This year’s fourth annual Bear Creek Music and Arts Festival might well be remembered as Brrrrrr Creek. There were beautiful daytime temperatures in the low to mid 70’s, but once the sun began to fall into the western sky, so did the temps, with lows in the mid to high 30’s. As always, though, the hosts, the Suwannee Music Park and festival promoter, Paul Levine, know how to put on a festival. The Suwannee folks get lots of practice though, now hosting multiple festivals throughout the year, including the Allman’s Wanee Festival, Suwannee Springfest, Magnolia Fest and this year’s new Blackwater Festival.
With a stellar line-up this year which included Umphreys McGee, moe., and Ivan Neville as headliners, I expected attendance to surpass last years estimated 6,000, but in talking to local law enforcement officials, they put the attendance at a similar number this year. This makes for a quaint, comfortable festival.
Being billed as 96 sets of music across six stages means that there is so much music, that, often times, difficult decisions must be made as to what bands you want to see, as it is impossible to take it all in.
Headliners Umphrey’s McGee had to be the hardest working band of the weekend. They were the highlight of the Thursday night pre-party playing a whopping 2 hours 45 minutes of music that had all in attendance grooving to their rocking-jamming powerful tunes. Umphrey’s has the amazing ability to change and turn musically with incredible timing, having you ask yourself, “What just happened? How did they do that?” The second night, Friday, once again jam packed with another hour and 45 minutes of great music. Roosevelt “The Doctor” Collier of the Lee Boys sat in on and played pedal steel guitar on “Wine and Song”, Bernie Worrell and Ivan Neville both sat in and played keys on “Nothing Too Fancy.” The band began playing “Ocean Billy” and segued into Hearts “Barrucuda”. All in attendance must have thought, “How are they going to pull this one off?” Then out of nowhere came a booming female voice and onto the stage came Jen Hartswick singing the part of Nancy Wilson flawlessly.
Another of the headliners, moe., played a 2 hour set Saturday evening. To this reviewer, after 3 days of rockin-funkin-jamin and dancin, moe.’s set, at times, was a little on the slow and tedious side. Perhaps just a little too much noodling and slow jamming for a funk-n-jam festival.
At a festival with this many acts there are groups that don’t get much attention and perhaps festival goers party a little too much and sleep away the day. By doing so they miss out on many a good band with fantastic musicians.
Bands such as The Macpodz from Michigan who played an early (noon) set on Friday and then again at 7PM on Saturday, but up against 3 other bands, including a festival favorite, Perpetual Groove. They describe themselves on their website as an “Alien Exhaust Jazz Meets Townie F**k Rock” band. The band might just be my surprise favorite of the festival. Here is a band with no guitar player but one of the best bassist of the weekend and a supporting cast of trumpet, percussion/flute, keys and drums. They were a perfect fit for this festival, playing a jazzy jam funky groove with some smooth vocals.
A few other bands that really warrant some attention are Rubblebucket, Diocious and Spiritual Rez. Rubblebucket, from the Northeast, features a trio of horns, with lead vocalist Kalmia Traver on tenor and baritone sax. Another great fit for this festival with their funky rock and R&B, and great harmonies. The band’s energy on stage got the crowd moving with their noon Saturday set. Central Florida based Jam, Rock, Psychedelic Funk trio Diocious is made up of talented musicians who delighted those that made the trek up the hill to the Campground Stage. Spiritual Rez, another band out of the Northeast that made its way south played an early evening set inside the campground dance hall. If you didn’t know where you were going you might not have even been able to find this stage. The and has loads of stage presence and energy with a funky sometimes rock-n-reggae beat that had those lucky enough to find Spiritual Rez dancing their hearts out.
A stellar line-up, great hosts, a beautiful venue make for a fantastic weekend of music and partying. A great way to end the festival season.