It's late, sometime after 2 a.m., and we're stumbling along a dirt path that snakes through the woods of Spirit of Suwannee Music Park and ends at our campsite. The sounds of a high octane funk jam fade as we travel further from the stage, flickering campfires dot the terrain, some temporarily abandoned, some encircled by shadowy clusters of people chattering and laughing and hunched over trying to get warm in the 30-degree night air, and a particularly noisy group of revelers weave and sway in front of us, howling lyrics to a Sly and the Family Stone song ("We can make it if we tryyyyyy!") before disappearing toward their final destination and leaving us smiling behind them.
These small but dear memories of randomness are part of what draws me back to Bear Creek Music & Arts Festival every year, as does Suwannee's lovely surroundings, the spectacular weather that makes camping in Florida pleasant (if rather chilly), the blithe laid-back headspace of the fest attendees, and, most obviously, the high quality music presented on the park's handful of stages.
The sixth annual Bear Creek Fest is right around the corner, which means I've already started putting aside gear I want to take, figuring out just who is going with my husband and I on this year's adventure, and formulating a plan of attack to secure a good campsite and have it set up before Umphrey's McGee takes the stage at 7 p.m. on Friday night. For those who haven't already purchased your ticket or who're still on the fence, I recommend taking the plunge, stat, as this year's event promises to be as fantastic as usual, with more than than 50 artists scheduled to perform, many of them (Umphrey's included) playing multiple sets throughout the weekend. Among the highlights are Austin-based Tampa faves, Bright Light Social Hour; soul, funk and R&B artists repped by labels Daptone Gold (Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, Budos Band, Charles Bradley and others) and Royal Family Records (Lettuce, Soulive and others), and instrumental electro-jam outfit Lotus. Also making guest musical appearances at various unnamed stages throughout the weekend are the "Artists at Large," and this year's roster includes vocalist/trumpeter/trombone player Jen Hartswick (Trey Anastasio Band); keys, B3 and Rhodes maestro Robert Walter; NOLA bassist George Porter Jr.; and beats-technician Billy Martin (of Medeski Martin and Wood). [More info & video preview after the jump.]
Beyond the music, there's a Saturday disc golf tournament on the park's 18-hole course with Bear Creek veteran/one man band Zach Deputy (proceeds from the $30 entry fee support Love INC's efforts to help flood victims of Tropical Storm Debby); costume parties (Friday's theme is "Party Animal" while Saturday's is "Warm and Fuzzy"); a huge range of vendors hawking anything from vegan dinners to hand-knit beanies to carved wood boxes to cafe lattes; and yoga. [Bear Creek Poster Contest winner Christian Jaxtheimer's above.]
Bear Creek Music & Arts Festival takes place Nov. 8-11. Three-day passes (Fri.-Sun., includes camping, taxes and fees) are available for $165 through November 3 ($175 through Nov. 7, $185 at the gate, and $50 extra for entry into the Thursday kick-off; kids 12 and younger enter for free. VIP packages are also available. Visit the website for full details, and check out the video below to get a feel for what Bear Creek is all about and see what you've been missing all these years.