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    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)
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    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.

    Style Points: Eddie Roberts & his handlebar moustache


    2011 - 11.29

    “Style Points” is an idea I love: that in any activity involving a numerical score, additional points are awarded not just for accomplishing the stated objectives, but doing them with panache.  I think this notion applies here.

    In preparing my photos for the upcoming post on The New Mastersounds show(s) at Bear Creek, I felt this one deserved its own post.  Man, every time I see this guy it seems like he’s moved on to the latest new facial hair fashion.

     

    Priceless.