This is more of an acknowledgment than a review. Having attended many festivals in the northeastern US since 1996, I still consider A Bears Picnic one of the best. Its the reason that I went to the first one in West Milton, PA back in 2006 and why I flew from FL in 2012 to attend yet again. Located in the heart of Penns Valley between State College and Selinsgrove, the location is in pristine farm country nestled in between two PA mountain ridgelines. In fact, cellular service has often been spotty over the years although this year seemed a little better. The festival is located on fairgrounds complete with animal stables and sheds. The Bears Picnic staff are quite friendly and allow camping right next to your vehicle. Most festival attendees also appreciate the fairground restrooms complete with flush toilets and running water. This is something you won’t easily find at All Good or many of the other large festivals. If you want to enjoy a cocktail or brew, its fine to bring your own and simply be responsible and dispose of your trash or pack it out. The stage area has lots of room to groove and there are some great vendors who sell various art and music merchandise, clothing, and tasty food.
When I lived in State College, I thought it was so cool that the likes of Melvin Seals, Bill Kreutzman, Mickey Hart, Steve Kimock, Donna Jean Godchaux, Michael Kang, Dave Schools, David Nelson, Geroge Porter, Tony Rice, and Peter Rowan have all graced the stage of Bears Picnic and many continue to return to this remote section of PA. Some highlights during my short overnight Saturday visit were The Juggling Suns Project 12PM set with Mark Diomede opening the day off with the aptly titled “We’re All Here Together.” Mark mentioned that he changed the name to The Juggling Suns Project because the band has experienced so many recent line-up changes. Regardless, Mark always seems to find a great group of replacement musicians to join him on his musical journey. Willie Jack and Northern Lights are quite tight with some great spacey jams. They closed their short set with a rocking Mighty Quinn the Eskimo. Melvin Seals and the JGB Band had people dancing and singing along to many cover songs that were staples of the original Jerry Garcia Band line-up. The legendary band New Riders of the Purple Sage reminded the crowd that they are the only band to play all 7 of the Bears Picnics and provided yet another great set of country rock. Mookie Siegel joined original member David Nelson and Buddy Cage (Jerry’s Garcia’s replacement on pedal steel) for a nice late afternoon set. Waylon Speed was much more all an over the map (if you would) than some of the other bands but in a good way. I would like to see these guys again because they were lots of fun. The musical styles would flow from southern rock to metal to country to psychedelic rockabilly and I was left somewhat stunned. Mickey Hart’s Band came next and took the crowd on a spaced out musical adventure with some Dead classics thrown in. While the festival is quite small and kid friendly, one can also rage until 5AM since the music is moved into a large metal structure from around midnight until 5AM. I made it through most of a nice 7 Walkers set but left around 2:30AM. Mickey Hart’s Band hung out right behind the stage and it was not long before Mickey hopped up and joined in with his longtime friend and band mate. Cheers to another stellar Bears Picnic and I look forward to the 8th annual in 2013.