On November 11, 2010, The Main Squeeze set out on a 780-mile journey from Bloomington, Indiana to The Spirit of The Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, Florida. Packed into three cars with no instruments and no amps, just camping gear and some warm clothes, we headed south. The band was young; less than a year together as a group and almost no time logged on the road at all. Little did we know then, we were setting out for one of the earliest and most significant experiences that we would share together as a group – Bear Creek Music and Art Festival. That weekend we witnessed amazing music all day and night for three days straight. It strengthened our connection to each other as well as to the park, an extremely special place which resonates with us today every bit as much as it did the first time we stepped foot in it.
When we were asked to write a recap of Bear Creek 2014 as seen through the eyes of a band experiencing the festival, naturally, we were thrilled. Bear Creek is a rare and special place in which the experience rewards the fans and the artists equally. This is because the festival has created an environment in which the artists are inspired, challenged, and above all, at home. When you have these elements, it makes for better music and better performances, which in turn makes for happier audiences. The spirit of the park is alive and well in every set, every sit-in, every interaction with fan and artist alike. Bear Creek is, as Grant Green Jr. sang during the Orchestra At Large set, “A Family Affair.” This is what drew us in as fans years ago, and what made 2014, our first Bear Creek as artists, so powerful and memorable. Now enough with the sentimental, on to the recap!
We got to the park at around 2 p.m. on Thursday and got checked in. Immediately, we began to running into old friends and familiar faces. The anticipation of what was coming was tangible, and after setting up camp we set off to see some great music right off the bat. Standouts included Snarky Puppy label-mates Funky Knuckles, as well as Bear Creek staple Zach Deputy. Seeing Zach destroy his set was especially nice, as some of us remember watching him play campfires in the early years before he ever took the stage. His immense talent was on display in front of an energized crowd and it was a great kick-off to the weekend.
We planned on going back to the campsite to rest before our late night set, but on the way back we were lured in by a soulful sound coming from the Forest Stage. It ended up being Mingo Fishtrap, a soul/funk band from Austin, Texas with phenomenal vocals and great songs. This was the first of many times that we stumbled on something we had never heard before and ended up having to stay to the very end.
When it came time for our late night set, we were ready to bring the heat. We knew we had been entrusted with one simple task: close out the pre-party with a bang. The vibe in the SOS Music Hall was amazing as people began to flood in and the line began to form out the door. We had an absolute blast with the set and were very lucky to have two of our favorite players sit in with us –Khris Royal on saxophone and Brandon “Taz” Niederauer on guitar. Both of these guys would have many more incredible sit-ins as the weekend progressed. When we were finished, our adrenaline was still pumping and we ended up hanging with friends both old and new for hours before finally hitting the hay.
The first music we were able to catch on Friday was Yojimbo, who really stood out for their interesting compositions and the infectious positive energy that was exuded by Carly and the rest of the band. Next up was Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds at Buffalo’s Amphitheater, and they put on a stellar show. Sister Sparrow is a star in the making and the whole band was killing. After then seeing Orgone and Turkuaz throw down on the Forest Stage, it was quite clear that the next wave of funk and soul bands has arrived. All featuring full horn sections, great vocals and organic explosions of energy, these bands do not disappoint.
No recap of Bear Creek would be complete without mentioning Umphrey’s McGee, who for the umpteenth time absolutely raged each one of their Bear Creek sets. The first set had a standout closer in a cover of the David Bowie classic “Fame.” The band totally nailed the tune and had the crowd going up on a Friday. After they finished a spirited second set, it was decision time: Earphunk, Tauk, and Soulive were all set to overlap. This is the unfortunate/fortunate reality of a festival as great as Bear Creek, there will often times be multiple amazing sets happening simultaneously. We opted to split up, and as it were all three sets were on fire.
Soulive busted out old school classics like “El Ron” and “Aladdin” (which we hadn’t heard live in years). Their rendition of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Lenny” was particularly breathtaking, driven by Alan Evans’ deep pocket and Neal’s lush sonic landscape. Kraz soared to new heights making his guitar sing, laugh and cry. This set was definitely a standout, as they kept the already high energy rising. Talib Kweli blessed the stage with tight flows and old favorites like “Get By.” Then Taz moved us all with an absolutely inspired solo on Hendrix’s “Manic Depression,” which the band covered in a very original and funky way. After a sweet “Uncle Junior” closer, we left for the always-groovy New Mastersounds. They kept the crowd jumping even after a long day of music, a feat that they seem to achieve effortlessly at this point in their career. The sit-in by The Heard, who had just come off of a tour supporting the Mastersounds, was especially killing. We finished the night with some Budos Band and tried to get a decent night’s sleep for our set the following day.
Waking up early Saturday morning there was an air of excitement, inspiration and also some nervous tension. After seeing so many of our heroes do their thing in such incredible fashion, it was time to rise to the occasion and show the festival why we were there. As we set up, people began to gather in front of the stage and our nerves and excitement started to become indistinguishable from one another. When we struck our first chord we could feel the tension dissipate, watching the people start to move and the spirit of the park begin to make its presence felt. Clouds broke and the sun would pour down right at the peak of a jam, or a cool breeze would roll in right on beat with a chord change; these are the unexplainable aspects of a set of music at the Suwannee that make it so special. The crowd was amazing and positive, a joyous family coming together under the common love for music. We won’t soon forget this set and would like to thank everyone in attendance for making it what it was.
Once it was over we felt a bit of a weight lift from our shoulders and we became excited to enjoy the rest of the weekend. Before leaving for the Amphitheater Stage, we were greeted by the one and only Bernard Purdie. Unbeknownst to him, we were all long time fans, and unbeknownst to us, he had just become a fan of ours. We were amazed to find out that Bernard had been the drummer on one of the earliest recordings of “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke, the cover that we had just finished playing. After having our minds sufficiently blown by this, we proceeded to check out Oteil Burbridge and Roosevelt “Rosie” Collier. Their beautiful blend of high-level musicianship and feel for their instruments is what really stood out. There were fantastic sit-ins throughout the set including a phenomenal drum solo by Mr. Purdie on James Brown’s “Ain’t it Funky Now,” showing us all that he still has it, and doing so in impeccable style. Being long-time Suwannee-goers, we can’t tell you how many times we’ve seen Roosevelt Collier destroy a solo, and without his sweet lap steel playing Bear Creek just wouldn’t be the same. A really special moment in the set happened when Bernard Purdie was called up to play alongside Nikki Glaspie on “Ain’t it Funky Now.” Musicians from many of the bands lined the side stage to watch in awe. Mr. Purdie delivered with impeccable style and feel, and his grooves and drum solos electrified the other musicians on stage and the audience alike. It was a magical moment to see everyone’s reaction to Purdie’s unmistakable pocket and joyous personality.
We managed to catch funky and original sets by The Fritz and Budos Band and then prepared for the evening. Chris Robinson’s Soulive Revue was tons of fun, featuring many of first-ballot Bear Creek Hall of Famers. They tore through some timeless covers including the old Black Crowes’ favorite “Hard to Handle” (originally done by Otis Redding) and a great rendition of “Sugaree” featuring George Porter Jr. on bass and vocals. Once they had struck their last chord we moved on to Earphunk at the Forest Stage to support our own Ben “Smiley” Silverstein who had been asked to sit in on keys. It was great to see him jam with another band, truly keeping in tow with the family vibe of the festival. Earphunk is as in-the-pocket as any band you’ll see, and you will definitely be grooving to their hard-hitting riffs and exhilarating jams for years to come.
After some Nth Power (more on them Sunday!) we split up; some headed for Umphrey’s while others went to the Music Hall for Nicholas Payton. Seeing Payton play keyboards and trumpet at the same time, weaving through multiple decades of jazz, soul, funk, and R&B was one of the most impressive sights (and sounds) of the weekend. Although his crowd wasn’t large, they were enthralled and hung on his every note. Big kudos to (Bear Creek organizer) Paul Levine and the rest of the staff for having such phenomenal musicians on hand, even when they aren’t in the mainstream or booked at all of the other festivals. Umphrey’s was murdering as per usual, and featured another great sit in from Taz. It was extremely gratifying to see Nic Payton take the stage for “Day Nurse” as everything came full circle with his powerful trumpet lines resounding over the band’s tight and complex grooves— really amazing stuff.
Lettuce crushed their set, and we all had a blast at Tauk in the Music Hall -another band that we expect to take the scene by storm. Dumpstajam had a bunch of highlights, one in particular being Nikki Glaspie and Alvin Ford Jr. playing side by side in one of the most intense drum-offs we’ve ever seen. The solos were powerful and tight, and it was all love as Nikki seemingly passed the torch to Alvin, the new drummer of Dumpstaphunk. The night was capped off with instrumental funk band The Heard. They had a phenomenal late night set packed with star studded sit-ins. We all took our hats off to what felt like the Suwannee house funk band of the future.
What came next was one of the coolest parts of the whole weekend: an impromptu campfire jam session that lasted until sunrise with over 100 people, a full horn section, TWO separate melodica players (one was Smiley of course), several guitars, drums and many singers. Crammed around a raging fire we played too many songs to count. Even without a stage or any speakers, this jam captured everything that Bear Creek is about.
And then finally, Sunday was upon us: the last leg of a marathon of music, dancing, laughing and joy. We were pleased to see that nobody was slowing down as Sunday turned out to be one of the best days of music we’ve seen in a long time.
After another great set by Nicholas Payton, we relaxed at the Purple Hat Stage for the Orchestra at Large set. This was really awesome to watch, and we all thought it was a brilliant idea to bring together all of the artists at large who make Bear Creek so different from any other festival. They had great chemistry and all of the players were in top form. The living legends: Bernard Purdie, Grant Green Jr., Pee Wee Ellis and George Porter Jr. seemed exceptionally happy. You could tell that they were pleased with what they had seen from the new-comers and that they had faith in the future of the art form. It was beautiful to watch them share the stage and remind us all of how it’s done.
Next up was St. Paul and the Broken Bones, a group we had all heard of but had not yet had the pleasure of seeing. St. Paul left it all out on the stage that hour, shedding his blood sweat and tears with every note he sang over a myriad of tasteful old-school soul grooves. It was a special performance from a special band that we (and the rest of the audience) look forward to seeing again.
Continuing on this powerhouse Sunday was The Nth Power. They blended ‘70s and ‘80s R&B with gospel, funk, jazz and rock to produce one of the absolute best sets of the weekend. All exceedingly talented in their own right, Nick, Nigel, Nikki, Nate and Weedie share a special bond and their joy on stage is extremely contagious. They proved that you don’t need to be in a cathedral to get taken to church, as we witnessed many in the audience in tears by the sheer power of the performance. During their beautiful original “Only Love,” a man began handing out cardboard signs to the audience with the word ‘LOVE’ in big letters, which pretty much summed up the whole weekend for everybody. After the Nth Power crush-fest, Dumpstaphunk and The New Mastersounds reminded us why we love them so much, and once again cemented themselves as giants of the funk genre. After these two total dance parties, it was time for the closer.
Lettuce was in absolute top form for their closing set, showcasing their undeniable talent and tightness. It’s extremely rare to see a band with so many phenomenal individual musicians play so well together. Seemingly sharing one brain at times, they switched tempos and grooves on a dime. The soundscape the band produces is unbelievable, each piece fitting perfectly in a rich puzzle of psychedelia and hard-hitting grooves. To us, Lettuce is fast approaching the territory of legends like Tower of Power and The JBs—SERIOUS funk y’all. They closed the festival with “Move On Up,” the uplifting anthem by Curtis Mayfield, and decided to bring up Taz for one last sit-in, making a strong case for him as Bear Creek MVP (and without a doubt Rookie of the Year). After another exciting guitar solo from the young guitar ace, Nigel took control—he signaled for the band to bring it down as he engaged the audience in a sweet call and response. After this, Hall had the band bring it down even further, calling for Neal’s organ to be his sole accompaniment as he sang some of the most heartfelt and soulful notes of the weekend. After bringing the energy up once more for a spirited finale, the band finished strong and Bear Creek 2014 came to close with a tremendous ovation. Another great one in the books.
We would like to thank Paul, his entire staff and everyone else who made this weekend possible and whose tireless efforts made it so special for every person in attendance. To all of the musicians that we didn’t mention: it is a testament to how much talent and amazingness occurred at Suwannee last weekend and we are sorry that we couldn’t catch everything. This festival has an extremely special place in our hearts, and we know that everybody who was there is still riding the same high that we are. We can’t wait to take that energy and inspiration and perpetuate it on the road as we continue our journey across the country. That same feeling, that after leaving the Suwannee in 2010 pushed us to further devote ourselves to our music and each other, is truly with us today.
Thank You Bear Creek, and we’ll see you all next year.
JamBase | Squeezin’ Bear Creek
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