The sun rose on a glorious and warmer Sunday morning at Bear Creek. The previous three days had been filled with every bit of magic and wonder I could have hoped for – and then some. I got to see many of my brothers and sisters and heard the most wonderful music. One day to go.
Please don’t ask me about the end of the day. Please don’t ask me about The Nth Power > Dumpstaphunk > The New Mastersounds > Lettuce. Just don’t. Because I wasn’t there. For the sixth time, I traded Bear Creek Thursday for the Sunday slam-bang finale. Insane? Of course, but it’s the only way to manage my life schedule.
After being blown away by the mastery of Nicholas Payton Saturday night, I was more than ready for a second helping to kick off Sunday at the amphitheater stage. I was delighted to see his trio augmented by tenor giant PeeWee Ellis. It was the perfect way to start the day that began only six hours after my head hit the pillow last night (well, earlier that morning, technically).
This was a straight-ahead romp, mixing chitlins’ circuit with clavinet funk and Charlie Parker (a little “Scrapple for the Apple” for breakfast, anyone?). Payton again played electric piano, Hammond B3 and clavinet when he wasn’t playing trumpet, and even sometimes when he was! The last song I recall, after Ellis left, was a tune many Bear Creek musicians could croon: “I Want to Stay in New Orleans.” Sounds like a plan.
Skerik’s Orchestra at Large took shape last year on Sunday with an amazing line-up of musicians. Beyond Skerik’s mind-blowing talent on saxophone, his ability to arrange and produce such an event, in the vein of his Syncopated Taint band, is second to none. For that reason alone, it would be worth seeing what he had “thrown together.”
Here was the initial line-up, as I looked from left to right: Skerik, PeeWee Ellis, Pretty Purdie, Roosevelt Collier, Brandon ‘Taz’ Niederauer, Oteil Burbridge, Grant Green, Jr., Jennifer Hartswick, Farnell Newton, Carly Meyers and Khris Royal.
Immediately, the band launched into “Watermelon Man,” not Herbie’s original version but the one from Headhunters, and that led into “The Chicken,” a jam favorite if ever there was one. PeeWee, Newton, Taz and Roosevelt all took solos. Then Hartswick stepped up to the mic (mike?) to blast Stevie’s “Higher Ground,” with Roosevelt, Taz, Carly, Khris, Nicholas Payton (yep, he’d hurried from over from the amphitheater), and Roosevelt again taking a turn.
Next up was a stomp through Billy Preston’s “Will It Go ‘Round in Circles?” I don’t remember when George Porter, Jr., had taken over on bass, but Eric Vogel was bass-ifying things as well. Taz got a great solo on this one, and Khris evoked Eddie Harris with his electrified alto sax. Corey Fonville, Payton’s drummer, had also slipped into the other drum kit. One of the greatest aspects of the entire event was watching Fonville and Purdie looking at each other, having a blast. Purdie is such a great showman has that elan, that flair.
It might have been at this point that I said to Rev. Hugh and Jenifer: “Past, present and future.” I would like to amend that remark. There is nothing – I REPEAT – nothing past about Ellis, Purdie, Porter, Payton and Green. Every one of these cats still has it. Every bit of it. But we were certainly seeing three distinct musical generations on stage. Carly Meyers, at the ancient age of 22, is a true revelation. She was the trombone queen for the day. And volumes will be written about Taz, the 11-year-old guitar whiz. Kudos to Paul Levine and crew for having all these musicians at Bear Creek and for assembling them for the Orchestra at Large. Levine was stage left beaming. We saw you!
Perhaps you’ve seen a band twist one song into another. I remember seeing the Col. with Panic play “Smokestack Lightning” but sing “Spoonful” (OK, they are practically the same song, but…). In this case, with Payton singing, the band played Sly’s “If You Want Me to Stay,” except that he sang the “Family Affair” lyrics. And it worked! Grant, Payton (trumpet), Carly, Roosevelt, and Payton (keyboards) all soloed, and then the horns took a marvelous unison romp. The set closed with a terse take on Herbie’s “Chameleon” (time constraints, you know). Skerik took a couple of great rounds on his tenor during the show, but more often he seemed content to direct and enjoy his creation.
I walked past the amphitheater, where St. Paul and the Broken Bones were holding services. It sounded good, but I was full. My sponge was completely saturated. Skerik’s and his crew had done me in. Time to head home.
Many thanks once again to my Short-Cut Camp family for tolerating me. Great to be with Scrog, Brinna, Meredith, Malcolm, DeAnna, Rob, and everyone else!
Thank you once again, Paul Levine and crew. I LOVE BEAR CREEK.