe to properly warm up, a veritable preseason of sorts, before the professional funkateers and veteran ragers arrived for Bear Creek. Once things were in full swing on Thursday, attendees were reminded of just why this is undoubtedly the best fest held on these hallowed grounds. Same as it ever was, our senses dripping in serendipity, thick and dense as the Spanish moss rolled betwixt Live Oaks trees, as far as the eye could see. Bear Creek VII, The Illadelph MothaShip launched skyward, the forecast called for bomb droppings, badassery and bliss.
Bear Creek lore tells the tale of The Malah and their famous renegade late nite set, deep in the Suwannee Woods at the 2008 installment of the event. This year, they returned for their fifth appearance at Bear Creek. Rooted in Colorado (by way of South Carolina) for the past few years, the livetronica trio busted their second set over two days that did not repeat a song. Long on earthy rhythms, mid-tempo BPMs and ethereal melodies riding sonic wavelengths unique, the longtime Suwannee favorites provided a thorough sampling of their evolving styles. The set-ending run of “Counting Days,” “Octahedion” and closer “Soundtracks of Dreams” had Uncle Charlie’s Porch Stage cooking, as the majestic sun set over the horizon. Conversely, The Pimps of Joytime provided the first of two nearly identical shows on the Amphitheater Stage. Brian J. and Co. have a distinctly Prince-flavored sound, and new drummer John Staten (ex-KDTU) provided a ray of light toward the future, his John Blackwell-esque runs kept things more interesting than standard Pimps fare. Favorites like “Janxta Funk,” “Cardia” and “Jump Off” impressed new fans, but the set-closing sit in from organist Joey Porter (The Motet) on “Body Party/Pimpin” and “GFM” was most well-received by the Creek massive.
Toubab Krewe is one of the most beloved bands within the Bear Creek family. Making a triumphant return to the festival’s bosom, the world-music wonder tore down the walls of genres and sonics on the Porch Stage. Boasting new drummers Terrance Houston and Weedie Braimah, the forever-dynamic, now-improved wrecking krewe flew their truest colors. Led by their General, percussionist extraordinaire Luke Quaranta, Toubab performed on a myriad of indigenous African instruments. The band mined an ivory coast for their native sound, and explored ancient Malian traditions in a modern context. The Krewe reemerged from their Suwannee slumber with red herrings from a forthcoming new album, and the soundtrack to an 80-year old Japanese (once) silent film. West African guitar licks danced amidst zydeco and blues themes; “Bamana Niya” and “Lamine’s Tune” were Toubab originals that opened global portals of dance mechanics and spirituality. When joined by Khris Royal and Suenelo’s Adrien Gonzalez on “Colombia”, Toubab Krewe boarded a titanic vessel, and the search was on for new land. Icing on the cake came Friday afternoon, when founding member David Pransky rejoined the Krewe for a romp thru the Peruvian Especial “Carnavalito.”
The Technaflora Music Hall was the site of two roaring performances on Thursday night. Hailing from Austin, TX, Brownout brought an onslaught of eccentricity and incendiary rhythms, and shook the now-teeming Music Hall to its core. Martin Perna (Antibalas) joined the team for the evening, as did keyboardist Will Rast. Originals fried and electrified as Brownout made their presence felt and heard with authority. Never one to miss out on the heavy, Artist-at-Large Skerik hopped onstage to join the celebrations with demonstrative saxophonics. To conclude their ceremonial Creek cherry-popping, Brownout covered Neil Young’s timeless anthem “Down By the River” with panache and verve, a rarity for the band, deliverance for us fans. Yet it was an apropos journey south of heaven that left our mouths agape in the wake of a Brown Sabbath, the music hall awash in windmill air guitar, horns and organs summoning Ozzy’s adolescent nasal croon. A giant among men, drummer John Speice IV pounded out pulverizing Bill Ward bombs on the sinister Sabbath segue “Into the Void > Hand of Doom.” Speice and his Texan minions drove us all hellbound; as Iommi sludge announced to all that ‘something wicked this way comes,’ and by all means, Brownout meant business.
Last to take the Music Hall stage shortly after 1 a.m. was Nashville’s Space Capone. A buzz band in many circles (and recent favorite of festival curator Paul Levine), cries of “Ca-Pone!” rang out far and wide as the brainchild of frontman Aaron Winters also made their Bear Creek debut. Immediately, a teetering dance party broke out, uptempo funk tunes bopped and skipped with a bit of a British feel. Winters’ smooth falsetto betrays shades of blue-eyed soul and AM radio R&B. “R.U.D.T.F.? (Down to Funk)” and “A-Rod” saw the six-man squad get the discoteque jump-and-jivin’; sit-ins from the ubiquitous Roosevelt Collier and Khris Royal brought the wail on “Good Love.” Again, it was organist Joey Porter (The Motet) who dialed it up a notch on Rick James’ slutty “Give it to Me Baby.” When Space Capone dropped their most recognizable song, “I Just Wanna Dance,” it was Soul Train 2013 at the Technaflora Music Hall. While comparisons to Jamiroquai or Hall & Oates seemed premature, Space Capone has certainly dug out a vibrant niche for themselves in the Bear Creek community.
Profit, the impressive new project from Andrew Block and Greg Vogel, started things off early on Friday, taking the Campground Stage by storm around noon. Showing off chops and a little attitude, Profit got paid in droves of people who awoke to their progressive funk. Nigel Hall and Khris Royal got busy too, and Block gave his fellow Florida faithful a treat by bringing out local songstress Rachel Murray. The connection was appropriate; as the singer is currently making her way up the NOLA ladder much like Block has over the past decade. This is Bear Creek personified.
Having signed a deal this month with Wind-Up Records, The Revivalists showed Bear Creek just what the freaking fuss was about with a couple of prodigious sets, including Friday’s beastly performance on the Purple Hat Stage. Formed on a Birch Street porch in Uptown New Orleans roughly five years ago, their rapid, rock-star ascension and undeniably sultry energy had the women swooning en masse. Delivering their rock and roll styles with flair, drenched in scents and not-so-subtle sounds of the Crescent City, The Revivalists left many of us reeling. In an “Only at Bear Creek” moment, percussionist Mike Dillon and pedal-steel player Roosevelt Collier emerged. Instead of a band original or go-to cover song, vocalist David Shaw led the ensemble through a colossal “Forgot About Dre,” complete with perfect Marshall Mathers rhyming, staccato G-Funk rhythms and a lap-steel battle between Collier and Ed Williams that made the song, and the set, the sound of true revival.
For nearly fifteen years Antibalas have been proficient Afrobeat ambassadors, breathing new life into the genre they revere, and playing shows worthy of the Shrine in Lagos. In the Festival setting, beneath the grooves and layers of horn blasts, the message can get lost in the shuffle. As Fela Kuti exclaimed “music is the weapon,” so frontman Amayo showed up onstage in war-paint, ready for battle. The Brooklyn-based band, whose name means No Bullets, delivered ridiculously tight chops and chanted fierce indictments of corporate greed and capitalism. “Dirty Money” from this year’s eponymous Daptone LP served a forceful statement of discontent, while the unreleased gem “Gold Rush” piled on incriminating Babylon evidence. “We’re gonna end tonight as we began 15 years ago, with the music of Fela Anikulapo Kuti!” founder Martin Perna declared before the massive ensemble launched into “Alagbon,” a focused and frantic Fela rarity. With that, the Amphitheater Stage/Shrine court session was properly adjourned.
Connecticut’s prog-funk phenoms Kung Fu provided two high octane sets at BC, and continued their upward progression in our scene. The ever-enigmatic Todd Stoops bounced and sizzled atop synths, a mad scientist gone concert conductor. Kung Fu can be counted on for choice covers, Bear Creek calls for the best. Tackling Funkadelic, Prince, Reuben Wilson and Living Color, the band were also augmented by members of The Motet and Nigel Hall. On Friday, clad in ninja-wear and wielding his axe like a sword, guitarist Tim Palmieri displayed vicious chops and verve in parroting the Van Halen guitar clinic “Eruption.” Late in their Porch Stage set, Stoops and Co. did more of the unthinkable, dropping the classiest cover of the weekend in the form of Steely Dan’s unfuckwittable groove “Green Earrings.” Palmieri channeled Denny Dias’ archetypal solo and Stoops crooned in his best Donald Fagen form.
Similarly, The Motet took their stages by storm, luscious grooves and shrewd musicianship brewing and stewing in an Afro-funk meets prog-jazz fusion; bodies were affably whirling to the rhythms Friday on the Porch Stage. The Colorado-based band has been at it for a decade; their sound has developed in most fantastic of ways, thanks to founder/bassist Garrett Sayers and drummer Dave Watts, along with vibrant vocalist/percussionist Jans Ingber. Whilst sticking to their true roots of funk and jazz, The Motet incorporated electronics to their music, to go along with a heaping portion of soul. It was clear to all that funk is their first name, and Roosevelt Collier’s lap-steel on “Closed Mouth Don’t Get Fed” went hard. Their covers game was no slouch either; also augmented by prominent sit-ins. The collective somehow provided salient takes on Fela Kuti (“Cheap Shit” with Weedie Braimah on djembe), P-Funk (“Gettin to Know You” with Nigel Hall on keys and vocals), Prince (1+1+1=3), and Ohio Players (“Love Rollercoaster” featuring Steve Watklins of Juno What?).
Even if you came to Bear Creek specifically to catch the infamous NOLA crunk collective Galactic, chances are you walked away from their sets talking about vocalists David Shaw (The Revivalists) and Maggie Koerner. The Louisiana singers have been alternately touring with Galactic, and each had a set with the band to sincerely strut their stuff. That’s not to say the band’s jams were anything to brush aside, as the veritable five-piece were atypically animated and certainly stellar, but it was their guests that garnered many of the oohs and ahhs. If not the guests, then it was their cover songs that stole the show. Shaw delighted and dazzled with versions of Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks,” Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland’s timeless “Aint No Love in the Heart of the City”, and was also joined by Chali 2na for a rollicking version of their own “From the Corner to the Block.” One of the highlights of the entire festival was Shaw and Galactic’s outlandish shimmy through Old Dirty Bastard’s “I Got Your Money,” with the inimitable Mike Dillon on percussion. Uncle Charlie’s Porch Stage hosted Galactic’s second gig and clearly this was the lady’s night. Ms. Koerner purred on her own “He Calls Me Mama” and roared over Galactic’s “You Don’t Know.” But the little rager that could brought the porch down with a mammoth version of The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” that prompted many beating hearts to shout away.
Greenhouse Lounge is the living, breathing, true Suwannee success story, the live-electronic trio having graduated through the ranks/years to become another beloved Bear Creek gem. Taking the Porch Stage with a swagger, Dave McSweeney (bass) and Zach Weinert (guitar and production) sanctioned a fiesta that will go down in Creek chronicles as a night to remember. Mixing in tracks from their newest release Freak Out/Now Reflect and welcoming back drummer Jon Wilkes to the fold, GHL were in tip-top form with a relentless set of rumba rage. Khris Royal always enhances Greenhouse gasses, his future-sax was crème brulee icing on top of “My Body (remix)” and “Rated R.” Longtime McSweeney homeboy Roosevelt Collier lent pedal-steel to the astounding “Price Ain’t Right,” along with Gabe Mervin (The Motet) on trumpet. Yet it was the final few songs that both moved our asses and grabbed at our heartstrings: seminal GHL composition “Koto” made its long awaited return, a staggering bust out of sizeable proportions. The debut of “Pop It” was substantial, the one-two punch of “Alias” and “Silhouette,” aided by the sultry vocals of Juanita Parker Urban and Myrna Stallworth, absolutely shut down the Porch, and solidified Greenhouse Lounge’s Bear Creek bold font forever.
One of the most revered and cherished performances in Bear Creek history was that of Bonobo Live Band in 2010, who produced a brook of organic electronica that served to arouse the inner-naturalist within the festival. The news of Simon Green and Co.’s return was greeted with elation when this year’s lineup was announced and in 2013 Bonobo would ornament the Amphitheater Stage with another display of lush, orchestral electronica. Launching the set with “Cirrus” from newest album The North Borders, Green was joined by drummer Jack Baker and the exceptionally talented woodwind/multi-instrumentalist Michael Lesirge. Soon the live setup would swell to encompass a three-piece horn section, bassist, keyboards and the breathtaking singer Szjerdene (pronounced “Jhurdeen”). The exotic songstress’ vocals fit naturally early (“Towers”) and deep into the set (“Transits”).
Various band members glided seamlessly in movements that ebbed and swayed with sharp intricacies, the music traversed between ambient and aggressive. Not content on staying behind the tables, Green would play bass guitar and walk around his elegant ensemble, immersed in the vibes.Midway through the set, Bonobo dropped solo production performance on his AKAI APC 40 and MPK 25, the light rings around Simon aglow. Green furiously tapped and twisted Black Sands’ “Kiara” and a grandiloquent “Ketto” off of Days to Come. The band smoothly joined back in with some jamming and solos to satiate this particular audience, as did the brown note tuned to our bass chakra. A run of Bonobo classics including “Nightlite,” “Reccuring” and “We Could Forever” showed tight and eclectic playing from everyone onstage, as these tracks have been performed for years with the live band. Another titanic selection, “El Toro,” delighted dancers with its bossa nova and horn/string interplay. “Know You” saw Green wailing on drum pads, as the intertwining male and female vocal samples rang out over jungle beatscience. Bonobo Live Band concluded their superb and sophisticated set with a mouth-watering take on “The Keeper.” For those who doubt the “soul” within electronic music, this was mind-boggling truth to the contrary.
Robert Walter’s 20th Congress is fully back in session, and their double dose at Bear Creek left few stones unturned. Buoyed by Walter’s magnificent new album, Get Thy Bearings, RW20 were a perfect choice for the late night Music Hall scene. The unsung hero, per usual, was Walter’s longtime foil Cheme Gastelum on sax, who has logged time with Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings in recent years (BC 2012). Cheme blew hard and heavy, his carnival melodies soaring atop the Hall with definition and authority. Drummer Simon Lott was a gangster, anchoring the boogaloo grooves with confidence, locked in with bassist Chris Stillwell in true garage funk fashion. Set highlights included “Inversion Layer,” “Kool is Back,” “Who Took the Happiness” and set closer “Don’t Hate.”
The Mike Dillon Band supplied the most original dance music at Bear Creek. Period. His punked-up freak-jazz and twisted psychedelic afro-rock kept the Porch Stage raging, shaking and gyrating with heavy, vibraphone-driven vamps, and spasmodic raps. Dillon and Co unleashed a steady stream of infectious rhythms, unbridled rage and hypnotic percussion. The exploding energy of trombonist Carly Meyers is undeniable; her twisting and contorting her body movements mimicking snappish movement of her horn’s slide. When she wasn’t on stage bouncing and singing along with Dillon, she snaked through the audience, blowing a whistle and assailing a tambourine with a drumstick; Myers is a spicy hot drum major with a smile. Percussionist Weedie Braimah joined on “Monk Meets Fela” and Roosevelt Collier jumped into the fray for a cover of The Stooges’ “1969.” Cult favorite “Carly Hates the Dubstep” soared to new heights, while Stanton Moore of Galactic, a longtime Dillon foil, also found his way to the kit for some proper skin bashing.
[Mike Dillon Band]
Bootsy Collins is nothing if not a character, the original Rubber-Band Man even “wilder than the Taliban.” With flamboyant costumes, tawdry stage banter and star-shaped bass and shades, often lost in the funk fog is the fact that he’s one of the genre’s preeminent showman. Unique vocal styles, bombastic bass rumblings and his thunderous clique, the Funk Unity Band, laid the foundation for a slow-ride through Chocolate City, establishing Bootsy Collins as Bear Creek 2013’s bass Baron Von Funkenhausen. Kicking things off with a dripping “Ahh…The Name is Bootsy, Baby” from his classic Rubber Band era, chants of “We Want Bootsy” from his crunkadelic krewe and the Creek massive serenaded the legend onstage for a two hour funk odyssey. Released in the year of my birth year, “Bootzilla” sounded fresh as ever with a snapping horn section and wall of wah, as did the slow and swanky Bi-centennial “I’d Rather Be With You.”
Original P-Funk keyboardist Bernie Worrell emerged for his juno-bass anthem “Flash Light,” but nobody needed ANY help finding the funk -better yet, people we begging for it (“Tear the Roof Off (We Want the Funk”.) “Hey Bootsy, baby! Why yo face like a star?” No less glide in his slide, Bootsy continued a buoyant boogie-down with “Mothership Connection (Star Child).” “If ya hear any noise, its just me & the boys… Hit me! Ya gotta hit tha’ band! (Bootsy slipping in his perfectly placed vocal-adlibs: “Yabba Dabba Doosie!”). When the guys (and a few phenomenal female singers) landed in Glen Goins-led B section of “Star Child” (forever memorialized for my generation by The Chronic’s “Let Me Ride”), many in the audience belted in unison: “Swing Down/Sweet Chariot/Stop and Let Me Riiiide!” G-Funk, Suwannee-style, the Mothership regulating, and hovering amidst the live oak trees; Bear Creek was a white-chocolate city, Sir Paul Levine as Dr. Funkenstein, …and everybody sang “Swing Down… I WANNA RIIIIDE!” Bootsy Collins and the Funk Unity Band’s Saturday sunset spectacle will go down forever in the BC bible, The Helping-FUNKY Book.
Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe also provided two sets of funkification and R&B steez at Bear Creek 2013. Friday night’s get-down on the Purple Hat Stage saw first families of funk send horn Capos to do proper biddings on their behalf. After KDTU fired through “The Hen,” saxophonists Ryan Zoidis (Lettuce/Shady Horns) and Cheme Gastelum (RW20), trumpeters Gabe Mervin (The Motet), Igmar Thomas (Shady Horns) and trombonist Jonathan Lloyd (DubConscious) joined Denson and trumpet/flugelhorn player Chris Littlefield to create a veritable wall of brass that nearly overpowered the congregation. Amplified by guest organist Will Blades and former KDTU percussionist Mike Dillon for the duration of the set, guitarist DJ Williams solidified his role as Diesel foil, and new drummer Max McVeety made his presence felt. KDTU’s old-school anthem “Front Money” was a blistering dose of classic Denson dynamics and Blaxploitation power. Beastie Boys’ “Sure Shot” and White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” drove the Creek massive into an uncontrolled frenzy, these familiar joints rang out beyond and reverberated back again with vitality.
Bear Creek legend Zach Deputy delivered his patented “Island-Infused Drum n’ Bass Gospel Ninja Soul” sets, the one-man-band having yet another cultish, scene-within-a-scene at this festival. He performed two sets on stages proper as well as a candid and clandestine set deep into Sunday night’s campgrounds, as is his annual custom. His scene stealing collaboration with Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, the Ray Charles Soul Spectacular, was some of the most buzzed about over the long weekend. Keyword: Deputized! Other spirited KDTU Bear Creek sit-ins included Roosevelt Collier (“My Baby”), George Porter Jr. (“Bougainaville”), and Skerik on “The Duel.”
As a child, I would watch Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” video and wonder why people would be so overcome with emotion that they would cry hysterically, faint and be carried out of the crowd lifelessly. That mystery was solved, twenty-five years later; when the ‘Legendary Roots Krewe from Philly’ obliterated Bear Creek’s Amphitheater Stage. After living out a dream (thanks to festival curator Paul Levine, who arranged for me to bring my hometown heroes onstage), I assumed the position riding the rail directly in front of emcee Black Thought. The entire Amphitheater was packed to the gills, people were screaming the band’s name with a vehemence! Ahmir ?uestlove Thompson led ‘The Illa-Fifth Dynamite Foundation’ as they launched into a gargantuan run of classics; “Table of Contents” gave way to “Next Movement,” ‘Hot Hot Music’ filled the dank air. The following seventy-five minutes was a whirlwind of unparalleled hip-hop fury: Capt. Kirk, Kamal Gray, Knuckles, Tuba Gooding Jr., Ray Angry and Mark Kelley followed their leaders thru the swamp and beyond. Roots chestnuts like “Proceed,” “Step into a New Realm” and “Mellow My Man” were delivered with vigor, the songs and style fresh to def.
See Black Thought on tha red carpet, steppin’ outta spaceships
Wit’ a glass of Chiraz, and two ‘around-the-way’ chicks!
©Black Thought of The Roots
A cauldron of my personal favorites was set ablaze; “Thought@Work”(with the “Apache” breakbeat and Beatles “Hey Bulldog” lick taboot!), the iconic Kool G Rap tune “Men at Work,” a jungle-infused “You Got Me,” Jr. Gong’s “Welcome to Jamrock” and a ‘Fantastic’ excursion through “How I Got Over,” “Here I Come” > “The Seed 2.0” > “Move On Up” > “The Seed 2.0.” Yet it was during the undeniable Game Theory banger “Get Busy” that Riq Gz, aka “Black General Two-Fi’teen” (that’s Name, Rank, & Serial) asserted himself as the greatest emcee in the game, while simultaneously breaking down ‘The Concept’ of The Legendary Roots Krewe with one severely ill opening verse:
My squad half-Mandrill, half-Mandela
My band ‘bout seventy strong, just like Fela
We part Melle Mel, part Van Halen
And we represent Illadelph, where we still rebellin’!
©Black Thought of The Roots .
Legendary as advertised. Indeed, this writer is from Philadelphia; but please don’t get it twisted, this was fucking nuclear! The Roots headlining set on Saturday night is immediately on the short-list for greatest in the festival’s storied history.
One of the more remarkable developments this year Bear Creek was the spiritual and sonic presence of the late, great James Yancey aka J Dilla. The celebrated hip hop producer (Slum Village, The Roots , De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, JayLib) has been gone for nearly eight years, but the JayDee legend grows by the day. Anthony Diaz (drummer, Legendary JC’s), Ian Neville (Dumpstaphunk) and several in the audience were spotted wearing variations of the “J Dilla Changed My Life” t-shirt. ?uestlove is on record proclaiming Dilla the greatest producer in the hip-hop history, and Black Thought is another vocal proponent of the Dilla-riffic. So it came as no surprise that The Roots dropped an astounding take on Slum’s “Fantastic” midway through their rollicking set. Lettuce (with Nikki Glaspie filling in for drummer Adam Deitch -both of whom are also avowed J-Dilla fanatic), followed up on Sunday with their epic homage “Mr. Yancey,” on this night containing versions of “Workin’ On It” and “Body Movin’,” two seminal Dilla tracks given new life by the Jesus/Nikki/Neal Evans crunk triumvirate. Though somewhat outside of the box, Bear Creek Dilla-philes are multiplying exponentially, reverberating respect for the McNasty Filth master all over the music park.
The Bear Creek All-Stars Saturday night demonstrated the fantastic fabrics that weave this festival’s sacred funk afghan. Teamed up in a similar fashion to the marathon Jazzfest sessions (second Wednesday at One Eyed Jacks), NOLA-phunk again met Gotham City gangsters, traversing the Front Range of funk, this ruffian rage was scary-hood. George Porter Jr. joined members of Lettuce and Dumpstaphunk for a runaway freight train of Band of Gypsys’ “Them Changes” and his own “The World Is Just A Little Bit Under the Weather.” Bombastic bass-gymnastics funkafied lives by the hard dozen, while George was callin’ Kraz ‘cousin.’ The Shady Horns plus Skerik pursued Nikki Glaspie’s Bootzilla & Bernie-fueled new-mothership connections on riotous renderings of “Bop Gun (Endangered Species)” and “Dr. Funkenstein” (Nick Daniels III’s hilarious Bootsy adlibs were an immortal homage: “It ain’t nothing but a party, baby!”) Skerik and Chris Littlefield aimed trumpet trajectories even higher, as the Seattle natives brought heavier, headier horns to the succulent gumbo. Gradually, a monumental and ever-so-telling development; natural progression saw the next squad-up; funk phenoms and gnarly grommets slowly supplanted the All-Star establishment. Members of The Motet joined Andrew Block and (First Coast favorite son) Matt Grondin for a down and dirty adaptation of The Meters “Africa,” rechristened “New Orleans” under the authority of bassist Tony Hall. We were privy to three generations of funk mavens getting the message, a seminar in swagger, and scrapbook chronicles of crunk. All-Star as advertised; and Creek history made -from the Godfathers to new kids on the block, and all points between.
The Nth Power’s Saturday late show at the Technaflora Music Hall was a jaw dropping, life-affirming revelation, sounding the alarm in ethereal echoes. A coming out party of sorts, the five-piece, all-analog ensemble unveiled a phenomenal tour de force, announcing their arrival with a biblical authority and a slew of prodigious original compositions. The scrupulous rhythms of percussionist Weedie Braimah and drummer/vocalist(!) Nikki Glaspie were in lockstep with bassist Nate Edgar throughout passages that journeyed fusion-jazz, pop, afro-beat, (“Weedie” and “Jazzfest “) and a particularly driving brand of funk, one that separated this krewe from the crowd. The distinctive presence of Nikki Glaspie was once again the eternal light, her resplendent creativity and craft glittering, she is the raw human spirituality behind the music aglow. Glaspie played no less than EIGHT sets at BC, and was by far and away the consensus MVP. Glaspie’s vocals, along with those of keyboardist Nigel Hall, and the vigorous Nick “Cake” Cassarino, made this performance extraordinary. Their stirring blend of supple R&B (“I See Love”) juxtaposed with spirited Gospel influence and an unfettered folk honesty, was recipe for a scrumptious mélange.
Fans were engrossed in The Nth Power’s overwhelming passion, emotional tones and poignant tender vibe; it was infectious and knew no boundaries. Each member of the band is a titan in their own right, and they were regaling their friends and peers as well. A cursory look around the sea of lovers in the audience could spot the likes of Jennifer Hartswick, Natalie Cressman, Luke Quaranta, Alecia Chakour, Ian Neville, members of New Mastersounds, Ryan Zoidis, Michelle Sarah and more. Our ever-swelling Bear Creek family, was completely enveloped in the communal séance the Nth Power manifested. This was the stuff of legend, a statement of intent, rousing introduction, and a congregation celebration in righteous song.
“Just know that when you hear this music, you’re going to feel something –you’re going to connect with something higher than yourself.” -Weedie Braimah
Friday and Saturday, deep into the forest from just after midnight through the Suwannee sunrise, the Silent Disco offered dancing and delectable beats. Team Grime and Monozygotic (Sir Charles and twin Zak the Blak of Greenhouse Lounge) electrified the massive with 808s and breakbeats, enough riddims ablaze to bring out the best in fresh footwork. Miami’s funky technician Warp9 represented Massive Ideas, and delivered some undeniable electro-crunk, destroying the crowd with a 4:20 a.m., rump-shaking remix of Dr. Dre’s cannabis classic banger “The Next Episode.” In the misty fog, moon, early sun and drizzle, Andy Reed blessed the blooming bosom of those who weathered the nocturnal storm with luscious down-tempo that was an easy Sunday morn.
Sunday at Bear Creek is when the strongest thrive, and this year was to be no different. Boasting basically the Nth Power as her backing band, Bear Creek empress Jennifer Hartswick Band blessed the festival’s hallowed grounds. Inviting her longtime foil George Porter Jr. onstage for a delightful take on Bill Withers’ “Aint No Sunshine,” Hartswick provided a spellbinding soundtrack to start the final day of the festival. Her guttural moans on the eternal Stevie Wonder stomp “You Haven’t Done Nothin’” were amplified by Khris Royal’s sultry sax and Nikki Glaspie’s steady syncopation. Her usual partner-in-crime, the lovely and talented Natalie “Chainsaw” Cressman, was the yang to Carly Meyers’ yin; Cressman’s elegant, harmonious trombone a soothing landing for our collective elevation.
Skerik’s Orchestra-at-Large is a Bear Creek treat, a collection of BC family and Artists-at-Large come together every year for a proper SuperJam. Skerik, the only Artist-at-Large for all seven Bear Creek festivals, was general leading his krewe through a thoroughly improv’d set, with Mike Dillon on trap drums no less. Enlisting an entourage of James Casey, Natalie Cressman, Freekbass, Eric Krasno, Ryan Zoidis, Khris Royal, Jonathan Lloyd and several others, Scary-Eric shocked more than just one monkey with sadistic sledgehammers of soul.
Roosevelt Collier and Nigel Hall’s Gospel Surprise was once again a priestly Suwannee benediction. Reprising their renowned turn at Purple Hatters Ball, members of the Royal Family joined extended Bear Creek family for this dynamic assemblage. A run through touched and spirited numbers like “Standing on Shaky Ground,” “Higher Ground” and the Nikki Glaspie-sung “God is a Good God” lifted souls. James Casey went and told the congregation; he caught the Holy Ghost with impassioned vocal runs only possible on Sunday morning. Nigel Hall’s stirring, tender tribute to the dearly departed George Duke (“Uncle Remus”) is already branded in the hearts and minds of Bear Creek’s privileged masses. This is why we Bear Creek.
Lettuce’s annual closing set at Bear Creek is traditionally, without a doubt this writer’s favorite. This year things were a little different as Lettuce’s founder/drummer Adam Deitch was forced to miss Bear Creek due to his commitments with the Pretty Lights’ Live Band Analog/Future tour. This literally kept me up at night in the days approaching BC, so I enlarged a photograph of BC’s thunder conductor and affixed it to a broomstick; it was important that Deitch was here with us to bring it all home. The hardest working woman in show biz, Nikki Glaspie, assumed her throne and proceeded to annihilate the ‘RealDeitchBeats’, hers the funkiest foundation this side of “Lettsanity.” The Royal Family was in full effect as Nigel Hall and Alecia Chakour took the stage, their R&B chemistry en fuego on “Do it Like You Do.” “Blast Off” saw the powerhouse army (better yet, the Navy) of Jennifer Hartswick, Skerik, Natalie Cressman, Cheme Gastelum, and the Shady Horns detonate the stage with bright and bombastic brass heads and solos. Adam “Shmeans” Smirnoff and Eric Krasno took turns as axe-murderer and “Big Baby” Jesus Coomes forgave the sinners with atypical bottom-end bluster and bravado. This year, the funk Gods allowed for an encore; Lettuce delivered a mammoth version of their Big Apple anthem “Madison Square. ” Glaspie, Coomes and the krewe built the mid-section jam to a fevered and furious crescendo, before dropping down into one last murderously chunky, stomp-yo-feet rage, the patented Mike Tyson knockout. If you don’t know, you had better ask somebody!
After the final set, we went to yet another Fiyawerx Productions, LLC post show party, at their holiday-themed amusement park of a cabin. These NOLA ‘hosts with the most’ were so very generous all weekend, facilitating and networking many us of with our favorite artists, be it an introduction, or a sit down; many new friendships were born -Fiyawerx style! As per BC tradition, Paul Levine saw to it that the remaining bands, staff and a few hundred lucky fans were treated to legendary all-star jam sessions -the infamous “SundayNight Staffterparty.” Shuttles arrived at the Fiyawerx party to cart us all deep into the woods, to an oasis amidst the oaks. A cavalcade of stars paraded across the small, makeshift performance area; we grubbed down on catered food and spirits while dancing and dreaming with whatever energies we could muster at the late juncture. Tears, hugs, and yet even more rump-shaking ensued; glasses were raised-asses were dropped-and all was right in the world.
Looking Back on the Bliss: What they are saying
Luke Quaranta -Toubab Krewe
My lasting impression of Bear Creek is the spirit of community and sense of place that extended to musicians, organizers, and all festival participants!
Adam ‘Shmeans’ Smirnoff -Lettuce
When I think back on Bear Creek 2013, all I can think of is The funk, and nothing but the funk
David Shaw -The Revivalists
The friends and memories made at Bear Creek are ones that I won’t soon forget! I can’t wait to see what next year holds for all of us at Suwannee.
John Speice IV (Brownout)
Firstly, as someone who had been to BC before with Mike D, I was super happy one of “my” bands finally got invited. Once there, it was a great feeling to be received so warmly and make a bunch of new friends/fans for Brownout. We were sad to have to leave before Sat/Sun and very much hope to come back and stay all weekend. My favorite show while I was there was Antibalas on the Amphitheater Stage. They are old friends and were super dynamic and focused..Also, thanks a million to Skerik for playing both shows with us, He’s been a huge supporter of both Brownout and Grupo Fantasma for a while now. It’s particularly gratifying when a horn player of his stature says we have a “top 3 horn section out there right now.” Bear Creek is funk heaven!
Ryan Shapiro (Fiyawerx Productions)
As far as festivals in the jam scene goes , Bear Creek raised the bar to the next level. There’s something really special, almost magical when you are on the camp grounds, surrounded by all your family and friends in the scene…Everyone is always smiling , and all the positive energy that coming from every direction , is just contagious . I’m already thinking about Bear Creek 2014 , and doing it all over again , Fiyawerx style …
Dave McSweeney (Greenhouse Lounge)
There is nothing quite like Bear Creek and the family that is BC. I first attended The precursor to Bear Creek, Down on the Farm, in 2004 when I was 19, and to see how far we’ve come and how many amazing artists have played over the years is just mind blowing. I’ve seen some of the best sit ins to go down over the past decade at Bear Creek and that will stay with me for the rest of my life. The family has been there for me through thick and thin, that means the world to me. My life wouldn’t be what it is without the influence and love that Bear Creek has given.
Festival Curator Paul Levine with the final word:
I think Bear Creek is so special because-with the exception of Jam Cruise and Jazz Fest -it is the one festival that really focuses on the funk and big band genre and truly embraces the whole jazz’/funk community completely for one weekend of magic in the woods. We just celebrated our 7th Bear Creek. Since the beginning, we have intentionally booked the best funk bands on the planet. We often book these bands for two shows over the weekend and also book a bunch of the most skilled instrumentalists to be artists at large at the festival. Bear Creek is viewed by musicians as a great hang with their peers. Musicians are able to come on site and feel relaxed and at home instantly, knowing that the venue is well run and that most of their friends will be on site. This leads to inspired performances and more sit-ins per minute than any festival I am aware of. The fans of this genre are the most passionate and loving music fans I know of. The barriers between fans and artists at Bear Creek are totally broken down. Many musicians come to Bear Creek even if they are not scheduled to play because of the incredible music and the warm community that gathers at Bear Creek. This family vibe is really what makes Bear Creek so special.
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