8th Annual “Bear’s Picnic”
August 1-4 Lycoming County Fairgrounds
by Eddie Zuckerman Having gone to the “Gathering of the Vibes” festival the week before, I needed another festival like a hole in my head. Admittedly, for a short while, I considered passing on this year’s Bear’s Picnic, especially since the lineup did not include any former Grateful Dead members as it did last year (Mickey Hart Band & BK3), but 1.) I had such a good time at the GotV that I wanted more. And 2.) I was thinking like an idiot! You see, the Bear’s Picnic is a “must attend” festival!! I already knew this, but somehow I got into a whiney mode and my lazy side showed… The reality is that for an old Deadhead like me, the Bear’s Picnic is such a perfectly run festival, and has such a great vibe, that I just can’t pass it up. Yes, it may not have the biggest drawing national touring acts, but if you can look past that, this festival is absolutely hemorrhaging with excellent music. I attended the prior 2012 Bear’s Picnic when it was at Lincoln Park, Laurelton PA, which is where I fell in love with this and realized that it’s about as close to “festival perfection” as can be! So on Monday, I made the final decision to attend. This year’s edition (the 8th Bear’s Picnic) was moved to the Lycoming County Fairgrounds, in Hughesville PA. Usually, when any festival lands in a new location, there’s inevitably start-up issues discovered along the way, so I was a little apprehensive going in. But if there were issues, they didn’t seem apparent to the festival-goers: The new venue was perfect! There was still plenty of room for the attendees, and obviously plenty of room for thousands more. Flat, level grounds with paved paths here and there. The concert grounds were well laid out with a main stage being a permanent steel structure, a second stage just to the right of it (stage under a large 20 x 40 white party canopy). The late night sets were in a long block building that resembled an airplane hanger. . There was also plenty of vending on the concert field (perhaps too much vending for the size crowd that materialized), featuring a wide variety of foods and all of the other usual vendors, and a good helping of some interesting artists too. The campgrounds had electric/water support for RV’s. For everyone else: Flush toilets, 50 cent coin operated shower facilities. And my favorite part, the security was not overbearing in any way. Yes, there was security, but it was not from local police officers, it was from the festival’s own peace patrol team. No ridiculous vehicle searches. No checkpoints or inner security perimeters with bag searches forcing you to pound beers. Yes, you could even roll a cooler onto the concert field if you chose to. This is not to say that security was lax… any problems were immediately taken care of by the golf cart guys (a tank or two confiscated, fireworks confiscated, etc). There was an occasional random wristband check here and there. So things were pretty free and easy, which generally adds to the perfect music festival vibe. Prior Bear’s Picnics started Friday. This was the first time this festival started on Thursday, shoehorning in more even opportunity for music. I drove out solo with my truck (instead of my car), which allowed me to support myself in style. My decision helped along by still being festival-ready from the GotV festival, where my equipment supported a small group… I left Denville, NJ at 3pm, had a straight run right down Rt 80, and arrived Thursday about 6:30pm. The wrist banding/check in process went relatively smoothly. I was parked with my camp set up just in time to say my hello’s to friends, cram a sandwich down, and head over to the main stage to see the opening act/headliner; Dark Star Orchestra, a perfectly fitting statement to open up a festival for Deadheads, and a very appropriate choice for Jerry Garcia’s Birthday! I walked right into the middle of a big fat juicy Dark Star, which made me even feel more “at home”. The show was 4/23/69, The Ark, Boston MA, and it was a perfect choice of a show for this event. Old School Grateful Dead played absolutely Balls Out. Jeff Mattson was the first of many “Mind Blowing guitarist(s) which I could watch all day”. MBGICWAD…you’ll see that acronym again. Check out some video of the Mickey Hart Band performing at the 2012 Bear’s Picnic in the attached video section. At the campsite, once again, I was welcomed into the inner circles of the “Lucky Dawgz” Crew. A collection of more mature experienced festival veterans who pool their resources and camp together in a special section set aside for their growing ranks. Like 40+ people strong, with a central large canopy arrangement that becomes a makeshift living room for jam sessions and the collective kitchen, all coordinated by Karen/JP, who are just the coolest peeps. As it turned out, several of my other friends were camped practically right next to the Lucky Dawgz zone, so I was pretty much conveniently surrounded by people I know. It’s really an honor to be associated with the Lucky Dawgz. These are no-foolin’ around tour heads that’ve been around the block a time or 300. As I went from camp to camp meeting some of the LD folks, I was struck at how many creative solutions to “life on the road” issues there were. From how to get a few extra hours of tent sleep in full-on sun, to some of the small accessories that make a camp site more organized. Usually I’m the only guy around who has my sh*t together, but here, almost everyone did. The Thursday late night sets included “The Kind Buds” and the “Still Hand String Band”. I managed to see a majority of the Kind Buds Set. I had heard of the Kind Buds about a thousand times, and finally had a chance to dig in and see their set. They are a very pleasant guitar duo, with nice vocal harmonies. I just didn’t have it in me to go past 2am, so I listened to the “Still Hand String Band” from my tent. Friday lineup kicked off with “Stackabones” Noon Set. My good friend Jeff Rabin ended up being their lead guitarist and it was a lot of fun seeing Jeff finally play at his first real music festival, on his birthday no less. Happy B’day Jeff. Highlight was “New Speedway Boogie”, although other tunes (I don’t know the names of) were fun too. The Stackabones crew was camped right next door to us, so I got to hang with all of the members too. Fun bunch, I hope to see them again. Sometime during the day, I met the festival organizer, a gentleman nicknamed PB, short for “Pappa Bear”. He’s a real nice guy. My hat’s off to him and his team for putting on such an amazing event, year after year. The bad news is that the draw was far lower than expected. At that time, 700 paid attendees were on the ground, but another 500 or so more needed to reach break-even point. I didn’t hear the final status, but not having noticed many more attendees after that, my suspicions are that they took a serious financial thrashing on this event. I’m not sure if it was because the there were other Deadhead festivals in the region, or the fact that no GD members were on the bill, or maybe because it was too soon on the heels of the GotV, but the end result was a lighter than expected turn out. Anyway, I hope the festival can weather this storm because it’s too special of an event. During that discussion, he mentioned that he was well supported by the festival grounds personnel who really worked hard for the success of the event. It sounded like the local law enforcement was totally “hands off” unless absolutely necessary. He also mentioned that one pack of idiots were setting off fireworks (one of which aimed right at him!). It’s really a shame how the stupid acts of a minority of people has such potential to have a dramatic impact… In this case, the festival grounds bordered a residential area, so Fireworks at 1am can’t possibly be welcome. Fortunately everything was confiscated and the problem was circumvented. But C’mon folks, this is a special event…let’s work towards protecting it, not screwing it up. The fest schedule was PACKED with music. 16.5 hours of nonstop music each day. So the clear advantage is tons of music. The disadvantage is that you just can’t see all of it. Meal breaks, sleep breaks, socializing…all get in the way. So you have to “work” the schedule to try to get the most out of it. I did the best I could, but still missed bands. No disrespect meant though. I missed “The Bullbuckers”, and caught some of “The Fall Risk featuring Jeff Pehrson of Furthur” before scampering back to the campsite for lunch. I enjoyed what I heard of Jeff’s outfit, fairly straightforward mellow, pleasant Americana rock music…with of course, Jeff’s great vocals. In fact, “Americana Music” seemed to be the theme of the day. Next up was the “John Kadlecik Band”, which I was sure to catch every possible second of. John Kadlecik is the “Jerry” for Furthur and Phil Lesh & Friends. Having seen John play at 2 recent Furthur shows, and 2 recent Phil & Friends shows within the last few weeks, I’m pretty familiar with John’s abilities. John of course, is another Mind Blowing Guitarist I can Watch All day. MBGICWAD. Seriously, that guy never ceases to melt my mind with his twisted phrasings. This band also featured a female vocalist, Hand percussionist, a Drummer, Bass and Keys. I know John’s spent ¾ of his life doing the Jerry thing, but there’s absolutely no shortage of guitar playing talent there and it was kind of cool to see John outside of his specific “Jerry” roles. The John K band was interesting because if forced John into a completely different musical setting. Although there were certainly Jerry/GD tunes in the mix, and Dead influences at every turn, him and his band still managed to present a fresh take on things. I heard all sorts of influences here and there, to include gospel, Beatles, Dylan, even a little rap… John seemed to open up a little more on the classic Dead tunes though, with just a little extra kick to his solos. I didn’t keep a set list at all though, but here are the ones I knew: Shakedown Street w/ some cool scat vocals, A particularly heart wrenching “So Many Roads”, “That’s what love will make you do”. One tune sounded a little “Touch of grey”-ish. Another tune sounded like “Unbroken Chain” meets Phish. “Citizen Band Radio” played short “tweener” sets both before and after the John K band. Due to a lunch break, I missed opportunity #1, so I made it a point to be at the second stage for opportunity #2. Unfortunately, the first notes were so loud that we immediately retreated to the vendor’s loop to protect our ears. So with that went any and all opportunity to seriously review their set. But it was a nice backdrop for a stroll around the festival grounds, and a good opportunity to head back to the campsite for refreshments in preparation for the evening’s headliner, “New Riders of the Purple Sage.” NRPS came out just after sunset. Mark Karan (MBGICWAD), the lead guitarist for “Ratdog” was a member of the band. Mookie Siegel and Buddy Cage are also on stage. Early in the set, John Kadlecik sat in for a couple of songs. The NRPS sets completely pushed the day’s music further into the Americana theme. Some highlights: “Lo & Behold”, A Dr John Style “Iko Iko”, “Ripple”, “Willie & the Hand Jive”, “Garden of Eden”, and a handful of their other classic hits. Just really fun to see, and all around ass kicking, except with only one notable exception: Towards the end of the show, Dave Nelson took a guitar solo that dropped my jaw, but not in a good way. We all looked at each other completely aghast! Was that a solo or an accident? LOL. Sorry Dave, but no worries, I loved the set anyway and I still love and respect your music. We headed back to the campsite, and lo and behold a pickup jam session was in the next campsite over. Mark Diomede of Juggling Suns was camped right next to me, and he had 4 other guys in the midst of an acoustic jam, playing under a singular battery operated flashlight. One of which was a stand-up acoustic bass. Mark of course is another MBGICWAD. It was a really sweet moment of the festival, and one of my favorite parts about this festival: Wherever you go, there’s live music being played! If not from the main stages, it’s in the campsites. This is a festival for total music heads. Pickup jam sessions everywhere!!! Some of those sessions are clearly “pro”, but there were plenty of amateur sessions where anybody with half an ounce of musicality was welcome. Even I played the Djembe at an earlier campsite jam session (since there wasn’t anybody else stepping up to the plate, all apologies for my lame drumming LOL!) After a couple of refreshments, the third stage late night sets came to life. The third stage only being a few hundred feet from my campsite, in a long warehouse style building. So we went in and saw “Stir Fried”. Surprisingly, Mookie Siegel, Mark Karan, and Buddy Cage were also part of this band’s lineup as well. I was actually looking forward to seeing the Standard lineup of Stir-Fried because I had heard so much about them, but with the additional members really fired this band up quite a bit. A particularly epic “Don’t Let go” stood out, but I can’t recall the other tunes. My damned pen ran out of ink, so much for my note taking. Stir Fried’s amazing set was yet another musical highlight of the fest for me. There was a medical emergency late that night, which had all sorts of ugly rumors spreading. But fortunately, the girl was quickly attended to by EMS, and apparently survived. Saturday’s bill opened up with the Juggling Suns, led by Mark Diomede. Enjoyable set, featuring some JS classics, as well as a “Queen Jane’s approximately” and a “Dear Prudence”. I stuck around for about 1:15 of their 1:30 set, as I had another project…. The big stir fry I had been talking up all weekend! You see, I wanted to make some sort of large group food for the Lucky Dawgz at some point in the weekend. And I decided to bring my industrial sized Wok and all of the fixin’s for a massive stir fry for lunch. I prepped out all of it at home before I left, so all I had to do was (find the right time to pull it off and) cook it onsite. I made basically one huge batch of chicken fried rice for about 35 people. So for about an hour, I had quite the scene at the back of my truck. Everybody loved it. Fun stuff! But the downside was that I missed “MiZ”. I got all cleaned up and was at the foot of the stage without a minute to spare, to see “Mark Karan’s Buds”, which again featured Mookie Siegel on Keys and also Klyph Black and Joe Chirco who were former members of the Zen Tricksters. Highlights were “Friend of the Devil”, “into the Mystic”, “Easy Wind”, “Tom Thumbs Blues”, “Good Morning lil Schoolgirl”, “Deal”, E; “New Speedway Boogie”. Mark Karan and Mookie Siegel came loaded for Bear at this festival. They came to this fest ready to F*ckin’ play, as noted by the sheer number of bands they played with. Somebody said they won the “Warren Haynes Festival Whore award”! LOL. By then, my ass was a little kicked, and I opted out of David Gans’ set. I needed to lay down and try to catch a quick nap, to set myself up for the rest of the evening. I think I got a great big 10 minutes of half-snoozing in the patch of shade between two trucks, but it was enough to get me thru the rest of the evening. Next up was “George Porter and the Running Pardners”. Fun stuff. Highlights were “Eyes of the World”, “Lovelight”…all else I spaced on. But I very much liked their set, and enjoyed the funky energy. I loved the drummer. Another musical highlight of the festival for me was “The Goosepimp Orchestra”. Having never heard of them before, I didn’t know what to expect. But a camper near me told me not to miss them, and the recommendation turned out to be a good one. This was a young band, overflowing with energy, featuring a horn section, synthesizers, and drums/bass. The sound was fresh, because they were the first ones in the festival to have something other than guitars/bass/drums. They also seemed to cross genres with every song. Trance, Gospel, Progressive rock, Spacey… I wouldn’t hesitate to see them again. The headliner came out next: “The Wailers”, covering the music of Bob Marley, with messages of peace, love. They performed all of their classic hits, accompanied with as much audience participation as can be mustered. They kicked down a very uplifting, high energy set….with a killer laser light show, projected onto gusts of steam. (The steam generator was 3 feet behind us, so every so often, we’d hear a hiss, and the smoke would emerge from under me…I’m sure more than one person though the smoke was flying out of my ass, LOL.). Great drummer…. Minor observation: The keyboardist pulled many horn section sounds out of his bank of synths, but I have to admit, after following the real horn section of Goosepimp Orchestra, the manufactured horns sounded a little cheesy. But still, I enjoyed their set. Unfortunately, the days collective schedule delays and the hard stop of Midnight abridged their set by about an hour. The late night indoor sets included “Viral Sound” and “Rumpke Mt Boys”. I put in about a half an hour at Viral Sound, but that was it. As much as I liked them, I had no choice but to crash. Even with the nearby late night set going full blast, I managed to get a couple of solid sleep hours in, but was rudely awoken by my neighbor who had been up all night. He and his spun friends decided to have an acoustic jam session at 6am-8am, right next to my tent. I was none too pleased about that, but coming out on my front porch to “scream and yell at the damned kids” didn’t seem like the right approach at a music festival. LOL. I just tried to shake it off. He finally crashed at 8am, just when everyone else was waking up. I will admit to having “get even” thoughts though. 😉 Well, Sunday came, and there was a full day of music on the bill. But my Sunday modus operandi at festivals is to get out of there early in the day. I morph into a corporate worker during the week, and with a 3 hour ride, gear cleanup, and a few hours to stare at the walls and drool on my keyboard, I just really don’t do Sundays. With the second of two quality music festivals under my belt, I very seriously mined my diamonds out of rock and roll, and was more than satisfied. Not to mention, ongoing festival sleep deprivation was now really catching up to me. So I packed up, got in a ready state, caught a few minutes of “Lumpy Gravy”, said my goodbyes to the Lucky Dawgz and all the new friends I made…and got on my way. I’m really disappointed to have missed Cabinet though. An hour into my ride, I had to pull over into a rest top for a 10 minute snooze, that’s how exhausted I was. I got home around 4pm, was done with my cleanup by about 6pm…and was asleep shortly after that. Note to self; Bring more toys! I really need a knock around Mt. bike for festivals… I also need to bring my Djembes next time. In closing, I just have to repeat how much I love the Bear’s Picnic, and how much I appreciate the work that the promoters have done here! I highly recommend this fest for music lovers, and for festival goers who can appreciate such an intimate chill scene with a great vibe. See you next year, and thanks for a job well done. Are the Seriously Super Early Bird tickets available yet?? If so, mark me down! by Eddie S Zuckerman Check out some video of the Mickey Hart Band performing at the 2012 Bear’s Picnic in the attached video section.