Words by Scott T. Horowitz
Photos by Phil Sunkel

Dancing disciples of funk, soul, and electronic music around the world descend each November upon The Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, FLA. Boasting multiple stages (including a natural amphitheater amidst trees dripping Spanish moss), a silent disco, amazing food and craft vendors, acres of natural beauty, campfires, and an atmosphere of childlike wonder, Bear Creek Music Festival is the United States’ preeminent camping festival.

Attending Bear Creek is like surfing an ocean of metaphysical energy. People drop their roles and become their souls. The body becomes the board on waves cresting with band names. Some festivalgoers map out when and where they’ll be, while others go with the flow knowing every wave on every stage is worth catching.
Thursday night showcased Bear Creek veteran Zach Deputy, whose endless loops and unparalleled vocals heated up the chilly amphitheater beforePerpetual Groove continued to stoke the flame.
Friday had the first full day of music from noon until 3 a.m. Jamband stalwarts Umphrey’s McGee’s two sets Friday featured second set covers like the Allman Brothers’ “Jessica” and Van Halen’s “Hot For Teacher”. Umphrey’s weaved many different soundscapes including spaced-out reggae jams, precise heavy metal changes, and electronic/house/techno as thousands grooved to the all-night dance-a-thon. The Purple Hat Stage transformed into the “Daptone Super Soul Revue” featuring bands from Brooklyn, NY’s Daptone Records, home to a recording studio housing only vintage gear. Charles Bradley, AKA “The Screaming Eagle of Soul,” delivered uplifting and deep songs of loss and love. After changing into a rhinestoned red jumpsuit and sparkly shoes, the youthful 64-year-old sang his own goosebumps-invoking version of Neil Young’s classic “Heart of Gold.”

Following Bradley was a world-class performance from Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings. Invoking the energy of James Brown and the voice of Aretha Franklin, Sharon Jones absolutely throws down. Her band provides sonic landscapes for her to strut her stuff and sing life’s simple truths. Her eternally childlike spirit is evident whether bringing people from the crowd onstage or providing a time-traveling dance lesson.

Saturday and Sunday were highlighted by New Orleans’ and New York’s best funk bands: Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk and Lettuce. Dumpsta suffered sound problems to start their Saturday set but made up for it Sunday with unrelenting waves of grooves and sing-a-longs fortified by two onstage bassists, making for a slaptastic good time. Lettuce’s Saturday night performance was an absolute score. Barrels of grooves rolled over thousands of funkateers dressed in their flyest gear. If you ever need a soundtrack to make an entrance by, Lettuce is your band. Nigel Hall’s vocals augmented Lettuce’s performances, delivering a triumphant cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up,” reminding us: “Just move on up for peace you will find / Into the steeple of beautiful people / Where there’s only one kind.”
Attending something like Bear Creek can show us that music is at the forefront of the new state of being, helping us let go of competition and celebrate that which causes the appearance of separateness. Like different waves, different bands carry us toward the same ocean of present moment awareness. As we learn to embrace all variations of heartfelt intentions, pervading oneness resonates.