Over the past nine years, the Bear Creek Music Festival has become a destination event for funk fans looking to escape into the wilderness of Florida for a rollicking good time. Bear Creek’s organizers decided this year to move the festival to New Orleans and rebrand the event “Bear Creek Bayou” after an unfortunate cancellation in 2015. Despite a built-in funk fanbase in the Crescent City and a weekend of perfect weather, the bold decision to move the festival from a beloved Florida campground to the industrial setting of Mardi Gras World may have been ill-advised.
Both days of the festival featured a top-notch lineup that read like a rundown of the best late night Jazz Fest shows. Legends like The Meters and George Clinton were well represented, as well as new-school funk titans Lettuce and epic weirdo rockers The Flaming Lips. But steep ticket prices ($100 for a single day), excessive security checks, and a lack of green spaces possibly led to the extremely low turn out.
Regardless of the light attendance, every band laid down impressive sets and made sure the party people got their money’s worth. Here are our highlights from one funky weekend on the river.
The Budos Band
The Budos Band took the stage just after sundown on Friday and blasted off with their distinctively dark sound, blending the horn-driven grooves of West Africa with the heavy riffs of Black Sabbath. The band pummeled their way through an hour-long set that drew primarily from their excellent 2014 album Burnt Offering with the band clearly having a great time. Standing out as one of the only non-funk bands at the fest, The Budos Band carved out a singular sound that staked a claim for best set of the weekend.
Foundation of Funk
This supergroup, anchored by the “foundation” of George Porter Jr. and Zigaboo Modeliste, played both days of the fest and made it clear that most of the bands on the bill would not exist without their contributions to New Orleans funk. The Meters rhythm section sounded as tight as ever as they dug into their extensive catalog and stretched out songs into pure improvisation. The band was rounded out by guitarist Eddie Roberts from The New Mastersounds and jazz giant John Medeski on keys. At a festival known for its special moments and one-off collaborations, seeing four masters of their craft tear through some of the best songs in New Orleans history was truly a special moment.
Nigel Hall Band
Nigel Hall stayed busy throughout the weekend, playing two sets with his brothers in Lettuce and leading his own band through a blistering set early Saturday afternoon. Since moving to New Orleans two years ago, Hall has made a name for himself with reliably soulful shows and an excellent debut album. Hall always surrounds himself with a rotating cast of the city’s best players, and his set at Bear Creek Bayou featured heavy hitters Khris Royal on sax and Adam Smirnoff on guitar. Hall seems thrilled to call NOLA home and local music fans are certainly happy to have him.