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Bear Creek Music and Arts Festival, Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, Live Oak, FL- 11/14-17

Photo by Phillip Sosinski Bear Creek Music

Bear Creek (or as some people call it Brrr Creek) was not cold at all. The weather was overcast at times, drizzling on and off, but the rain was not a bother, nor was it cold. It was a welcome change.

Bear Creek, like New Orleans’ Jazz Fest and Jam Cruise, is known for the sit-ins, a mash-up of artists from one band playing with another. Also, there are usually two sets per band, meaning that the band actually has some time to explore on stage. It makes for an incredibly intimate setting where the artists can get into a groove, an eclectic mixture of talent with lots of smiles and friendly vibe. This is the beauty of Bear Creek.

Thursday Highlights and Notable Moments
After setting up camp, and getting five jars of Suwannee Moonshine (apple pie moonshine to be exact) I could hear The Pimps of Joytime and The Motet from our campsite, literally shaking the funk off the moss of the oak trees. After many laughs with my camp family, we all wandered down to Uncle Charlie’s Porch Stage to see Kung Fu break it down in all its funky/jazzy/frenetic motion.

Friday Highlights and Notable Moments
I started the day with Ron Haynes Game Changers. Never hearing this band before, I was pleasantly surprised. For a band from Chicago, they play like they are from the south, with deep soul, and a plethora of horns. Then I grabbed my friends and made them go see The Revivalists. This band comes from NOLA, but doesn’t have the typical NOLA sound. My only description of them could be somewhere between a bit of reggae, a bit of funk, and smash it with some punk rock riffs. They have become one of my newest favorite bands. Mike Dillon, Roosevelt Collier joined in on drums and slide guitar respectively.

With my festival schizophrenia in full effect, I decided to sacrifice Lee Fields and the Expressionists for Jennifer Hartwick Band. Ms. Hartswick was joined by the MVP of the whole festival: Ms. Nikki Glaspie (drums) as well as, Nigel Hall (vocals), Skerik (sax), Natalie Cressman (trombone), Khris Royal (sax), Nick Cassarino (guitar) and Ivan Rosenberg (trumpet). Jen’s voice is electric, strong and sexy all at the same time. They crushed the Chicago cover “25 or 6 to 4” and I floated out of the music hall back to camp for a wardrobe change and a feed.

The hour passed quickly before the Antibalas set. A scorching set, the Big IV Ampitheater stage was overflowing with musicians – five horn players, three percussionists, two guitarists, one bassist, one keyboardist – including special guests Cochemea “Cheme” Gastelum and Skerik (sax), all bouncing to Antibalas’ distinct Afro-beat sound. This was the quickest 90 minutes of the weekend.

I did a drive-by to see The Motet at the Porch Stage, and got a glimpse of Jans Ingber and Nigel Hall getting dirty with the Parliament classic “Gettin’ to Know You.” The crowd was buzzing, the funk was deep, my head was spinning and I was off to go see some Galactic.

There isn’t anything better than a Galactic performance during Bear Creek – in my opinion – because of the potential of sit-ins. This set was no different. The new female lead, Maggie Koerner, absolutely held her own against all the men on the stage, a killer female vocalist. The guest sit-ins were head spinning: David Shaw (The Revivalists) sang on “Dolla Diva,” “Aint No Love,” “Nobody Knows,” “Daddy’s Song” and “Hey Na Na.” Corey Henry and Chali2na joined for “From the Corner to the Block.” Skerik and Roosevelt Collier joined for “Baby I Got Your Money.” The set ended with an amazing cover of Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks,” including Shaw back on vocals.

Just as the rain ended, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe commanded the main Purple Hat stage. Special guests included Mike Dillon on percussion and Zach Deputy for the last few songs of the set. I remember Karl introducing Zach to the crowd by saying something close to “Hey y’all this is Zach Deputy, I pretty much take care of him on Jam Cruise!”

Saturday Highlights and Notable Moments

George Porter Jr. and The Runnin Pardners hit the Purple Hat Stage on Saturday afternoon. It was not raining, the sun was trying to come out, and it was a beautiful mild afternoon. I slowly moseyed my way up to the VIP tent to sit down and the crowd for George was impressive. Highlights were, “Just Kissed My Baby,” with Roosevelt Collier shredding his pedal steel.

Galactic was next on my way to find some aspirin, water and food. They played my favorite, “Sunday Araq,” with Maggie Koerner killing it. I continued to hear Galactic from my campsite as I revived myself from the dead. My blood didn’t start really pumping though until I saw Mike Dillon Band. I can’t really describe why I love these guys, with the exception that I am an old punk rocker, and the screaming and loud crazy that Dillon and Carly Meyers put on is right up my alley. Meyers blows that trombone with a force of a 200lb man, and the girl is probably 5 foot nothing, just over 90lbs. Mike Dillon is a force to be reckoned with, on the xylophone and percussion. Stanton Moore and Nikki Glaspie joined the stage for a drum-off dream, and Roosevelt Collier got into the mix as well. I saw Carly and Dillon on with capes, reminding me of superheroes running around, and this set was one of my favorites on Saturday. Well, with the exception of Bootsy.

Bootsy Collins and The Funk Unity Band
This set was the one that blew my head all over the Suwannee Music Park. To me, this was the Bear Creek Highlight of the weekend. There had to be about a dozen players on the stage, all dressed up as astronauts. They all took off their helmets at the same time. There was a master of ceremonies to warm up the crowd before Bootsy took the stage. The press pit was filled with musicians and was cramped with excitement. Bootsy came out with his star bass, his blue sequined outfit, blue and white sequined top hat, blue sneakers, white sparked sunglasses with blue stars in them, complete with a gold microphone.

He played the PFunk staples, “Mothership Connection (Star Child).” Then Bernie Worrell joined him for the funkiest “Sweet Chariot” I have ever heard. The mere sight for me to realize that these two Funk Masters were on the same stage was too much for my poor head to comprehend and I lost it right there. I couldn’t do anything more than bounce and stomp my feet. I saw footage later that Bootsy actually jumped into the crowd and bounced up and down. Bootsy had at least three, if not four costume changes. This was only a 90 minute set and I had to sit down afterwards to compose myself. I missed Chali 2na and The New Mastersounds because I was picking up the pieces of my brain.

The Roots
This one also rocked my soul. Bee Getz introduced the band and highlights were “Jungle Boogie” as well as an incredible mash-up of songs ranging from Guns n Roses “Sweet Child of Mine” to George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone” into “Who do you love?” to “You Got Me” into a tease of Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” to Damian Marley’s “Welcome to Jam Rock” to Sugarhill Gang’s “Apache” into “Seed” where they teased “Move on Up”. Sick, sick, show. We all wanted more.

So then I moved my weary bones to the Purple Hat Stage where Karl Denson and the Tiny Universe was playing a crazy Ray Charles set with special guests Skerik and George Porter Jr. played along with Roosevelt Collier, Cochemea “Cheme” Gastelum, Khris Royal and Ryan Zoidis on horns.

After, we went back to the Big IV Ampitheater, for the Bear Creek Allstars set. This grouping of talent from Dumpstaphunk, Lettuce, and all the horns you could count, add George Porter Jr., Nigel Hall, Robert Walters, and you have a whole lot of sugar in a 90 minute funk jam.

The last show of the evening was The Nth Power, a new band with a brand new sound, consisting of Nikki Glaspie, Nigel Hall, Nick Cassarino, Nate Edgar and Weedie Braimah. The Nth Power is a powerhouse of vocals, funk, hard beats mixed with soft harmonies. Their album is good, but it did nothing to prepare me for what I was going to hear live. Their lyrics are soulful, but what really struck me were the sound of the harmonies and overall shred. Nick Cassarino blew me away, since I am not that familiar with his work. They have something really special here, and I can’t wait to see them again.

Sunday Highlights and Notable Moments

I ventured out for some food, walking past The Jennifer Hartswick Band. I did get myself down to the Ampitheater for Roosevelt Collier and Nigel Hall’s Gospel Surprise, which was a welcome sound to my ears. Special guests included Natalie Cressman, James Casey, Jennifer Hartswick, Alecia Chakour and a whole host of other people on the stage. The last two bands to play were Dumpstaphunk and Lettuce to close out this year’s Bear Creek. Dumpsta played their oldies plus a few new songs from their new album “Dirty Word.” Lettuce played also a few oldies but goodies as well as some newer ones (Madison Square). Nikki Glaspie sat in for Adam Deitch who couldn’t make it, although Deitch’s face was seen on a sign going through the crowd. There was also a huge ketchup bottle flying through the crowd as well as actual pieces of lettuce being thrown. Nigel Hall closed the set down and ended the 2013 Bear Creek Festival in festive form.

Until next year…

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