Bear Creek: Pre-Party Wed. & Thurs.

Words & Photos By Amy Castaldo & Joe Davidson

Wednesday 11.10.10 & Thursday 11.11.10

My anticipation grew as we packed the car and headed up for Suwannee. I’ve been attending shows at the park for seven years and I have never been as excited as I was for Bear Creek 2010. We made it to the front gate just after the sun set, got our credentials, and made our way in. After scoping out the Music Hall we decided to go set-up camp before the music started.

Once we were set-up we walked up to the music hall in anticipation for the opening set from Aquaphonics. I was very excited to see them on the bill. They have been working very hard the last couple years to make a name for themselves and have been steadily moving forward. The band seemed a little tense during the first couple songs, but as more and more people filed in they let go and threw down a great set.

The combination of Alan on keys, Jessiah on drums and Jim on bass is excellent. They all work perfectly in unison to create a funky ass backbone for Steve to step up and play lead parts and solos on his guitar. Towards the end of the set I could tell that these guys were really having fun on stage; they were beaming. I hope to see this band on more festival line ups in the future. No matter what musical style you are into, they will get you caught in their groove.

Following Aquaphonics was Honey Island Swamp Band. Paul Levine, Bear Creek Promoter, stepped on stage to introduce the band. He took a few minutes to tell the crowd that this festival has deep roots in the New Orleans music scene and introduced them as the first band of the weekend from the great city.

I enjoyed the band but the sound was way too loud to the point where it wasn’t enjoyable. We wandered outside, listening until the next band started.

The next set was from a group named Zoogma. I had never heard of them before and didn’t know what to expect. Wow! These guys are intense. Most of the songs started off slow and ambient and built up to amazing breakdowns. Some songs were a constant climax building upon itself. The high point of the set was when they were joined by a friend playing saxophone, it worked perfectly with the sound they have.

I really don’t have a clue as to how I would describe the band in terms on genre, but electronic is the first thing that comes to mind. In addition to the arsenal of keyboards and synthesizers, the group also creates live jams with a drummer, bassist, and guitarist. This act is incredible.

The final set of the Wednesday night pre party was by The Heavy Pets. I was really impressed with the two guitar players. They were both very solid, especially in the fact that they weren’t cluttering up the songs, but working together perfectly. They got the crowd going early with a fast jam led by the guitars.

We watched a couple more songs and took off for camp. I wanted to watch the rest of the set but my legs had other plans and I knew I would see them the next day. We made our way back to camp and crashed.

Thursday greeted me with a sharp cold. I ran out and threw some logs on the fire and thawed out. I made some breakfast and hung out with all my friends we were camping with. Amy and I walked around the campground, checking out vendors and looking for familiar faces when we stumbled on the campground stage. I was so happy to see this, a stage right in the heart of the camping area, just past the lake. In addition to the stage, there was a mini-vendor row set-up alongside of the stage which gave a sense of just how big this festival is. We walked back to the main venue area and found a shady spot to sit down until the first set of the day: Lubriphonic.

Lubriphonic was the first set held in the Purple Hat Tent. At first I was a little thrown off as to why they would set up such a grand shelter until the frigid cold of the nights set in. The tent was an oasis of warmth throughout the weekend; a true blessing. Lubriphonic is a Chicago-based band with a strong blues and funk influence.

When I walked in the bass player was in the middle of a ridiculous solo, very impressive. The rest of the band took a turn with a solo and all went back to their funky melody. I stayed for a few more songs and headed up to camp.

I walked back to the tent to see one of my favorite acts setting up, Toubab Krewe. TBK creates a blend of traditional West-African music and good old fashioned rock. There is no need for lyrics: everything that needs to be said is done so through their ability to move people. The result is a sound that allows you to lose yourself in the rhythm. The set was incredible. I was running back and forth in the photo pit trying to capture it all.

After getting some shots I stood at the back of the tent and watched the crowd’s reaction, one of my favorite aspects of live music. With a fast paced tempo throughout the set, the crowd was jumping and dancing nonstop, it made me tired just observing.

We headed on back to camp to cook up some dinner and relax for a bit. After our brief rest we headed up to the Music Hall Stage to see John Brown’s Body. During the walk up I could feel the vibe growing stronger and stronger. Every hour that passed brought in more people screaming from their cars in the excitement of finally being there, and more smiling faces around the venue. We caught the last few songs of Zoogma while John Brown’s Body was setting up. Once again they came with a powerful sound leaving nothing behind.

I could immediately feel the soul of John Brown’s Body lead man Elliot Martin when he took the stage. He had a great band backing him that allowed him to roam around the stage pouring his heart out.

It was a breath of fresh air to me, witnessing true soul rather than just stage presence. We stayed for a few songs and made our way over to the tent to see the first set from Umphrey’s McGee.

I could feel the crowd’s excitement building up as I walked through the entrance of the tent. I walked up to the photo pit and got myself ready. The tent featured DJ sets in-between band sets, which is good for the atmosphere, but bad when you have to stand next to a stack of speakers taller than you blasting bass that even earplugs can’t protect against. Umphrey’s started the set fast with a powerful guitar-driven intro song and continued strong.

After our three song limit in the photo pit we headed for camp to sit next to the fire. UM had a one hour set, a break, and another set. I planned on going back for the second set but woke up after it had already started, both of us passed out next to the fire. I tried to get the motivation but couldn’t gather it. I decided to stay at camp because I could hear the stage just fine. After a song break and the roar of the crowd settling down I heard the intro to “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.” It sounded just like the recording so I figured someone was playing it in the camp area. Again and again it swept through and I finally realized that it was coming from the stage. The rest of the band kicked in and it sounded flawless. Every tone, every transition, everything. Amazing. After listening for a while we headed into the tent to call it a night. I laid there in awe and exhausted and thought to myself: the show doesn’t even start until tomorrow.


  1. Easily the best fest this year, and damn, what a "pre-party." Next year is already looking be a fantastic year as well. Medeski, Martin and Wood. Scofield and Peity Street. Lettuce. KDTU. Man oh man...


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