• About
  • First time here?
  • Sitemap
  • Archives
  • Categories
  • Posts Tagged ‘Bear Creek’

    Hitting the High Notes: Bear Creek 2014


    2014 - 12.17

    Nicholas Payton blows it up on Trumpet & Rhodes at once

    IMG_6994 Dip Dat Shit In GOLDAs we’ve done for the last 5 years, my buddy Bill and I made the pilgrimage to Bear Creek music festival in Florida. Every year this fest is dynamite, dipped in gold. That might be selling it short. Bear Creek is really the only place on planet Earth where you can get this concentrated of a dose of funky music in the span of 3 days. Not even Jazzfest in New Orleans can match the density of pure funk-per-minute that goes on here. There is no peer. From my standpoint, 2014 may be my favorite yet. Let’s rap about it:

    Right off the bat I’ll mention a few groups whom I’d never even heard of prior to BC14 that took me there. First thing we saw when we arrived was a band called Turquaz who came in with something to prove. Their punchy horns and funky vibes immediately set the tone for the rest of the fest. It was a positively ideal first act to catch. Their street team was walking through the crowd handing out slap-koozies–which are exactly what you think they are. This idea is so brilliant that it is somewhat baffling that I have never heard of it until now. Well played Turquaz.  They had a peppy sound and ooh, their trumpet player also had some effects going on, which was a running theme to my delight.

    Turquaz

    The singer from the Fritz; kinda reminded me a little bit of Living ColourAnother band which made an instant fan out of me was The Fritz from Asheville NC. They mixed 80% funky dance grooves with 20% tricky synchonized unison lines, which was totally a formula for success in my book. Centerstage was their keyboard player who also did main vocals and brought a lot of showmanship to the spectacle. Although they were young guys, they really knew how to play. I’d love to see them again. They were almost prog-rock at times, which I generally shy away from, but their funkyness always brought me back.

    Completing the trifecta of winning first introductions was a band called Tauk. Bill bought their CD which we listened to on the way back to the airport–it was very Jan Hammer and Jeff Beck inspired, which is cool and all, but not really my thing. However their live performance was great. Most notably they played a double-length version of “I Want You/She’s So Heavy” by the Beatles that slammed absurdly hard. Bill commented that as hard as Soulive has rocked that tune in the past, these guys dialed it up a notch further, which was an accomplishment.

    The Nth Power was fun to watch, bringing their vocal driven comtemporary soul to life on the Purple Hat stage which was the best-sounding stage of the fest this year. At the climax of their tune “Only Love” maybe ten people suddenly appeared in the crowd holding up big placards with the word “LOVE” on them, which was a synergistic moment for sure.

    BC’14 was one of my favorite Creeks in a long time–possibly ever–because of the TRUMPETS! Me, being a trumpet player myself, I’m obviously very biased by this aspect of the music and 2014 was the year those brass players collectively decided to get the hell up in there and deliver. In terms of both veterans and newcomers alike, the trumpets of Bear Creek delivered a delicious, heaping platter of excellence, which warrants a through digression:

    The Heard Horns w/ extras!

    The best awesome new thing (which I knew beforehand was going to be awesome) was The Heard, a horn-section driven band from my old stomping grounds in Chicago. Those three horns (tenor sax, trombone, trumpet) brought a lot of rambunctious energy and very tight section playing. They had a polished, rehearsed-sounding feel to their hits, with a pleasing length to their punches. A section like the one in Lettuce tends to clip their hits super short, which is great for their style, but it was nice to hear the Heard Horns deliver some fatter punches by comparison, a choice that seemed deliberate. Anyone could have predicted their set was gonna be hot simply by the oh-so-enviable late night Saturday timeslot they were given, and indeed that contract went filled. The horns also sat in with the New Mastersounds on both their sets and lended some very well-executed performances of familiar lines. In particular, the nimble melodies of “Fast Man” sounded right on the money: notes were clean, articulations were tight, and the three players were together in their timing. It was a real treat.

    Orchestra at Large: Bernard Purdie, Roosevelt Collier, Taz, Grant Green, Jen Hartswick, and some other badasses too!

    Jen Hartswick w The HeardJen Hartswick is a perennial representive of the trumpet community at Bear Creek and this year she too delivered bigger and better than before. In previous years I felt underwhelmed by her playing; the power/chops were adequate but not strong, and her phrases were unfocused, trailing off–like a speechgiver who was obviously winging it, unsure of what she was going to say next and clumsily tripping over sentences. Not this year. Her tone was brighter and clearer, with more strength. And her phrases were well-spoken musical ideas which connected between the pauses. Musically there was just a lot more substance in her thoughts… I’m sure my listening has probably improved as the years have passed but it certainly wasn’t just that.

    In prior Bear Creeks I watched the trumpet players and thought to myself “man, I could be up there. I can do those things these guys are doing and I can hang with the level of improv that’s being put forth.” Not this year. One man who firmly put his foot down and said “here’s the bar” was Nicholas Payton. His group was introduced as being “at the forefront of modern American music” and correspondingly he blew me away with his talent, playing keyboards and trumpet at the same time–and doing it WELL. Payton understands how to handle the Rhodes in particular, and his trumpet is customized with a short metal stand coming off the bottom of his valve casings, so that he can rest the weight of the horn on the keyboard edge, and play both instruments without the weight of the trumpet fatiguing his right hand. His tone was loud and powerful, with clear, searing highs which he used as violent punctuation against the tones of his well-seasoned jazz trio who had put on their funky caps to tackle this festival. After a long stint on keys, mainly between Rhodes and B3, he’d re-enter on the horn with a piercing high note, like a burst of lightning from the sky, out of the blue. His solos were those of a jazz player who knew the real book, knew how to play changes.

    Nicholas got up centerstage with Lettuce during the last set of the festival and proceeded to play the most “out” solo of the weekend. Watching the facial expressions of the string instrument players was almost comedy: Jesus on the bass and Schmeens on the guitar looked at each other with some alarm, their expressions seeming to say “Does he know what key we’re in? Should we… should we change the key? Wait… wait, no? Okay there he’s in. No. Now he’s off again. Okay. Ummm. There, he found it. No, he’s out….. Alright, well he’s obviously doing his own thing here, just let him go.” Personally I always enjoy a mostly “in” solo more than I enjoy a mostly “out” solo but heady jazz cats always love the out. Watching Nicholas’ jazz-rooted trio take things in-and-funky was a treat for me, someone who lives on the funk side of the fence, but seeing him solo with Lettuce was the inverse! I imagine that would have been a treat for someone who really loves an outside soloist; if Skerik was around and listening, I bet he ate that moment up.

    Nicholas Payton & George Porter BLOGSIZE

    the mascot of bear creek, seen here without sunglassesSpeaking of Skerik, he got up with The New Mastersounds and played a pretty “in” solo for his usual tastes. Although he’s a brilliant tenor player, his tendency is to get up and go nuts, squawking and squealing like a madman–which he pulls off well, ratcheting up the overall intensity of what’s happening onstage. But it was cool to hear him get inside the groove and do something a bit more thoughtful. My comment at the time was, ‘okay, I guess you can play like that too, you just always choose not to.’

    So as an aside, last year I didn’t write about Bear Creek, mostly because it was a bit of a “down” year. The weather was rainy and the mixing on the main amphitheater soundboard was… regrettable, leaving many potentially great moments seemingly unamplified. This year we did do a fair amount of moving around during the shows, and as Bill discovered about the main amphitheater, “something is off about that bowl”. Indeed. You actually don’t want to be close to the stage for the best sound. There are some definite “dead zones” where a soloist seems to disappear into the back of the mix. Walk back toward the soundboard another 20 feet and surpise, you can hear everything again! Maybe it’s the wide distance between the left and right speaker arrays, maybe it’s the absorbtion of the crowd when it gets densely populated? In any event, the takeaway is that location is pivotal for getting the most out of those shows. They also keep changing their other stages around every year and bafflingly they did away with Uncle Charlie’s Porch Stage this year which was unfortunate since that one clearly had the best sound quality every year. I’d be willing to bet money they just walked that sound system down the hill over to the Purple Hat stage, since it sounded better than it ever has. That stage was the hot place to be this year.

    And about that Purple Hat Stage: probably my 3 favorite acts of the fest all tore it apart there. Predictably: The New Mastersounds, Lettuce, and Soulive. The Mastersounds were their usual selves, serving up tasty versions of their classics with a few new treats from their bag of endlessly refilling compositions. Simon declared “as is customary, we will fill the stage with incredible guest appearances” and so they did. Highlights were the aforementioned “The Heard” horns, and Bernard Perdy. Two years ago their Keyboard player Joe Tatton couldn’t make the journey due to passport issues so B3 wrangler-extraordinare Robert Walter filled his seat for the duration, which was a special treat. Those kind of special permutations of your favorite acts are a hallmark of BC. Having seen NMS live shows too many times to count anymore, I was greatly pleased with their sets although I wouldn’t say they did much to catch me off-guard. But that’s alright. Sometimes a great show is exactly what you expect it to be, and NMS fell into that category this year. I bought a zip up sweatshirt with their logo on it at the merchandise booth but barely got a chance to brandish it. Friday was long-underwear weather, Saturday was jeans, and Sunday was shorts-all-night weather, which was splendid.

    NMS @ main amphitheater w/ George Porter & The Heard Horns

    Try as you might....A familiar act who did catch me off guard was Lettuce, with a half-dozen or so forays into dub territory–something I’ve never heard them do as prominently or repeatedly as in their two sets at BC14. I completely endorse this new playing field for their repertoire. Dubbing out with some trippy delays and free spaces gives some nice breathing room to contrast against their dense, in-your-face slam tracks. The horns each had little effects units they were tweaking during these moments, which was straight up my alley. Returning again to the excellent trumpet playing this year, Eric Bloom has taken over Rashawn Ross’ old shoes, which are some mighty big shoes to fill. Rashawn has a searing, cutting high range that slices authoratively through any sound known to man so he can’t really be outgunned in that regard, but Eric sounded better than ever this year with clear, clean chops and better solo ideas for sure. Where Rashawn always seemed to build up to some high note climax in his solos but then didn’t really have anywhere to go, Bloom had lots of ideas, lots of places to go. Which is maybe not as dramatic, but more intellectually stimualting as a player. Lettuce was maybe at their peak shortly after the release of “Rage!” and two years back they owned the festival with their explosive, razor-sharp funk. Indeed at the time the comment was made “If god himself had a funk band, I don’t think it could be any harder-hitting, or bigger, or nastier than Lettuce.” A sentiment I still stand by–they still gots it.

    My one complaint–and complaning about anything that happens at Bear Creek is like saying the bread that came with your flawless surf’n’turf dinner was maybe too doughy–was that we didn’t get enough Eric Krasno. He was “Space Krasno” this year with Lettuce, standing literally in the back and fiddling with some weird noise-making keyboard that was only sometimes audible when he wasn’t neck-deep in some oddball effects setting on his guitar that turned it into a dubbed-out sound machine. And yeah, that’s awesome and all. I enjoyed this strange-flavored, alternate reality Lettuce from outer space. Outer space is definitely a part of the big bad funk sound for sure. But it’s just that, c’mon, this is the guy–in my eyes more than anyone else here–who can deliver that throat-grabbing, oh-my-god, face-melting solo freakout that gives you that feeling. You know the one. That feeling that takes you to another place. So Krasno was around, but he was more of a wheel on the train rather than wearing the engineer hat. Only twice did he step up for a “big” solo and having seen what he is capable of in the past, I think he only took it to like 65%. On this note I miss his Chapter 2 project with Nigel Hall on vocals. That was some real take-me-to-church get-down action which needs to come back again.

    Lettuce @ Purple Hat

    And all this finally brings me to the Soulive set.

    I’ve seen Soulive many times, again too many times to count anymore. Maybe my all time favorite was at the House of Blues in Chicago circa 2006 when the Shady Horns were backing them up with Rashawn on trumpet. And then their Bear Creek set shortly after the release of “Rubber Soulive” where they played all the great Beatles tunes, that was something special. But this set, this set… knocked me out. Like I said already sometimes a great set is where you get just what you expected like NMS this year, or when a familiar act goes a new direction like Lettuce with the dub. But for a very familiar act to blow you away again like you’re seeing them fresh, for the first time, they’ve got to really come out of left field with something unexpected and that’s what Soulive did. Out of all the sets I saw this year, theirs covered the widest stylistic range. They came out swinging with three well-chosen originals including Aladdin, a personal favorite of mine. Bill commented that he wished they had horns up there, and yeah, there were the unlimited resources of Bear Creek horns probably standing around backstage so that was maybe a questionable choice to keep it just the trio for that moment but even so, they brought the energy. Between tracks the comment was made, “Fire. Breathing. Monsters… and there’s only 3 of them!” Which sums it up. And I’m guessing that’s the point they were trying to make.

    But from there-on-out the pendulum started to swing wildly; a slow bluesy gospel section, followed by Eleanor Rigby with a ripping guitar solo. When the music paused at last I leaned over to Bill and said, “submitted for your consideration by Eric Krasno; his entry for best guitar solo of the fest.” And maybe it was, for my tastes. Out of all the many possible things a guitarist can possibly do–everyone is looking for a certain blend of stylistic rootings and phrasing sensiblities–Krasno barks right up my tree with his pentatonic/blues roots and thick application of bended notes, so I am inherently biased toward his playing. This year he was awash with phaser, even over sections he typically play clean. As previously mentioned he didn’t really step out front and *grab it* with Lettuce this year, so Soulive was his best moment. When I interviewed him a few years back, he commented a bit on what factors will push him to “take it there”. To paraphrase I’d say there has to be three things: A. the internal motivation to rock it B. the available sonic space to fit (the sound can’t be too loud or crowded) and C. the band behind him pushing it.

    When Eleanor Rigby had seemingly run its course with solo section completed, out comes rap artist Talib Kweli. He did some freestyle on the verse sections and then made the crowd sing along for the chorus of the tune, which brought a whole new energy. It was like this build up/intensify thing with the rhymes then when the choruses dropped it felt even more anthemic. Pretty rad, and unexpected. When that was done, they did a rendition of Talib’s tune “Get By” and one other jam I didn’t recognize. A decent foray into hip hop territory. After that, the trio dove deep underwater into some dubbed-out seas which resonated big time with this guy since my own musical project has been messing around with dub too. This was before either of the Lettuce sets so it had the impact of surprise. But the biggest surprise of the whole fest was immediately after the first dub moment.

    Soulive, droppin that dub science

    For a rendition of Hendrix’s “Manic Depression” the trio brought out… an 11 year old guitar-playing boy with the stage name Taz. Who then proceeded to genuinely blow everyone’s mind. “How old is this person?!” exclaimed Bill. From where we stood in the crowd it was hard to tell if this was a kid or a young looking midget, or even a male or a female with a pretty rocking afro who was mostly facing Krasno. After struggling to discern who or what I was looking at, one thing became clear: this little boy could rock. Like no other kid you’ve seen, ever, anywhere. On TV or the internet or anything. He new how to play tunes, he knew how to solo with fast notes or with bends and tension, he knew what facial expressions to make, he knew how to pay attention and respond musically. He just… had it all. I even found out later that he had his own shirt in the merchandise booth! Disbelief would be the best word to describe the collective reaction to this kid. I’ve seen child prodigies before but this kid, this is something else. And as a piece of the Soulive performance, this clinched it as the set that just defied all predictions. They played their classics, they played the Beatles, they featured a hip-hop star, they dubbed it out, and then they brought out a little child who proceeded to deliever a blistering guitar solo you never thought was even possible from someone that age. Mind = blown.

    Soulive w/ Taz

    Walking away from the show to go see the New Mastersounds at the amphitheater I was shouting to Bill, “What did we just watch!? No, really, what was that? Did I imagine it?” But no, I did not, and over the rest of the weekend Taz went on to be the toast of the fest this year, making brief appearances with all the major acts on classic rock hits with screaming solos like you’ve never heard from a kid. A humorous moment happened during the Orchestra at Large set when a bee flew up to him and he got scared. Taz stopped playing and his eyes widened as he backed up slowly until it flew away. “A BEE!” he mouthed to the crowd as he started up again, rocking the wah on his Pedaltrain Jr. “From the mouthes of babes!” exclaimed Ivan Neville from Dumpstaphunk, shaking his head. Eddie Roberts chuckled that “I had just STARTED playing guitar when I was 11.” Every year you bump into some memorable faces at the fest and there is a guy who always wears a peanut shell as an earring whom we’ve made friends with. Mr. Peanut-Earring commented “Look at the other musicians on stage. Half of them are looking at him so proud like he’s their own son, and the other half are just mad! Like, what the hell!? I had to WORK for this!?” I burst out laughing because he was so right.

    Mr. Peanut-Earring has been a fixture of the fest every year and this year when we bumped into him in the crowd he seemed very excited to see us. He gave both Bill and I a big hug and we talked music for a while. You meet all kinds of funny characters at fests like this so I shrugged it off when he seemed strangely emotional that we remembered him and was loving the conversation. It wasn’t until after he walked away that Bill told me Mr. Peanut-Earring had informed him he was diagnosed with cancer. Here I thought maybe he was on something but no, the emotion was genuine. It was a sobering moment, and I felt sad for him. But maybe also happy too. After all, he was here, and he had been here many times now. This place, for people who love this kind of music, is a spiritual gathering, a religious experience. I don’t think that’s exaggerating it. Sure it’s a meeting of the minds, where like minded travelers from parts far-flung unite under a groove but it’s more than that. It’s a chance to dance like you mean it, it’s a cathartic escape into some other dimension with the hippest soundtrack imaginable, flooding into your ears and mind, controlling your legs. It’s a place where you forget everything that’s wrong and let the sound take you away. Where all the musicians push it to their top level and that does something to you too, watching that magic when the performers themselves seem to become infected with this viral euphoria that feeds back and forth between everyone in the whole forest. I said to Bill, “you know some day they’re going to stop doing this fest for one reason or another. And we’ll look back on this like it was some kind of golden age or utopia where everyone who was anyone all just had to be.” I know Mr. Peanut-Earring knows exactly what I’m talking about here and damn, if you gotta go out, one last dose of that sweet Bear Creek gospel sure would be comforting. I know I’d want it. We’ll be looking for you there next year buddy.

    Bear Creek 2012 Recap


    2012 - 11.22

    As previously stated, I attended this year’s Bear Creek music fest purely as a soul-food spectator; no camera, no zoom recorder, no phone, no nothing. Just pure eyes and ears. That was a good decision, a liberating thing that allowed me to savor the experience with no distractions. For those so interested, I’ll go over the highlights from this year.

    Standout Groups:
    1. Headtronics. This was the unknown band that knocked me out. Members include DJ Logic, Freekbass, Will Bernard on guitar, Steve Molitz (keyboardist from Particle), and a live drummer who sorta stayed in the background. I went to watch these guys never having heard of them before, and had zero expectations. We were right in front and damn… my socks were knocked clean off by the end of the first tune. Electronic beats with top-notch musical integration between the players. Will Bernard had some killin solos and Steve Molitz on keyboards held his own too. Out of everything I saw, this one made me go for the dancefloor high score. I definitely want to find a taped recording of this show. This was the unforeseen gem!

    2. Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings. This one’s more obvious. People had been hyping up this group to me for a long time–they lived up to those expectations. Sharon is the real deal. The new-generation torchbearer in the Aretha Franklin style soul champion lineage. Superb energy, showmanship, passion, and legit vocal chops. In-tune, on-point, and selling it all night. FIRE. I would see this group again in a heartbeat.

    Honorable mention for the Sugarman 3. These guys used simple arrangements with impeccably tasteful sounds for an ensemble greater than the sum of the parts. Solos were short but sweet and the whole deal felt polished & choreographed, in a good way. I bought their new LP afterward.

    Flops I Really Wanted to Like:
    1. The Budos Band. These guys were the biggest disappointment of the fest. I really wanted to love them. I tried hard. I adore their albums, their horn section sounds great, plus their set list for the evening was perfectly selected but… something just didn’t come across live. The energy was lacking, the solos were universally mediocre at best, and the stage banter between tracks was comprised of yelling/cursing. Strange. I would not go see them again. Unfortunate.

    2. Charles Bradley. This guy used to be a James Brown impersonator who then started doing his own material. Awesome concept and I had heard rave reviews of his live performance, however his intonation was off quite often, which turned me off quick. And his dancing came off as silly and laughable to me. Maybe someone else would dig it but not me. Cheesy.

    Standout Solos:
    Big Chief Eric Krasno seemed more mellow this year, perhaps reflecting a deeper, personal contentment with his recent engagement (I know that feel bro!). But he did take the crowd to probably the most intense musical peak of the festival with his solo on Soulive’s “Eleanor Rigby”. That was a major highlight. In later solos he seemed content to let it marinate, particularly in Lettuce’s second set.

    Eddie Roberts also reached for the sky on a thrilling rendition of “Thermal Bad” which gave Krasno a run for his money in my book. You could debate which rollercoaster took you higher, but it would come down to a matter of personal preference: Krasno is more soulful and possibly a little more dexterous in his playing, while Roberts delivers his distinctive articulation style and unimpeachable ability to sustain a long crescendo of energy even atop of a raging band behind him. Either way, those two set the bar.

    Most Silver-Lined Cloud:
    The keyboard player for the New Mastersounds, Joe Tatton, was unable to attend, due to some kind of visa issue. In his place Robert Walter filled in for two whole sets, playing their catalog with a mix of impressive accuracy where appropriate and fascinating divergence where space existed for personal interpretation. Having seen the Mastersounds perform probably close to 20 times now, I have long felt that Tatton is the most unpredictable element of the gig; swinging from bored and unengaged over to fiery and wickedly good–you never know what the night will hold with him. There were multitudes of spots where Robert Walter hit a grand slam on the B3, peppered throughout both sets. I profusely enjoyed seeing this NMS configuration. A delight, unquestionably. I did miss Joe’s top-notch space-outs, effects use, his clean dexterity, and overall sensibility. But this was a treat. I do want to see Joe back at the keys, but seeing this incarnation of my favorite band was probably the best overall highlight of the fest for me. Sort of an alternate reality, ‘what-if’ version of the band. And a badass, enthralling one at that.

    Best Facial Expressions:
    The bass player from Chapter 2, handily. He wins this contest every year with his huge infectious smile, but this time he took it to another level with a deranged look that said “is this for real, or is this really for real?!” Out in the crowd we were giggling and yelling “I know, I KNOW!”

    Most Impressive New Chops:
    Rashawn Ross, the trumpeter for Lettuce, completely blew up their first night with resoundingly powerful, clean, clear high notes and one particularly superb solo; doubtlessly the best I’ve ever heard from him, studio or live. This guy’s been hitting the practice room and it showed.

    Most Promiscuous Sit-Ins:
    Pee Wee Ellis, the elder statesman of tenor sax, decisively had the highest number of guest appearances. He does need a little certain je ne sais qua to ‘push’ him into taking a great solo. He’s capable, of course, but the right mood has to be there. This was best achieved with Ike Stubblefield’s group. Bill called it; “That was the best Pee Wee solo I’ve ever heard.” Indeed.

    Best Musical Interaction:
    Eddie Roberts and Grant Green Junior shared the stage during one tune of the second New Mastersounds set. Grant Green was parked on his barstool and Eddie stood close next to him for an extended session of trading solos. Their trading had a very advanced level of musicianship where they finished each other’s phrases and challenged one another by echoing styles and techniques on top of those continuous riffs. Their facial expressions during this exchange were also humorous as they sought to one-up each other. At the end of it, my buddy Bill laughed and said, “I think Mister Roberts actually got a little bit of a lesson there!” Sort of heartwarming in a way, to see this exchange between different generations of musicians who continue in the tradition that Grant Green Senior began. I’m glad I was there to witness this.

    Craziest Sit-In:
    Perhaps Robert Walter’s presence acted as a tacit invitation for guest appearances with the New Mastersounds because this year saw the largest amount of them out of the three years I’ve been to Bear Creek. In that same second New Mastersounds set, things got crazy when FOUR keyboard players took to the B3 and Rhodes, reaching over each other and elbowing for position in a comical, photogenic moment of sheer keyboard firepower. Included were Nigel Hall, Ike Stubblefield, Robert Walter, and Wil Blades. I yelled to Bill “Joe Tatton, you’ve been replaced!” Bill, ever the defender of Joe, said “no one man can replace Joe.” In spite of the joke, I do agree.

    Most Valuable Player:
    Nikki Glaspie seemed to be not only sitting in with everyone under the sun, but at the helm for several different acts I’ve never seen her with. She played drums both nights for Dumpstaphunk and although memory fails me as to who, she was main drummer for a few other acts as well. Her bombastic style, particularly the way she throws in extra accents and cymbal crashes anywhere but on beat one, has always made me enjoy her playing. She was everywhere at this fest, and dropping serious beats.

    Best Vendor:
    The vendors at this fest are remarkably consistent. Big shout out goes to the Grilled Cheese Wagon, who delivered a toasty and delicious three day run of grilled cheeses, egg wraps, and quesadillas. Why eat anywhere else when these people do it so solid without fail, every single time? Honorable mention to Homegrown music for supplying me with some excellent new shirts and being the worthy recipient of a custom cassette tape I labored over only to have the intended tradee disappear into craigslist oblivion.

    Questionable Redesigns:
    The outdoor purple hat stage remained this year, which is definitely preferable to the tented configuration, sound-wise. They scheduled all affiliated acts consecutively though, which I sort of wish they hadn’t, in the interest of sit-ins and cross-pollination. Friday night the purple hat belonged strictly to Daptone records, and Saturday it strictly belonged to Royal Family records. Admittedly it was cool to see all of their offerings in a row, but still, for interbreeding these awesome musical endeavors, I prefer it mixed up.

    There was also no end-of-the-fest treehouse jam session this year. In its place there was a VIP jam in the barn. We hung out there for a while and were not impressed with the sounds we heard. Don’t know who was playing but it definitely didn’t involve Royal Family, Daptone, or Nawlins. Instead we found a golf cart equipped with a heavy-duty laser light show and hopped on for an epic joyride. We tipped it over by accident, rode it through the woods, beatboxed with random passerbys, eventually arriving at an impromptu drum jam just up the road from our campsite where we spent the rest of the night generally banging on anything that made noise. Those kind of randomized interactions are very much a part of the festival experience and I’m glad there was a window to fit that in. Good. Frickin. Times.

    Greetings from Glorious Bear Creek


    2012 - 11.09

    So me and my pal Billiam are attending our third consecutive Bear Creek Music Festival and I have zero doubts that this one will be just as hot as the previous ones.  Slight twist though: this year I will be attending purely as an observer/enjoyer.  Last year I was granted a press pass and used it as an excuse to rent some cool photo gear like a steadicam and a 2nd camera body.  I also brought along a custom slider I made, which was fun to use.  The results of all this are dutifully recorded under the Bear Creek tag.  It was an awesome experience, no question, but I do admit, when you’re investing energy into chronicling what’s happening, you do miss out on ‘the moment’.

    This year I will be solely devoted to savoring ‘the moment’ as it unfolds.   And that’s gonna be awesome!

    Soulive: Let’s cut right to a supa funkay keybode so low.


    2012 - 02.23

    More Soulive from Bear Creek 2011!  Break out your pens and papers kids, and take notes; this is what you call a groovin’ keyboard solo.  Fer serious.

    Note, this video has been configured to start playing at 5:34 when Neal’s solo begins.  Jog back to the beginning if you wanna watch the whole glorious endeavour.

    Soulive in Star Filtery Glory


    2012 - 01.23

    Ok, I lied, there are more awesome videos from Bear Creek.  In the clip below, I set the player to start at 7 minutes in (you can do this by adding &start= and then the number of seconds to the embed code), so it jumps straight to the awesome part with the wicked star filter action. Feel free to rewind if you dig these styles! Man! Just look at that guitar! It’s magically delicious!

     

    The Microcosm of Bear Creek 2011, Captured via Photography


    2012 - 01.13

    Okay, at long, long last, here it is. All of my favorite shots from Bear Creek. Grab something to drink, put on some tunes, and get comfortable before you dig in! And don’t forget that fullscreen button! There’s too much hotness here to even describe, so I’ll let the pictures do the talking. Turn on the titls (click “show info”) if you want some IDs on who you’re lookin at. Enjoy!

    Soulive rockin that Uncle Junior


    2012 - 01.09

    Hey sportsfans, here I’ve got what might be the last super-sweet video I have to post from Bear Creek 2011.  Dig it!!

     

    Project Chronos begins, and my slider shooting from Bear Creek 2011.


    2011 - 12.31

    This post is going to be a wild mashup of things, all of which I’m pretty excited over.

    The fangled contraption below is something film geeks will recognize as a “slider.” Not a slider in the White Castle sense, but a smooth rail that moves a video camera from one point to another.

    As it is shown above, the slider is equipped for video use. I’ve built a set of legs attached to ball-head tripod mounts which allow it to be positioned in a wide variety of configurations. There is also a shoulder mount, and an extra grip for one-handed wrangling. This is essentially a customized version of the DIY slider described at ZaZaSlider.com, meant to be an improved version of the Glidetrack Shooter slider. Any filmmakers who feel inspired by these shots, you can create the same thing yourself by reading up at the ZaZa website and ponying up maybe $250-350.

    For anyone who’s curious, I’d comment that this thing is somewhat impractical for shoulder-mounted use. Yes, it works; the hand grips are comfy and the shoulder padding keeps it from getting fatiguing. Yet… it’s just heavy and big. Even made of lightweight aluminum, a one meter slider is a lot of bulk to double as a shoulder rig, and on the flip side of that coin, anything smaller than a meter is getting into the territory where it’s not enough length to get a decent looking slide. So can you have it both ways, a slider AND a shoulder rig? Eh, sort of.

    Shoulder rig ho-humming aside, the slider does work great. The following video shows it in action at Bear Creek, which was the first time I put it to considerable use. The video also shows a good amount of Steadicam footage, shot on a Steadicam Merlin which I rented for the fest. It was a terrific amount of (photo-dweeb) fun to use these both!

    These shots are a compilation of cool videography from the festival grounds and miscellaneous shots that wouldn’t logically fit into any of the New Mastersounds or Lettuce videos I posted before. I still have more stuff to sort through… I haven’t even posted the Soulive yet!

    I learned quite a bit in doing these videos. Number one lesson was slide SLOW. It’s best to push the slider from its base, and keep hands off the camera itself. Wind can also jostle the camera around. A tougher ball head on the carriage itself may address that issue. Right now I have a pistol-grip Sunpack head on it, which certainly isn’t the paragon of build quality. As for the Steadicam, I was surprised to find that the Merlin was not nearly as well constructed as I expected it ought to be. For $800, I assumed it would be a piece of finely-crafted, impeccably-machined precision. It was not. Given, I was using a rental unit, which probably had been subjected to rough ‘n’ tumble treatment, but still, the joints had wiggle, the bottom counterweight could be bumped or moved in and out, easily throwing off the balance, and worst of all, the quick release plate only loosely held onto the steadicam itself. In the wrong situation, I could see a camera getting dropped by that quick release. Yikes.

    I also learned that 30fps is NOT fast enough for quick pans or fast steadicam moves. I defintitely regret not shooting in 720p/60fps, as some shots were blurry messes at 1080p/30fps. I believe it is due not to the framerate itself, but more to the fact that each frame of your movie is actually an exposure of 1/30th of a second when you have low/medium light and video autoexposure is enabled (you could shoot manual but that’s a lot of monitoring and adjusting, when you could be thinking about framing instead). 1/30th of a second is not really fast enough to prevent camera blur, even at wide angle. If you had very bright light, you could might get away with 30fps modes as the autoexposure would be forced into a faster shutter. This is something I need to remember, moving forward as a videographer.

    It was super fun to use the Merlin, and it did pop out some mondo-sweet footage. When it works, it SINGS. But after seeing this thing up close and in action, I don’t think there’s any way I’d pay more than the price of my SLR for one. Maybe in 2012 there might be a DIY Steadicam build. But that’s looking far ahead. I digress. Back to the slider:

    In addition to duty as a hand-powered video slider, I’m also planning something very ambitious for it. There’s a section on OpenMoCo.org (short for open source motion control systems) called “Project Chronos”. It adds a stepper motor’s super slow motion capability to the slider so that you can do timelapse while your camera moves, like they do in all those super sexy timelapse videos–only for a fraction of the price compared to commercial systems that do the same thing! When I saw this existed, I knew I HAD to build it. This is going to require a lot of soldering, troubleshooting, emailing, and above all, patience. I’ll do some periodic updates on the progress as I go along.

    For the boldest and most tenacious of readers who may be interested in attempting their own Project Chronos, mastermind Chris Field has pictures, videos, circuit diagrams, Arduino code, and finished product samples all online for your consideration. I have also began a build thread of my progress over at Timescapes.org for anyone who wants to read the gory details. At the moment I have built two PCBs as pictured below. The blue one is actually a kit with very comprehensive assembly instructions online which made its construction relatively simple. The green PCB is the Chrono-specific circuitry and still a work in progress. More posts on this as it develops.

    Also, soldering shit in my free time makes me feel like a badass. Maybe it’s the smoke, or maybe it’s the hardcore nature of building your own circuits. Busting out my resistor collection and putting it back to use felt really good. I said to my girl; oh yeah, these resistors aren’t just going to sit inside a box forever, these have got a cooler destiny… ultra-sweet timelapse!

    Bring on 2012!

    Surprises and New (to me) Delights at the Creek


    2011 - 12.04

    First thing we checked out when we arrived at Bear Creek was Dr. Lonnie Smith, the venerable B3 organist known for sporting a turban. His sidemen were very heavy hitters themselves, with Johnathan Kreisburg on guitar and Jamire Williams on drums. I had heard Kreisburg’s jazz albums before, but I had never heard him play in a loud, rockin setting like this. The man is anything but a one trick pony, it turns out. He had winding odd-scale riffs a la Scofield, reached into some hard-edged territory that sounded like prog-rock, and dialed it all the way back into some space-out territory with this cool sounding short-time reverse effect. I would like to know how he did that exactly, and I would also like to know what else this dude is capable of.  For all the heaping amounts of praise that people lavish upon John Scofield (and rightfully so), I have to say, seeing Kreisburg here in this role… he provides similar kinds of heady, weaving lines with a greater stylistic breadth than I’ve heard from Scofield (whom I saw twice at BC).  Next time I get the chance to see Kreisburg do his thing again I will definitely not be missing it.  Superlative musicianship.

    Will Bernard played a nice role as artist at large, sitting in with too many groups to even recall here. Each time he got on stage and started playing I leaned over and said to Bill, who is this guy? “Will Bernard.” That happened at least three times. I’ve kind of glossed over his music in the past. After this fest, I need to go back and give him another listen.  Apparently his set was off the hook too, which is too bad because I missed it while watching this next thing:

    This year I made it a point to catch a fascinating group whom I missed last year but heard excellent things about: Snarky Puppy. It’s an amusing name, for a group with some very, very tight horns. Being a trumpeter myself, I was delighted to see two trumpets on stage with flugelhorns on stands below them which they swapped back and forth on. I wish there were more groups with horn sections as tight as this. The typical instrumentation was two trumpets and tenor sax, although they brought in a trombone player for a few tunes and Jen Hartswick (trumpet) also sat in with them. For a trumpet player, this was the group not to miss. I set up my Zoom H4 recorder in the back and taped the show as well, which is totally available for your listening RIGHT HERE! If you want to dive right into it, I’d advise hitting the “forward” button to advance the track twice. That’s where the real hotness begins, I think.

    Snarky Puppy 11.13.11 Full Show Audio Recording (available on Archive.org w/ JB special sauce mastering)
    .
     

    It figures that a group like this would hail from Brooklyn, a place where the extreme density and competitiveness of musicians yields an overabundance of monstrously gifted players in a small area. Their arrangements of fast-moving harmonized lines where the horn section provided the leading melody of the ensemble were really inspiring to me personally. It’s been a while since I’ve heard a group that places the horn section front and center, both on the stage and musically. I would really love to get a project like this started for myself. Although these guys were all top-level horn talent, I think you could achieve a reasonable facsimile of this sound with maybe two good soloists and talented section players who were maybe classical guys with chops.  (daydreaming out loud here)

    I also saw the Jennifer Hartswick Band for the first time at this Bear Creek. Jen plays trumpet in the Trey Anastasio Band so I was interested to see her solo thing. The woman can definitely belt. A lot of her show centered around the vocals, which I found entertaining although I was consistently wishing she’d just pick up the horn and blow. (Of course I’m very biased toward instrumental music and I play trumpet, so I’m hardly an impartial opinion here.) When she did, her sound was bright and powerful, and her lines were well-composed and confident. I was maybe hoping she’d break out some trickier manoeuvres but never did I feel dissatisfied with her style. A solid player and a good show.

    Masterful Grooves from the Mastersounds at Bear Creek 2011


    2011 - 12.01

    And now, onto my favorite guys!

    When the New Mastersounds took the stage on Saturday night, Simon announced he was “rather cross” that they had just arrived that afternoon, missing out on the previous 2 or 3 days of the fest. He almost seemed worried like the action had been going on without them, going on to say, “well, there’s really only 24 hours left, we’d better make the most of it!”  Maybe this contributed to the sense of urgency, as the fellows from Leeds proceeded to deliver an excellent performance that night.

    But, as I’m terrifically excited to tell you, you don’t have to take my word for it!

    As a public service reminder, remember to hit 1080p to see all the nose hairs and sweaty follicles in their unbridled-tears-of-joy-inducing-funky-ass glory.  Yessir, I filmed all that, edited it, and synced it up with the audio captured by a sweet taper who goes by the handle “kluyfrtliu”, as available for your own listening pleasure here.  The audio in here also has my own little secret sauce on it, because compressors.  QED.  There may be more on the technical side of compiling all of this in the future…  But for now, onto the music.

    One thing that took me off guard about the Mastersounds–even despite the fact that I’ve seen them, I don’t know how many times now, more than ten–was that Pete Shand’s bass playing seemed positively fast and ferocious. Maybe it was the soundsystem at Uncle Charlie’s Porch Stage? As a side comment, I have to note, this stage is one of the best-sounding stages I have ever listened to, indoors or outdoors, anywhere. I remember in 2010 being completely blown away by the sound quality there. This year it seemed absolutely top notch, but maybe not quite as good as last year? Perhaps high expectations took something off the top?

    On Sunday evening’s show Simon Allen was wearing silver shirt covered in sequins and skintight shiny gold pants. Pete Shand was wearing jeans and a navy blue sequin-covered tube top. Perhaps he had lost a bet or something?? (Or maybe Simon just gave him that and said here, wear this. Those guys are silly guys.) Joe Tatton had on a sparkly silver cape with a little red top hat and Eddie Roberts was dressed curiously normal.

    Marco Benevento came up for a rawkus guest appearance on the organ, in which he pounded on the keys with hands raised high, doing some neat rhythmic comping and trading solos back and forth with both Eddie and Joe who came back on stage towards the end of Marco’s stint. I’d give that my vote for best guest appearance of the fest, just for the fact that he came on stage and just *took over* for a good 5 minutes or so with that wildly energetic outburst. When the tune had finished Eddie leaned over to the mic and opined, “That was fairly ridiculous.”

    The tunes from their new album “Breaks from the Border” incorporate a lot of group vocals, and work well at the live show; better than they do at home on the stereo I’d say. They played an extended and enjoyable version of “Can You Get It?” which felt great when the refrain came back in at the end. I was hoping for the afrobeat-flavored “Walk in These Shoes” but no such luck. It would have been cool to see Eddie take that afrobeat-style solo in which he uses this crazed, thin-sounding guitar tone, typical of afrobeat but out of character for Roberts. Maybe they used special equipment to achieve that sound, and avoided it in concert for lack of the right gear.

    I admit, sometimes I wish they would throw me for a loop more often: by putting in a key change at the peak of a solo, or slipping in more choreographed, seamless transitions between their songs, or by changing up the form and adding new sections to their old compositions, or just by crafting compositions that are slightly more complicated. I do have to be careful what I wish for here though: The Mastersounds sit on an excellent piece of real estate between the extremes of “soulful” and “cerebral”. They’ve got plenty of little syncronized rhythmic toss-ins and unison hits to keep the structure comfortably away from a bland 12-bar groove formula (maybe I take these for granted, simply because I know when they’re all coming?) but they keep things playful and simple enough to just relax and enjoy, rather than overly-complicated phrases of through-composed musical pedant-ery that practically require drastic musicianship on behalf of the listener to really even grasp–that’s the cerebral extreme, as embodied by any number of advanced jazz cats. There’s absolutely a place for that in my music collection. But I GET the Mastersounds. I can explain what they do and my ear can follow right along as they go. That’s part of the appeal. There’s no musical snobbery here , but neither is it pedestrian. Thinking myself through it out loud here (and guilty of indulging in exactly the kind of pedant-ery I was just disparaging!), that’s pretty much right where I prefer my tunes.

    In any event, I’d say the Mastersounds still retain their crown as my favorite band, and this two-night performance was another reaffirmation of their excellence. Their silly stage banter remains endearing, Eddie’s vintage-sounding guitar tones range from smooth enough to groove mellow on “Fuji Rock” yet boisterous enough to get crazy at the apex of “Thermal Bad” while his wah pedal wizardry, improvisational dexterity, and unique picking style provide plenty to study; Joe’s Rhodes and DL4 spaceouts put me in a blissed out mood, while bursts of quick finger work on the B3 can perk up my ears to dig inside those dense phrases; Pete’s bass playing is speedy and right on time, providing some infectiously danceable breakdowns when guitar and organ drop out; and Simon has an impeccable sense of swing, coupled with a deep bag of catchy fills and relentless reserves of energy to keep driving the jams ever onward.

    *  *  *

    Thank you for perusing!  If you enjoyed this review, there is a high probability you will also enjoy this mix of semi/obscure 70’s funk I made from old records I found at the local store.  Alternately, check out all posts tagged “funk” for more Bear Creek and music coverage.