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Tuesday, November 23

Bear Creek Music Festival - Live Oak, FL - Review and Photos

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Words and Photos: Rich Kujawa

The 4th installment of the Bear Creek Music Festival was held again this year at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, FL from Nov. 10 - 14. The SOSMP is well known across the Southeast as a premiere festival venue. It has 500 acres of camping, sits upon the black water banks of the Suwannee River, has real rest rooms with several showers, golf cart rentals, a fair priced general store, cabins, RV hookups and a Grateful Dead themed 18 hole disk golf course. All of that is nestled amongst tens of thousands of live oak trees that are densely covered with moss giving them a ghostly appearance at night. The park is also home to several other festivals including Magnolia Fest and Spring Fest.

The lineup included over 70 bands on 6 stages – 3 indoor and 3 outdoor. Bear Creek was on a mission to prove a few things to live music lovers. First, that they could bring a festival to Florida that is capable of providing an experience similar to larger scale festivals like All Good, Wakarusa and Gathering of the Vibes. Second, that there is a bustling music scene amongst the artists within the state of Florida.

This year’s lineup included genres ranging from OG jam bands to old school funk with some hip-hop, jam-tronica and a few Dj’s in between. The Bear Creek Fest also fashioned a new, revolutionary design this year. They gave the real ragers an opportunity to enjoy the fest for five complete nights. Several acts had sets scheduled on more than one day as well.

A two night pre-party began on Wednesday evening from 7:30 pm – 1:00 am and featured 4 acts. It was basically a private party and was enjoyed by a few hundred fans. It was headlined by Florida’s own Heavy Pets. The Pets were preceded by Zoogma; a regional Southeast act that is evolving from the jam-tronica scene.

Thursday kicked off with a very tight, upbeat set from the Heavy Pets. The Pets are fueled by intense jams that melt the traditional concept of jam with a Caribbean flavor. Thursday’s set was a step above the low-key set that they played on Wednesday. Hula-hoop chicks were everywhere, but the Pets turned the Purple Hat Tent Stage into a carnival when they brought hula dancers on stage to perform with them for the second half of their set.

Umphrey’s McGee granted festival goers 3 opportunities to seize their sound. They played 2 sets on Thursday in the Purple Hat Tent and another late night set on Friday in the same spot. The highlight of the evening for UM came during the first set when they busted a “Ringo>Much Obliged>Ringo” jam sandwich. They followed that with “Bright Lights>Shine on you Crazy Diamond.” The “Bright Lights” contained a Cypress Hill tease and the “Shine on” was played so splendidly well that fans were amazed that they were hearing it during the first set.

Friday’s UM set brought with it another tight cover when they busted out Heart’s pop hit “Baracuda.” Jen Hartswick (Trey Anastasio Band) brought her sturdy lungs to stage and provided vocals. An in stereo, radio quality sound exuded through the combination of guitarist Jake Cinninger’s licks with Hartswick’s high pitched vocals.

Athens, GA based Perpetual Groove took the stage Friday and Saturday. P Groove is a crowd favorite at festivals across the southeast. Roosevelt Collier of the Lee Boys brought his pedal steel on stage with them on Friday and they covered the Beatles “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” on Saturday. “Bands stake claims to covers. You don’t want to cover something that another band covers,” explained bassist Adam Perry. “LSD” undeniably meets Adam’s criteria.

Hip hop fans were drawn like magnets to the Purple Hat Tent Stage on Friday as former Jurassic 5 front man Chali 2na took the stage. He introduced fans to some newer material before breaking into a steady segue of old school J5 hits. Chali exuded a surprised sort of happiness when he saw how warmly the large crowd welcomed him. However, when asked if a J5 reunion is in the making, Chali bowed his head, stiffened his lip and said, “I won’t say it won’t happen, but to be perfectly honest with you it’s a long way off.” Keep up the hope J5 fans!

The Campground Stage sat on the picturesque bank of a small, round lake surrounded by moss covered oak and pine trees. It lived up to its name as it was located directly in the middle of the partiers camp ground. The stage hosted several native Florida acts. Electro-dub newcomers, Greenhouse Lounge and southern rockers Saltwater Grass each beamed up the rowdy crowds there.

Central Florida based psychedelic-funk-rock trio Diocious turned their set into a special occasion. They debuted their sophomore release, With a Boom and a Smash, during the set. The album was given out to fans for free. It could be heard blaring from campsites regularly throughout the weekend. Guitarist Alex Robertson admitted that “it felt good,” after they treated fans to nearly 2 straight hours of heavy rock influenced funk.

Tampa based jammers/electro-new-grass pioneers Cope played the indoor Spirit of Suwannee stage on Saturday night. Their sound features a guitarist who also plays electric banjo and a keyboardist who two times with a nasty sax. Despite the fact that their set coincided with Lettuce, the hometown folks came out and gave Cope a great crowd. They were also joined on stage by Donna Hopkins then by Brock Butler of Perpetual Groove.

The Big IV Amphitheater hosted moe. on Saturday night. Bassist Rob Derhak’s broken leg did not slow down the jam. As usual, moe. hit notes heavy from beginning to end and an extended “Yodelittle” was the evenings treat. The same stage hosted a legendary mix of old school funk on Sunday afternoon when Lettuce teamed up with Maceo Parker, Pee Wee Ellis and Fred Wesley. Each legend played separately with the Lettuce camp. Trombonist, Wesley, aroused the crowd early in the set when he blared his hit “House Party.” These guys are the epitome of class and just like moe. did, they all hit the stage fully booted and suited.

The Amphitheater was also the temporary home to other big name acts like Soulive, Ivan Neville’s Dumpstajam, Maceo Parker Band, George Porter and the Runnin’ Pardners, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, and Michigan based funk group The Macpodz. This was the place to be if you wanted to see brass bands busting out high energy funk jams. The tunes were always highly danceable and super tight but were typically enjoyed by smaller crowds.

Bear Creek was indeed a success in 2010. The Florida sun shined brightly bringing high 70’s temps daily and the chilly nights did not dampen spirits. The only drawback was the thick dust in the campgrounds. The SOS crew continually drenched the drives with water, but it was not enough to hold the haze of dust to the ground. A crowd of over 7,000 was able to enjoy some of the best live music on the market right now and familiarize themselves with new acts that will enjoy that position some day as well.

Yes, Bear Creek will be around for years to come and will continue to help build the careers of bands that may otherwise be over looked. 2011 dates are already set and fans should expect an equally amazing experience next year as they did this year.