Bear Creek 2011: A Retrospective headed back down to Florida for our second time this year (We covered Deluna Fest in October) this past week for Bear Creek Music & Art Festival in Live Oak, Florida at the beautiful Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park. Having never been to the park (that hosts such acclaimed festivals as Wanee, Blackwater, MagFest and SpringFest) I was unsure of what to expect. Friends had told me mixed reviews about the festival grounds but upon arriving it was hard for me to believe anything negative could go on at such a place. We arrived Friday afternoon as the sky was beginning to get dark but we were all surprised at the well maintained and accommodating park. Easily one of our favorite features about the park was that camping was based on a first-come, first-serve policy and you were permitted to park just about anywhere inside the park grounds. This means in the woods, near the lake, down trails etc….When a music festival is trusting of its attendees, they’re either taken advantage of or met with the respect that they expect and Bear Creek was obviously a case of the latter.

We settled in and made camp close to a group of people from Macon that we randomly found. This was either a sign of sheer luck or the convenience of a festival not having 25,000 people trying to camp out. It was hard to really get a gauge of how many people attended the festival but we assumed it was within the range of 7,500-15,000, a perfect range for our tastes. The entertainment and camaraderie that took place over the next three days was without a doubt one of the most surprisingly good times we’ve had at a festival this year. Given that the lineup didn’t have too many acts that we were familiar with, everyone was a bit hesitant but we can promise you’ll see us at Bear Creek next year!

 Best “It’s Too Early For This” Band

Electro-beat sensations Beats Antique kicked off our schedule for Friday with one of the most happening 7:45pm dance parties that we’ve ever been a part of. Though the sun had been down for at least an hour, the crowd didn’t seem quite ready for the wall of sound delivered to them. Within a few songs, the band had the crowds full attention (or vice versa) and the small sea of people that had gathered at the Purple Hat Stage were synced up and moving along with the Oakland-based three-piece. Who ever said you had to wait till midnight for a good dance party must have never been to Bear Creek.

Best “I Wish My Parents Could Be Here” Band

Martin, Medeski & Wood might easily be one of the most talented groups of musicians that I have ever seen in my life. I first saw them on a smaller side stage at Bonnaroo 2009 under the urging on my brother-in-law but something didn’t click for me then. It might have been the 102 degree weather or possibly the 80,000+ people I was putting up with that weekend but it just wasn’t for me. Fast forward two years into the future and I found myself completely blown away by their ability to read each other, improvise on a theme and deconstruct a melody before repairing it to a condition far more improved than the original. Don’t get me wrong at all, this isn’t just your parents jazz music. I saw as many people my age as I did people in their 60’s. Jazz is not dead by any means.

Best Affirmation That The Saxophone Is Hip

“Hip” might not justly describe the rise of horn sections that we’ve seen in the “next best’s” of underground music in 2011, but it’s clear that just about everyone who has a monthly subscription to Urban Outfitters’ catalogue should invest stock in Selmer. Everyone from Bon Iver to Destroyer to Janelle Monae have used sax in their recent records and have produced songs that would make Kenny G green with envy ( I highly recommend Destroyer’s latest album Kaputt ). The brass made it most bold statement at the festival (and to me personally) was a Rubblebucket‘s late night show on Friday. The Vermont-based group has turned heads in 2011 with their performances with Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, Stepdad and many more. Singer & instrumentalist Kalmia Traver and her band put on one of the best performances of the weekend. They’re playing a few more date around the East Coast in 2011 and will be returning to the road later on next year.

Best Late Night Get-Down

Saturday was the day to have your party shoes tied on tightly. The day started off with prog act Snarky Puppy and moved right along with sets by The New Mastersounds, Zoogma, St. Francis, multi-instrumentalist Zach Deputy and the festival’s headlong act Trey Anastasio Band. The real party started at midnight when Big Gigantic and Dopapod took the stages but the night showed no sign of slowing down at the Grooveshark Silent Disco tent with back-to-back sets from Wick-It The Instigator, Michal Menert, and two straight hours of Gramatik. Despite all the festivals we’ve been to, this was our first experience with the Silent Disco and one of the best late night parties we’ve ever been to.

Next Year..

Bear Creek was truly one of the most enjoyable festivals that we’ve been to since we started We met some amazing people, saw bands that we had no clue we would enjoy, and easily had the best camping experience we’ve had at any festival. We’ve only got positive criticism for the festival promoters for next year. We want more bands, longer sets and more activities. Bear Creek was a wonderful way to start off the holiday season and we’re encouraging you to come spend a weekend with us next November in Live Oak. Thanks to everyone that was a part of this amazing event.

– Sean Pritchard –
– Guest Writers: Nicholas Payne & Collin Holder