Bear Creek Music Festival
Nov. 13-16, 2014
Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park
written by Craig Deutsch
photos by Roger Gupta
As someone once told me, the Spirit of Suwannee music park is one of the few places that was made for people to see live music and not to make money off people seeing live music. This couldn’t be truer for an event like Bear Creek. Along with Hulaween and Purple Hatter’s Ball, promoter Paul Levine is the brain behind this incredible funk festival. The lineup includes many big hitters in the funk music scene including Lettuce, Soulive, Dumpstaphunk and The New Mastersounds as well as some of up and comers such as The Fritz, Turquaz, The Nth Power, Earphunk, and The Main Squeeze. One reason why Bear Creek is special is the equality in stage setup. While the Amphitheater Stage and the Purple Hat Stage are larger than the other stages, the sound quality is comparable at the other stages. The Forest Stage didn’t seem that much smaller than the other two and the production in the Music Hall is equally impressive.
What makes Bear Creek stand out from many other festivals is its artists at large and penchant for outrageous combinations of world-class musicians playing together on stage. There were many funk legends in attendance like George Porter Jr., Bernard Purdie, Oteil Burbridge, and Pee Wee Ellis. Some other notable musicians included Skerik, Jennifer Hartswick, Roosevelt Collier, and Alecia Chakour. But it was the 11-year-old guitar prodigy Brandon “Taz” Niederauer who stood out the most (not due to his height though!) Taz came out with almost every headliner and made it look easy. This kid can shred. His performances with Earphunk, Soulive, Umphrey’s, and the New Mastersounds were absolutely incredible.
Unlike Hulaween, the forest isn’t nearly as eye-catching and there were no art installations. To the chagrin of everyone I was camped with, the swans in the middle of Spirit Lake weren’t even on. That didn’t stop us from having a great time though. Due to work and a long drive from Asheville, NC, I didn’t see music on Thursday until Zach Deputy. Zach always brings an awesome beach vibe whenever he plays. Next up was Orgone. This was one of the bands I was looking forward to the most. However, I was slightly unimpressed with their lack of energy. Afterward, The Main Squeeze was playing in the Music Hall. They were a great change of pace and played an awesome set including a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter”.
My Friday started off with an explosive set by Turquaz. This band is off the charts. Their energy and stage presence is contagious. I am especially entranced by their synchronized dance moves. After Turquaz was Umphrey McGee’s first set. I am not a huge Umphrey’s fan, but I loved their cover of David Bowie’s “Fame.” Break Science played next and brought out the horns from Lettuce. I headed over to the Music Hall to catch some of Earphunk. I was also blown away by their show. This was the first time Taz came out for a song and I was really impressed. As much as I love Soulive, I only stayed for a few songs before heading over to see Tauk. I’ve seen Tauk a few times and their shows just keep getting better. The powerful sound they can make with just four people is absolutely outrageous. I think their set was my favorite of the weekend. The New Mastersounds followed. They are a staple at Bear Creek and Jennifer Hartswick joined them for a few songs. They also brought out some other guests, like the horn section from The Heard. Their fast-paced funk and humorous stage banter was a solid way to end the night. Friday night was freezing so I went back to my campsite to put on more layers and warmed up by the fire.
I woke up on Saturday and went to check out The Main Squeeze at the Purple Hat Stage. I got there just in time for my favorite song of theirs, “In a Funk.” They also played my favorite cover of the weekend: Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come.” Their soulful vocalist, C-Frye, has a wide vocal range. I really love how he backs off stage and allows the rest of the band to jam out. The Fritz also brought the heat at the Forest Stage. Their keyboard player, Jamar, has an enthusiastic stage presence that is reminiscent of James Brown. The drummer and percussionist also played a mesmerizing drum solo. After the show, I headed over to the amphitheater for Chris Robinson’s Soulive Revue. The show was full of covers and special guests. My favorites were covers of “Sugaree,” “Hard to Handle,” and “Gimme Shelter.” Earphunk played again and brought out George Porter Jr. for a cover of Steve Miller’s “Fly Like an Eagle,” but their most impressive song was the finale when they played “Killing in the Name” by Rage Against The Machine. I skipped Umphrey’s to get some food and regroup for the rest of the night. Lettuce followed and I made sure to get there on time. They started off with a little bit of trance, which is different from their usual funk, but I was into it. They got funkier as more people came over from Umphrey’s. I left their show a little bit early to go see Tauk play inside. This show wasn’t as impressive as Friday’s, but I was still really into it. As soon as Tauk ended, I headed over to the Amphitheater to see the end of Dumpstajam. It was really funky and also had a bunch of awesome guests.
Sunday was beautiful and way warmer than the rest of the weekend. I caught some of St. Paul and The Broken Bones. I had never heard of them, but was really impressed with their full, soulful sound and spiffy attire. The Nth Power played next and was also full of soul. It was nice to sit in the warm field and relax to this show. Dumpstaphunk was next at the amphitheater and once again played a super funky set including The Meter’s tune “People Say” as well as an impressive “Black Dog” with Taz crushing it on guitar. The New Mastersounds played again as the sun was going down. They once again brought out the horn section from The Heard as well as Bernard Purdie. Pee Wee Ellis and Khris Royal came out and added some saxophone solos to the mix. Taz also made an appearance and traded bars with the guitar player, Eddie Roberts. As per Bear Creek tradition, Lettuce closed out the festival, this time playing at the amphitheater. It was a great show and they ended with Nigel Hall singing the Curtis Mayfield classic “Move on Up.”
Bear Creek was full of funk music and awe-inspiring combinations of talented musicians. I can’t wait to see what next year’s lineup has in store.