Nestled in the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park and Camp Ground, Bear Creek Music Festival feels almost like a summer camp for your favorite musicians. Everyone seems to be friends, and it’s not uncommon to catch two artists from completely different bands grabbing a drink or chatting in a corner. It’s a place where collaborations are born and life long friends are made – it’s no reason so many of the artists come back year after year. Bear Creek 2012 was no different, as over four days, thousands of people bonded over a similar love for fun and music. It was one of the rare instances where it seemed like no one wanted to go home, everyone would have stayed another four days if there was just some more music. Check out Live For Live Music’s breakdown to get a taste of the full experience.
Bear Creek takes place in the Spirit of Suwanee Music Park and Camp Ground, which is seemingly the perfect set up for a music festival. There is ample room for stages spread out around the park with enough space that you never really hear one stage over the other. Each stage seems to have some sort of unique quality that makes it stand out over the others. The Big IV Amphitheater provides excellent sight lines with its stadium style layout, except without the actual seats. The Technaflora Music Hall Stage is indoors, allowing you to warm up if you’re cold and featuring a classic style bar – generally unseen at a music festival. Uncle Charle’s Porch Stage is right in front of a variety of food and craft vendors, allowing you to shop while you jam. The Purple Hat stage featured themes like ‘A Royal Family Affair’, featuring artists from Royal Family Records. It felt as if there were no main stage – just a bunch of fantastic music all around.
It seemed like everyone had enough space to camp, but the real treasure of Bear Creek are the cabins that line the festival grounds. Each cabin has a full kitchen with a fridge, stove, and oven, as well as living rooms, full bathrooms, and a bedroom. It’s like having a little house right outside the festival. The cabins are so close to the music, that you can sit and your porch and hear the closest stage perfectly. It’s truly the perfect way to experience a festival.
As great as the layout of the festival was, the real reason everyone was there was for the music – and it did not disappoint at all. The line up was stacked with funk favorites like Lettuce and The New Mastersounds (who each performed two sets), as well as legends like George Porter Jr. and Pee Wee Ellis. Superstar jam acts Umphrey’s McGee and Lotus rounded out the line up, giving a little something for everyone.
However the best part of Bear Creek is the ‘Artists At Large’ concept. Bear Creek enlists several amazing artists to essentially be the festival’s resident musicians, sitting in with other bands throughout the weekend and creating a once life time collaborations that are worth the price of admission alone. This year’s artists included Billy Martin, Robert Walter, George Porter Jr., Alecia Chakour, Jennifer Hartswick and Natalie Cressman (of Trey Anastasio Band), and Eddie Roberts.
With such talent wandering around, you can only imagine the magic that was made throughout the weekend. The Mike Dillon Band was joined by Billy Martin, who took over Dillon’s percussion section allowing Dillon to completely let loose and go wild as he ran across the stage, singing, rapping, and picking up random instruments to add to the throwdown. George Porter picked up a bass and jumped in with The New Mastersounds, adding another layer of funk to the English quartet. Eddie Roberts jumped into Wylly’s New York Hustler Ensemble, in what was a rowdy and fun set that’s worth checking out if you have the chance. There were just too many to name – it seemed like every set had someone sitting in somewhere.
Other highlights that may have gotten overlooked were The Werks interpolating ‘Psycho Killer’ and the theme from the Pink Panther into ‘For Today’, Kung Fu showing why they are one funk band not to keep your eyes off, and Zoogma once again proving why they may be the future of the livetronica scene. Electronic side projects also seemed to take center stage as Digital Tape Machine (featuring members of Umphrey’s McGee) and Headtronics (featuring DJ Logic, Steve Molitz, and Freekbass) both put on memorable sets. Covers seemed to be en vogue as well, as Lotus nodded to Deadmau5 with a cover of ‘Ghosts N Stuff’, and Dumpstaphunk rotated in hip hop classics like Jay-Z’s ‘PSA’.
People refer to music festivals as ‘magical’ so often these days that it almost comes off as a joke – yet I can’t seem to find a better way to describe Bear Creek. The lay of the land is perfect for the festival held within, the musicians are strategically picked, and it seemed like everyone was having an amazing time. However the magic is really the stuff that happens organically. The new bands you discover, the new friends you make. The perfect example? On the final night, after the festival was supposed to be over, musicians gathered in the VIP area to perform for a staff party. As the musicians continued to play, a crowd of festival goers, unable to officially enter, posted up right outside the gate to jam along. They couldn’t get enough music and didn’t want to go home. When the music was finally over, pioneer saxophonist Skerik grabbed his sax and started playing right by the gate. He was quickly joined by another horn….and then another…and all of a sudden there was yet another jam session going on. Magic.