In preparation for Bear Creek Music Festival, I was given the opportunity to interview Paul Levine, the man behind Bear Creek. Read our interview below to get an inside scoop on the happenings Nov 14th-17th at The Spirit of The Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, FL. Headliners include: The Roots, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Lettuce, as well as Bootsy Collins and The Funk Unity Band. John Shippee and I (Pockets) will be covering this fest through photos and review so stay tuned, but in the meantime read our MYN interview with Paul Levine below for a pre-Bear Creek treat. Thank you Paul, for this rare opportunity to pick your brain.
I would like to start out by asking how you ended up involved with the music industry?
I am a Grateful Dead fan, and that I think led me to the industry. I got a degree at Lehigh university in Pennsylvania. While at Lehigh, I got a few fraternities to put down money to start up music events and I have been in the hospitality industry ever since.
After graduating, I went to Aspen for a ski season and ended up staying 8 years. There I opened a restaurant called The Howling Wolf and started booking bands there. I always loved the hospitality industry, street parties, parking lots etc…
Are there any bands you’re still booking now that you booked at The Howling Wolf?
I booked Karl Denson for 20 years+, The Motet, John Brown’s Body, Left Over Salmon and many more since then. I once booked String Cheese Incident for just 40 fans. Now of course we’re working with them on Hulaween.
How long have you been in Florida?
I moved to Florida 10 years ago. I was invited by Cam Williams to help start Down on the Farm & The Spanish Moss Foundation, which supported The Music Maker Foundation along with many other local causes.
I understand that Bear Creek has ran for a number of years at Spirit of Suwannee Music Park, but was formerly known as Down on the Farm, and ran at a different venue. Can you tell us more about the origins of Bear Creek, and how it’s developed?
We did a 3 year run at Down on the Farm, and this is my 7th year doing Bear Creek. They are in no way directly associated, but yes I worked with both. Down on the Farm gave the energy that we wanted, and we ran with it. After 3 years the landowners felt uncomfortable with the liability of a growing music event, so I moved to SOSMP and which has led to Bear Creek, Hulaween, Magfest, Springfest, Purple Hatter’s Ball and the rest.
You know, we’ve worked really hard, to make Suwannee a destination people look forward to going to. When I started here it was the place that you had to convince people to come to, and now I think people consider it a home. I remember someone calling SOSMP The Red Rocks of the South, definitely “worth jumping a plane” to.
While recently many of the nation’s festival line-ups are predominately electronica/EDM (DJs), you’ve continued to throw funk and groove festivals with artists like Lettuce, The Roots and Bootsy Collins. How does this contribute to the success of Bear Creek and what effect do you think it’s had on this region’s taste musically?
You get a loyal fan base. Not putting DJs on the line-up doesn’t necessarily sell tickets because EDM is undeniable and young people buy tickets. There are many good producers out there, and we do mix a lot of electro into the funk/dance/groove lineup. The mix brings young people in. They might come because of Bonobo, but then Bear Creek turns them on to bands like Lettuce or Dumpstaphunk.
One can definitely see the effect. People grow up coming here and listening to this music. Lettuce played at 1904 Music Hall in Jacksonville, FL, which sold out on a Monday night, and that shows that Bear Creek is shaping people tastes in music. Music changes rapidly& bands will always exist! Bear Creek will always be a band festival about the musicians.
People tell me “It’s like last night of Jazz Fest thrown in the woods”. Late night New Orleans Jazz fest has been an inspiration for Bear Creek. Musicians sitting in with each other in one place, then moving to another, where they can be comfortable, explore creativity, and try new collaborations.
One last question: What advice do you have for first time Bear Creek Music Festival goers. What do they bring to and take with you from this festival?
They provide 100% car camping property and 110% amenities, including the general store, and hot showers. The festival is just easy on fans! Infrastructure is just there. It’s also convenient where stages are close, easy to relax. The thing is about a “good festival” (and trust me, not all of them are good) is that after walking around a bit, because of the warm loving people, you are quick to relax. You get settled in a day, and by the end having shared incredible experiences with new friends, you can leave with this kind of blanket of love. Hopefully you were able to leave your cell phone, your work, and your routine and you come back spiritually and emotionally refreshed. It’s a vacation from the way people act in the real world. Everyday, you see assholes in the streets, and hell maybe those people just need to go to a festival, but down here everyone is welcoming. You can’t walk down the street without somebody calling you over and offering you a seat, maybe a swig of shine.
The Roots, Bootsy Collins, Lettuce, and much more!
Nov 14th- Nov17th
@ The Spirit of The Suwannee Music Park, Live Oak, FL
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