Bear Creek Music Festival 2013: Review & Photos

Karl Denson's Tiny Universe

Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe

Read our full preview on Bear Creek 2013 – and previous years 

We made it to the beautiful Spirit of Suwannee Music Park early Friday and setup camp quickly so we could make it over to see Toubab Krewe. I had previously missed Toubab Krewe at a couple other festivals because they had played really early or really late and I missed the set, so it was a perfect start to catch a band that had eluded me over the past couple of years.

It was still raining a little, so we were a little discouraged about the weather, but Toubab Krewe played their Mali infused jam set and put our concerns about the weather far behind our concerns about our schedule and that was the last negative thought we had about the whole weekend.

We were easily able to camp less than a five minute walk to the festival grounds where we retreated for lunch and to plan our day and wait on the rest of our crew to arrive.

Antibalas was just getting started and as they began to get into their own groove, the rain started letting up and some last bits of sunlight came through the trees. The brass and funk played off each other and got the beat ready for the night. The energy was tangible as everyone seemed to be celebrating the rain stopping and the evening setting in.

The Motet playing on the porch stage carried this energy as the Colorado based band kept the beats funky and fresh as they won me over with masterful jams and with the talented frontman, Jans Ingber, leading the dance party that ensued. These guys are huge out in their region and now I know why.

Galactic brought their stylish NOLA jazz jams to the show along with a singer Maggie Koerner and the Revivalist’s David Shaw, who co-wrote and performed “Hey Na Na” off of Galactic’s Carnivale Electricos album. I have seen Galactic perform a dozen times or so and for me it has become who plays with them for these special songs, and these two crooners jumping in really sealed this as one of the better sets I’ve seen from these old hats of Bear Creek.

Greenhouse Lounge turned the scene around a bit with their electro-heavy dj, jammy rock riffs and rage drumming from this electro-funk trio from just down the road in Jacksonville. They play together seamlessly and seem to feel as at home in Suwannee as all the mainstay founding bands.

Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe was playing over on the Purple Hat Stage and was predictably stellar and energetic. Karl’s infectious attitude is enough to keep a crowd happy, but with his colorful sweater vest and wearing thick rimmed glasses while maintaining his saxophone skills as one of the best in the business made it all the harder to walk away to catch the farthest travelled act of the weekend.

Bonobo hails from the UK and brought a whole band to fill out his renowned downtempo, trip hop DJ set. This was definitely the set I was most excited about, having never seen him before, and having recently seen Pretty Lights play with a full band made it all the more enticing. It was better than I imagined as the haunting green to shimmery black light display mesmerized as Bonobo and his traveling band weaved through a litany of material keeping the crowd moving no matter the tempo. It was a masterful setting and performance by one of the bests who is clearly still rising in popularity. I’ll take this professional approach over the “loud with confetti cannon” nonsense I’ve seen from some more popular American DJs, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Bootsy was about 15 minutes late for his set start time on Saturday, which didn’t affect the crowd at all, as they were ready to funk. It didn’t affect anyone on stage either as the space suit clad band funked the funk out of the funk. I don’t know what else to say except it involved colorful costumes, lots of bass, one of the most energetic audience responses I’ve witnessed, and every funk reference I can imagine. The 15 minute late start did screw up Chali 2Na and The Roots start times, which is something I constantly refer to as an unpardonable sin at music festivals, but it does happen and this was clearly not the fault of the staff, and since it was Bootsy freaking Collins, how can you get mad?

Chali 2Na brought his fresh and consciousness to Suwannee for a trip down Jurassic 5 memory lane as he powered through solo material and some Jurassic 5 throwbacks. I am inclined to make a fish out of water joke here, but I like hip-hop and as a primer to the Roots and in a setting that has minimal hip-hop artists I’ll just say I think the reception he had proves they can add more hip-hop to the weekend without concern.

The Roots put on the greatest live performance I’ve ever seen. I don’t know where to start or end, but other than a soft break in the middle that involved a drum back and forth between ?uestlove and his protégé Frank Knuckles, it was on fire from the beginning. I’d never seen them, but I’d heard everything from “Hardest working band” to Black Thought being the best MC around, but I was a doubter. As a natural cynic, this was one of those times I was pleasantly surprised instead of being correct. I lake the hyperbole to really explain how incredible this set was, but while it was going on it felt free and wild with attention to the talents of every member on stage coming out via solos and set moments of songs for improv, which I would have sworn by during, but by the time it was over I was, and still am, convinced that James Brown is impressed at their work ethic.

Bear Creek All Stars with Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk and Lettuce played a righteous 3 hour set to end the evening. It was funk central as Ivan directed the two bands with rotating special guests left and right as all hands were on deck for any and every funk hit was trotted out and covered with gusto. I’m not certain, but I’m pretty sure at least 15 people were playing bass guitars at one point. It was a special set with a family feeling that more commercialized festivals just cannot pull off, but one that fits Bear Creek like a glove.

Jennifer Hartswick Band got Sunday started off right with her astounding trumpet skills and booming voice as they played through an early set.

Roosevelt Collier and Nigel Hall were putting together some beautiful gospel music on the main stage. It was the only band Roosevelt brought with him this year, but he plays with just about everyone there, so it was nice to see him leading rather than popping in. Nigel Hall’s voice is magnetic, so it was nice to catch it in a setting that he seemed to be comfortable with. We were spent and becoming more concerned with the week ahead than the weekend behind and begrudgingly headed out a bit early after spending all our beer tickets.

Another flawless Bear Creek in the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park in the books and it was a great one. This festival captures the familiar setting of the park alongside an impressive lineup that deserves attention every year. The biggest deterrent for this particular festival is the weather, but I was there in 2011 for some heinously frigid weather, and I dealt with a little rain in much warmer weather. Neither affected the fact that both experiences were some of the best festivals I’ve attended and I will be on an early look out to see who is fortunate enough to play in this magical place next year!

Words by Everett Verner / Photos by Scott Corkery

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