For me, music festivals are marathons. I try to cram as much music into each day as possible. It means I flit back and forth from stage to stage to stage, trying to maximize my experience. I’m not recommending it, just explaining it.
Every year for me at Bear Creek, the first band I heard truly set the tone for the rest of the weekend. It was true about Shak Nasti, the Heavy Pets, London Souls and Savi Fernandez Band (last year). This year was no different. I got in and was setting up camp within earshot of the Amphitheatre, then rushing down to see Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes wailing away. Best set I have ever seen from them, highlighted by an amazing “Hey, Little Mama;” Johnny explained that those were all the words of the song! I may have heard music I liked better during the weekend, but I heard nothing delivered more powerfully.
The Malah, a live-electronic trio, filled the afternoon air with its brand of jamtronica. I have never heard them sound better. It was a nice brief respite before the insanity that would follow the remainder of the day.
I have always enjoyed the Pimps of Joytime, but this set as daylight faded away was positively deluxe. They were simply on fire and full of funk. I was apparently in the right place!
Now decisions had to be made, and by comparison Thursday was easy, given the madness of the schedule for Friday and Saturday. But I knew I wanted to check out Ron Haynes and the Game-changers in the Music Hall. I might not have gone, but I saw, thanks to the BC bios, that Haynes formerly played trumpet in one of my favorite bands – Liquid Soul. Great decision! His hard-hitting band featured trumpet, saxophone and trombone up front, and the entire band delivered big-time. Sounds ran the gamut from “Salt Peanuts”-inspired bop and Jazz Messenger precision to nasty P-Funk-style throw-downs.
From there, I ambled back to the porch stage to see Toubab Krewe, always a favorite of mine, and they too played an inspiring set of their unique blend of Mali music melded with jam and percussion and numerous other influences. It was time to catch my breath just a bit, and good thing, too, because I could not have envisioned the massiveness of the next five plus hours to come.
It turns out that I was sitting at dinner with the New Mastersounds, although I did not figure it out right away (OK, let’s see: four guys with Brit accents. Hmmm…). At one point, keyboard player Joe Tatton came back and announced to his mates, “I’ve been over at the Motet table stealing ideas!” (More on New Mastersounds coming.)
So I got up, walked over, and said, “Is this the Motet table?” They smiled and said yes. I explained that I had been trying unsuccessfully to see them for nine years, ever since I heard “Music for Life,” my 2004 album of the year. They were great, and Joey Porter (I think that was Tele-Porter – he was EVERYWHERE as an artist at large) introduced himself. I mentioned I had seen him with Juno What? at BC a few years back.
It was worth the wait. They were simply superb. It was an even funkier set than I had anticipated, driven by Jans Inger’s great vocals. As a matter of fact, their Friday set is downloading as I am writing this!! Where could this go from here?
Back to the Porch Stage for Kung Fu, of course. I had seen Kung Fu several times and always liked them, but they played Tampa in September, and we were completely destroyed by their knockout performance then. How would this set compare? They opened with a tune so strong, so amazing, that I could not imagine how they would follow it, but follow it they did. Every time I would try to focus on one member of the band, the other four were raging so hard that I just had to let the music carry me away.
Oh, those poor boys from the New Mastersounds. How were they EVER going to take the stage after Kung Fu? Masterfully, it turns out. You may have had the experience where you have SEEN a band, but you’ve never really HEARD them before. That would be me and tNMs. They were absolutely, positively amazing. The sound of funky jazz and jazzy funk from the quartet was thrilling, and I was drawn most to Eddie Roberts’ work on guitar. But forget that for a minute. If there was a contest for the coolest cat at Bear Creek, everyone would be competing for second place. Eddie Roberts wins hand down. His appearance – straight out of the late Sixties – and his banter make him the champ. His guitar work reminds me of Grant Green and Phil Upchurch and other jazz greats.
So at this point, I am 8 for 8: eight A-quality performances. I mention to nobody in particular that, if I had to leave right now, I’d already got my money’s worth. So I headed back to the Music Hall to see some guy named Space Capone, or maybe that was the name of the band? All I remember seeing from his bio was that he does some singing falsetto. I remembered a late-night Music Hall experience two years ago, escaping the cold to see a group called Rubblebucket. That was a jaw-dropping performance, so unexpected and so delightful. So I had my hopes up.
OMG. OMG. OMG. Some of you know I am a huge disco funk fan. I love Los Amigos Invisibles and Tortured Soul and that sort of gleeful approach. Space Capone was all that and more. In fact, I would say that, for me (and this is all for me in my subjective little world), I enjoyed both Space Capone sets (I saw them again the next day) as much as anything I saw the entire festival.
Space Capone is Aaron Winters’ band, and I’d nominate him as cool cat number 2. He can deliver that amazing falsetto; on record it sounds similar to Michael Jackson, but not so much in concert, but he can also throw down heavy Rick James funk and everything in between. His band is astounding, notably the guitar player. Disco funk is usually a black-and-white issue. You either love it, or not. I loved this set, a perfect cap to a perfect day.
And three days left! Yikes!