Downtown Funk

For eight years, Bear Creek Music Festival was based in Live Oak, Florida, but the event was a New Orleans festival in spirit. The festival was inspired by Jazz Fest, but is more jam-band-centric, and the New Orleans band Dumpstaphunk is a festival fixture. While the festival is moving to New Orleans because of finances – and festival founder Lyle Williams lives in the city – in many ways it feels like Bear Creek is coming home. The inaugural New Orleans version, Bear Creek Bayou, happens Sept. 30-Oct. 1 at Mardi Gras World.

Headliners include Flaming Lips, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe and Lettuce, a Bear Creek favorite. Williams spoke to us about the event, which he says is more like a post-festival show than a festival.

What’s your connection to New Orleans? I started coming down to New Orleans with my family – my dad is a big Florida State fan, so we’d come down for the Sugar Bowl, stuff like that. I think maybe the Voodoo got to me when I was young. I ended up moving here in 2011 and bought a house here.

With so many other music festivals in New Orleans, what sets Bear Creek Bayou apart? It’s always been a true funk festival with a lot of New Orleans bands, or influenced by that kind of music, but it’s different than Jazz Fest. With Jazz Fest, you’re seeing shows with 100,000 people. Here you can see some decently large acts with 5,000 to 10,000 people. It’s not a huge event. In the history of Bear Creek, supergroups form from the collaboration between the artists. It’s more like the Jazz Fest after-shows.

What else can people expect at the festival? We’re working with Roots of Music; we’re donating $1 from each General Admission ticket and $3 from each VIP ticket to them. We’re hoping we can get them involved in a parade. We’re hoping to get some food trucks. There’s so much incredible food in New Orleans, and we’re hoping the people who can come will get a taste of some gems of New Orleans, places they can visit on the next trip back. We’re also going to have an art garden area with visual artists building something unique in Mardi Gras World.

What aspect of the festival are you most excited about? It’s seeing everyone come together. I’ve been in the music business for almost a decade and I’ve made a lot of great friends from around the world. That’s one of the things I enjoy about putting on a festival: seeing groups of friends, not just mine, and seeing other people they’ve met through the music community. It’s like a family reunion. And I love seeing the creativity of the musicians – who’s going to sit in with who? I don’t script any of this; it’s all a surprise to me, what the musicians are going to bring to the crowd.

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