These times of pandemic and its affect on the live music industry is undeniable, yet it also makes the 150-plus acres of beautiful Blue Bear Mountain a perfect location to hold an outdoor music festival.
On Sept. 9-11, the Blue Bear Music Fest will take place at the Blue Bear Mountain Campground, which sits at 4,000 feet in elevation near Todd. Just seven miles from Boone, the venue has hosted the outdoor musical get-together for several years now with a permanent outdoor stage on hand and plenty of room for primitive camping and spontaneous dancing.
The lineup at the 2021 Blue Bear Music Fest is an impressive array of the best in Americana and roots music. The bill features the Virginia-based festival faves The Steel Wheels, western North Carolina legends Acoustic Syndicate, the acclaimed Texas Gentlemen from the Lone Star State, Charleston, SC, roots rockers Sol Driven Train, former Doc Watson collaborator and piano great Jeff Little and his Trio, newgrass rockers Dirty Grass Soul, alt. bluegrassers South Hill Banks, the Piedmont blues of Wicker and Jones, Boone’s Mason Jar Confessions and Hayseed Dixie’s Tim Carter and his solo band.
Many of the artists on this year’s Blue Bear Music Festival schedule stayed active throughout 2020. During the COVID-19 lockdown, the members of The Steel Wheels collaborated with their fans to create a new album called Everyone A Song Vol. 1 and a subsequent podcast called We Made You A Song. Acoustic Syndicate spent the time signing with Arden, NC’s Organic Records label and released several singles during the summer, leading up to their first new album in seven years.
As for the Texas Gentlemen, who dropped their second album during that time period, they can best be described as one of the best bands in the land that you may not have heard of yet. As their latest album “Floor It!!” testifies, this group of wildly creative rockers is quickly making their mark outside of their native homeland.
Rolling Stone magazine calls the Texas Gentlemen, “an engrossing cosmic journey of Texas boogie and psychedelic rock that plays like an aural mushroom trip.” And, even that description barely scratches the surface when it comes to the diverse talents of this group.
The Texas Gentlemen is made up of five veteran session and stage musicians who have spent many years making other artists sound good. The state of Texas, after all, has always had its own self-contained music scene and these cats have been in the thick of it for a long time, backing up artists such as Leon Bridges, Shakey Graves, Joe Ely, Paul Cauthen, George Strait, Kris Kristofferson, and many more.
The members of the band include Dan Creamer on keyboards and vocals, Nik Lee on guitar and vocals, Ryan Ake on guitar, Scott Edgar Lee Jr. on bass and Paul Grass on drums.
The advantage of having five top musicians in this band is that each one is encouraged to bring their ideas to the table. The end result of the Texas Gentlemen’s collaborative approach is thick and fun jams that run the gamut from funk and southern-tinged rock to big hints of 1960s pop melodies. In addition, this quintet is capable of taking their studio tracks and expanding them even more onstage as their live shows have become a part of their ever-growing reputation.
Creamer, for instance, gets to cut loose with his multiple keyboards on cuts from Floor It! such as “Hard Road” and the Leon Russell-esque “Dark at the End of the Tunnel.”
“With the synthesizer stuff and all of that, I like to play every different kind of keyboard,” said Creamer. “I have millions of them at my house (laughs). But, I’m a big synth fan so I tried to work it in on the album where I could. There is not always room for that, but when I play live, I bring a synthesizer out and use it instead of an organ.”
Creamer grew up in the Arlington-Dallas area of Texas but has since migrated to Austin. That city, of course, has been a great music town for decades, but in recent years it has exploded in population. Even so, the quality of music found there is still very high.
“One of the things I’ve always liked about Austin is I’ve always felt that when you are here, you can’t go and see a bad band play, even if you go to just any old bar,” said Creamer. “People know how to play because they know you have to be good to keep up with everybody else. There is that sort of attitude here, so people really hone their craft. That is a really cool thing to be around, and I’ve seen that in Nashville, too.”
With five musicians playing at a high level, the Texas Gentlemen have managed to create a band with a boisterous and unique sound that is the sum of all of its parts.
“The 1960s influence is the stuff that I listened to the most over the years, and still do,” said Creamer. “Although nowadays, what I listen to is more ambient and weirder. But, when I was in my early 20s, and for Nik as well; we listened to a lot of the Beatles and The Kinks and The Zombies and Tommy James and the Shondells. All of those cool, weird and psychedelic albums that came out in the late 1960s were very interesting to us, especially with the production value on those records. When we went into the studio to record Floor It!, with all of the strings and horns, it was like, ‘Oh wow, this is what those bands would have felt like if they had orchestras coming in and playing on their songs.’ It does add a bigger dimension to the music that you don’t get from just five people fooling around on different instruments, and it was really cool to access those guest musicians.”
Still, the Texas Gentlemen are not a retro band or an oldies act, as they are very much in the here and now, showcasing their own groove.
“Our goal is to not copy anything specific thing that any band did in the past,” said Creamer. “All of that stuff is inspirational to us, but we are into a lot of new stuff, too. I would say, if we had to describe our music, at its heart; I think it is American music based on old American music. It is also psychedelic in nature, although we do try to harmonize and do things that have been around in country and soul music through the ages.”
For more information on Blue Bear Music Fest’s music schedule and ticket purchases (15 and younger are free with an adult), go to musicfestatbluebearmountain.com or call (828) 406-4226.