Bears Picnic 2012

Story by Kevin Palmgren | Photos by StSteven, aka Steven Philips

Bears Picnic is in its 7th year of celebrating the music and legacy of The Grateful Dead. It was only my second Bears Picnic, but I can tell it’s getting better and better every year and I can’t wait to come back again. This is the 5th straight year at Lincoln Park in Laurelton, PA and I and others have decided this weekend, that it is our favorite festival out of any that we’d ever been to.

Bears Picnic actually spanned 4 days from August 16-20 this year situated with a nearby creek for taking a dip with your friends, a food drive hosted by Strangers Helping Strangers who were giving away some really cool festival posters, arts and crafts for the kiddies, and a Grateful Dead art show featuring Jerry Garcia, Bill Kreutzmann, and Mickey Hart. With music starting at 9 pm Thursday start and continuing til 4 am with Citizens Band Radio, Funktional Flow, and Soulragga, I think they got the party started off right.

I arrived in Laurelton the next day just in time to set up my campsite and go see Dr. Sloth Claw. They played a handful of Grateful Dead tunes so I was a happy camper immediately. The energy at Bear’s Picnic is pretty much overflowing from start to finish. The music is one of the best festival lineups you can find and the vibe is as good as it gets. It’s like having a festival with 8 headlining bands and all your friends from the area and plenty of amazing people to meet. Some of my favorite acts from Friday night were local three piece Flux Capacitor, who covered a favorite Grateful Dead song of mine, Viola Lee Blues. I also finally got a chance to see MiZ who I’ve heard plenty about. He played a really great set with plenty of covers from “simple Twist of Fate” to “Masterpiece”,“Dirty Woman” by Pink Floyd and another song I just can’t quite place a name on. That Friday nights music ended with another favorite of mine from New Jersey, Railroad Earth, Tim Carbone of which sat in on fiddle with MiZ along with Mookie Siegel on keys. Railroad Earth also played a song I remember from hearing on the road a lot, Tom Waits’ “Cold Water”, which brings back some great memories.

Another band from not too far away in Baltimore was Pigeons Playing Ping Pong who played with a ton of energy and covered all kinds of different styles. Some diehard deadheads may consider it sacrilegious, but they played Grateful Dead’s “Help on the Way” into what sounded to me like a Phish jam, but I couldn’t say which one, and just possibly, (maybe I was just a little out there by this point in the morning) a little Lotus jam. I can say for sure they got pretty dang funky with their Funkytown>Brick House jam. This is a band to definitely keep your eyes on.

Saturday started early with Juggling Suns and then Grateful Dead radio hours own David Gans, who is always a blast to see play live. Saturday had to have the best lineup of live music I think I’ve ever seen in one day, from David Gans to Melvin Seals and JGB getting things rocking, then The New Riders of the Purple Sage, who’ve played every year at Bears’ Picnic since its inception in 2006. Saturday rolled over into Sunday with Grateful Dead percussionist Mickey Hart’s Band filling four hours with some originals and some good ol’ Grateful Dead tunes followed right up with the other drummer of the Dead, Bill Kreutzmann and The 7 Walkers. I got to hear some of my all time favorites with JGB playing “Run for the Roses” and 7 Walkers doing “Death Don’t Have No Mercy”. Around 5am Backwoods Experiment finished up their bluegrass pickin’ set and gave everyone a little chance to sleep before the full day of music on Sunday started in another few hours.
Sunday was kicked off with Mike Turk playing a kid’s set and then moving on to The Kind Buds and Dirk Quinn Band. The energy of the weekend really never let up and I didn’t see anyone that didn’t look like they were having an absolute blast. That night Cabinet another veteran that’s been here since the inaugural Bears Picnic, came out and absolutely killed it with “Shady Grove” and then did some wild bluegrass reggae style banjo jam playing the old reggae classic “5446 that’s my number” and also a version of “Caress me Down”.
The whole weekend was fantastic with the amazing music, amazing people, great venue and natural creek as well as Ben Jammin’s huge tie-dies and light shows on the stages and I hope to see you all next year at Bears Picnic number 8.