The 2016 edition of the Blue Bear Music Fest in Todd, North Carolina brought together great music, perfect weather, and good folks of all ages. Blue Bear Mountain Campground hosted the annual event for the fourth year in a row, with several regional acts including Larry Keel, Melissa Reaves, Town Mountain, Sol Driven Train, Acoustic Syndicate and other artists performing on two stages last weekend.
Perched atop a beautiful range of mountains is the well-maintained acreage of venue, sprawling with prairie grasses, old growth forest, and trails for those inclined. The amenities were more than adequate, with permanent washrooms and powered sites for those who need. Truly, this is a great family camping area!
One of the earlier acts of the weekend was the Get Right Band. With the audience bouncing at the first sound waves coming off the stage, the name really suits these guys. They play a good amount of well-written, original material as well as a great collection of covers that will no doubt put some pep in your step. Next up was Asheville’s Town Mountain. Town Mountain is a live band, period! They are rooted in bluegrass, but immediately you know that it isn’t a back porch that brings out the best in these guys. They need to be on a stage, in front of a group of people. That is where they call home, and they are comfortable doing what they do, which is belt out some really good bluegrass jams.
Friday night’s headliner Sol Driven Train had a full two hours’ worth of music to give to Blue Bear, and what a two hours it was. The Charleston, South Carolina band performs with the intent of having fun, and do they ever. Listed under the group’s description on their website is: “Wheeeeeee….” And that’s all you need to know. Integrating trombone and saxophone with good hooky guitar is what makes SDT the “brass kickin’ roots rock” outfit they are. For instance, it’s not your typical band that plays a funked-up blues rocker and then follows that up with a cover of quintessential 80’s pop group Toto’s “Africa” and absolutely kills it. Every attendee had a smile on during this set. When asked after the set about the band’s ability to have fun, guitarist Joel Timmons’ reply summed up their set perfectly. “How can you not have a smile on your face? Man, this is what it’s all about,” he said.
After some late night jammin’ provided by members of Boone’s Handlebar Betty and some well-deserved shut eye, Saturday’s line-up was eagerly anticipated. First up were Jacksonville, Florida natives Grandpa’s Cough Medicine. Up-tempo, high energy, bluegrass was just the right thing to get in the right spirit for the beautiful day. What was particularly impressive about this outfit was how their boozy, typically late night set felt perfectly appropriate early on a Saturday afternoon. In other words, they were really fun. The Carter Brothers were next, offering their variety of Appalachian rock ‘n’ roll. The Carter Brothers are true professionals who have recorded with the likes of Sam Bush, Tim O’Brien and Vassar Clements. Their show was all killer, no-filler. The last of the bands to play under Saturday’s beautiful sun was Boone’s Jeff Little Trio. Jeff Little is one heck of a piano player;he has a shuffle to his playing that is infectious and makes you want to holler out old rag time tunes. Moreover, his bandmate Steve Lewis really stole the show as well. Lewis is a world class flat-picker. With too many accolades to mention, he is a jaw-dropping talent.
As the Saturday sun fell the evening was summoned by Melissa Reeves on the side stage. Reeves has the vocal talent to recall Etta and Janis and the musical chops and sensibility to hang with in todays’ jam-band scene. Reeves’ Blue Bear set was beautifully mesmerizing. She blended loops of digitized tones with her vocals to create something that isn’t definable by the writer of this article. If you are familiar with Melissa Reeves then you just smiled. The Larry Keel Experience was next on the bill. What can be said of Larry Keel that hasn’t been said? Larry Keel brings a vibe and picking style that is completely singular. There is no other artist that is like Larry Keel, and Saturday’s Blue Bear show was no exception. His band, consisting of his wife Jenny and mandolin player Jared Poole, are as tight as can be and can play any style of music. The Keel set morphed into a jam session with the weekend’s headlining act Acoustic Syndicate. This was the norm for most of the remainder of the evening when members of Sol Driven Train joined on stage as well as the Larry Keel returning to stage for the remaining hour of the closing set by the Acoustic Syndicate. All players who were on stage were eager to trade licks and venture down uncharted territory. With sometimes up to five stringed instruments on stage led by the Syndicate’s Steve “Big Daddy” McMurray, you would consider a traffic light necessary. But, not at Blue Bear. There was nothing but smiles and good times. The main stage festivities came to a rousing close when the cast broke into an incredible, banjo-highlighted rendition of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley.” As the crowd chanted and sang Roger Daltrey’s infamous lines to the song, I couldn’t help but smile and consider myself lucky to be part of such a great festival.
Written and photographed by Tim Hobert