Bear Music Fest makes performance more intimate in inaugural year

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Caleb Hawley

Photos: Ché Holts

When the operators of a U.C. Berkeley alumni campground first contacted the Bay Area’s Strong Brew and One Foot Productions about hosting a music festival in the Stanislaus National Forest near Pinecrest, the producers dreamt of a much larger project. The U.S. Forest Service shuttered their hopes of a Burning Man-esque gathering with years’ worth of paperwork; that’s how long it would take to gather the proper permits for trucking in stages and allowing thousands to gather. So instead, executive producer Kevin Merritt and his team rethought their idea. Out went the massive festival, replaced by an under-the-radar, one-of-a-kind experience for attendees.

Under the new plan, Merritt would hold an intimate meeting that brought live music closer to its audience. What the producers came up with, the Bear Music Fest, created a unique and well-organized event that created a camaraderie between performers and campers.

The U.C. Berkeley bear stood watch over the festivities.

The U.C. Berkeley bear stood watch over the festivities.

Mother Hips

Bay Area favorites The Mother Hips, consisting of Tim Bluhm (Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers), Greg Loiacono, John Hofer and Scott Thunes, performs at the Camp Gold Campfire. The audience was so enamored with the Mother Hips they were dancing in front of the stage. Country-flavored songs like “Whiskey on a Southbound” brought out the barefooted audience to their feet to enjoy the music into the evening.

Kevin So

Guitarist/keyboardist Kevin So performs at the Camp Gold Campfire. So’s material hopscotched between country (“June Carter Cash” and “Five Days in Memphis”) and the blues (“Fruits of My Labor.”)

Caleb Hawley

Caleb Hawley, originally from Minneapolis, has a soulful voice with not unlike a famous Purple-loving singer-songwriter from the same town. His songs span over an eclectic array of genres. “Sometimes a Good Feeling (Just Can’t Last)” carried more upbeat sounds, while “I Just Want You,” which he mentioned was featured in the film <em>Drumline 2,</em> were more R&amp;B. Throughout ballads like “Wish You Were Mine,” and “Bada Boom Bada Bling,” and a cover of David Bowie’s “Young Americans,” the gathered audience was enraptured and felt all the emotion Hawley put into the performance.

Bear Music Fest

Campers lounge in the hot tub on Sept. 10 while listening to performers Tornado Rider and The Main Squeeze at the Camp Blue Lodge.

Tornado Rider

Oakland punk rockers Tornado Rider, with singer-cellist Rushed Eggleston, brought their audience to their feet with songs like “I Peed on a Bird.” Their set emanated exuberant fun.


Austin singer-songwriter Menna, described as “wild as a mink, sweet as soda pop,” covered Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock.” She also introduced a new song “Good Morning,” which was she said she wrote with the hope that one day that she and her husband could spend time together without work separating them. While encores came few and far between at the festival, the audience demanded one from her. Menna obliged with another original song.

Q Brothers

GQ and JQ, a theatrical Chicago duo who go by Q Brothers, performed a production called “Q Gents,” a hip hop twist to Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona. The humorous performance, which included audience participation, kept their crowd engaged. The performance, which included DJ KP, ended with Simple Minds’ iconic “Don’t You (Forget About Me).”

Eugene Marie

An electro-pop duo Eugene Marie incoporates nature sounds, like the crunching of pine needles, to numerous unique samples into their songs. During their performance at Bear Music Fest, the duo used background sounds from Beatles’ songs to compose their songs. Smoky-voiced vocalist Lucy Horton said she finds inspiration from random events in life. “Nice Smell,” was a tribute to catcalls, and featured a sample of a German homeless man singing the blues.

The Main Squeeze

Funk, soul and rock band The Main Squeeze created a dance party on the deck of the Camp Blue Lodge with songs like “Message to the Lonely.” Guitarist Maximillion Newman and silky-voiced singer Corey Frye kept their new-found fans awestruck.

Greg Loiacono

Greg Loiacono of The Mother Hips – The Mother Hips guitarist showcased his vocals during this performance and welcomed lead singer Tim Bluhm as backup vocals and guitar. Bassist Scott Thunes of the Mother Hips also contributed and brought along his daughter Hazel to lend her backup vocals. Lyrics including “let the music shatter the illusion of control” resonated with audience members and the impact of the words moved them.


San Francisco funk, hip hop and  reggae band Bayonics entertain a poolside audience on Sunday, Sept. 11. Singer Rojai also emceed the performance. The band’s musicians include a trumpeter and saxophonist that created a bit of an island vibe.

See the rest of the gallery below.

Writer Brandi Smith contributed to this report. Follow photographer Ché Holts on Instagram and


No Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *