Bear’s Picnic

Sunsational Campground Millmont, PA

August 4 – 7 2016

by Jeff Rabin of Stackabones

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The 11th edition of A Bear’s Picnic was held at Sunsational Campgrounds in Millmont, PA the weekend of August 4 through 7. I was there Friday night through Sunday morning. The place was already packed by the time I arrived. The emphasis at past Bear’s Picnics had been on original music, but this year most of the music heard was cover tunes, predominantly from the Grateful Dead Family Songbook. With the perfect weather, large, friendly crowd and well-run facilities, it was a little slice of Dead tour heaven. The music was audible throughout the campground, which also featured a pool and beautiful creekside camping.


Willie Jack and the Northern Light are regulars at Bear’s, and this year played a Dead-heavy set that featured the vocals and percussion of the very talented Camille Who? They played “Unbroken Chain” and “St. Stephen >> The Eleven”, notoriously difficult tunes seemingly played with ease. Moonlicker then played the first of their two intermezzo sets, opening with a bluesy “Good Lovin'” and also a workout on the Jack White song (and now ubiquitous worldwide soccer anthem), “Seven Nation Army.”

John Kadlecik Band full audio

John Kadlecik headlined Friday night with his own very talented group, which included a bass player charged with singing a couple of Bob Weir songs throughout the sets. Their deliciously entertaining program included “They Love Each Other”, a fun rocker called “The Business” and a killer first set closing “Tangled Up In Blue.” stack An upbeat second set opening “Shakedown Street” and a peak performance of “Dark Star >> The Other One” had the crowd boogieing. An unexpected but well-played, well-jammed version of The Police’s “Walking In Your Footsteps” might have been the surprise cover of the weekend (slightly beating out the New Riders doing The Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated”). And did John actually sneak in a lick from The Eagles’ “Journey Of The Sorcerer” during one of his jams? An ecstatic crowd danced through an encore of “After Midnight” and “Sing Me Back Home.”

New Riders of the Purple Sage full audio.

Serene Green then took over the jam with an acoustic bluegrass set from the second stage.


Moonlicker kicked things off on Saturday, and the first band on the main stage, Stronger Than Dirt, played a very strong Dead-oriented set. My group Stackabones played a set featuring mostly originals, hitting its stride on “Tie Dye Blues” and a cover of “New Speedway Boogie”, and were also joined by Camille Who? on percussion. That led right into the Godfathers Of Pot, a group consisting of all members of the New Riders Of The Purple Sage except for founding member/singer-guitarist Dave Nelson, augmented by John Kadlecik and former Jerry Garcia Band keyboardist Melvin Seals. (Festival MVP? Gotta be John K.!) A technical glitch forced the Godfathers to stop after three songs, but after a half-hour break the band was back on. They did not perform too many NRPS tunes (just a peppy version of “Henry”), but had fun with a couple of Rolling Stones songs and the Michael Falzarano-sung funk number “I Boxed Bob Dylan.” I got to meet both peddle-steel extraordinaire Buddy Cage and NRPS bassist Ronnie Penque backstage during the technical timeout, and they could not have been nicer.

Godfathers of Pot Medicine Show full audio.

Melvin Seals had a strong presence during the GOP/NRPS set, but that was a mere warmup to his set with JGB. With three former members of the Jerry Garcia Band, this group had the strongest tie to the Grateful Dead family. When I’ve seen them in the past they mixed in some Grateful Dead songs (which Melvin had not gigged on during Jerry’s lifetime), but at Bear’s Picnic Melvin and JGB stuck with the Garcia Band songbook: opening with “Let’s Spend The Night Together”, then hitting “The Harder They Come”, “That’s What Love Will Do” (sung by Melvin), “Ain’t No Bread In The Breadbox”, “Lay Down Sally”, “Dear Prudence”, “Everybody Needs Somebody” and “Midnight Moonlight” They ended their set with “My Brothers and Sisters”, the same song John Kadlecik’s band ended their second set with the night before. JGB brought some real heart and soul to the festival.

JGB full audio.

Again, the evening ended up with acoustic bluegrass performances, this time from Michael Falzarano and then the Still Hand String Band.

It seemed like a good time was had by all. Sean “Papa Bear” O’Leary was mentioned throughout the weekend; the family really did an amazing job putting Bear’s Picnic together considering the loss of Papa Bear. The grounds were great, aided by dry, sunny, comfortable weather. This was not an event overrun by amateurs; the crowd, both young and old, all seemed like festival veterans: everyone had an amazing knowledge and appreciation of the history of the Dead and the music being played, the site was filled with many talented acoustic jammers, everyone was chill and polite and I was aware of no negative incidences…and everybody seemed to be serving up some pretty excellent eats.

I hope A Bear’s Picnic has a 12th Edition next year!

by Jeff Rabin of Stackabones

To Submit a review or story for consideration hit us at [email protected]

Check out the Live Music News and Facebook page for updates and announcements.