Notes From Bear Stone Festival 2024 — Day 1

Posted in Features, Reviews on July 5th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

Bear Stone Festival Day One 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Before Fest — In Slunj & At Festival Grounds

Oh, I slept. I slept and slept and slept. I don’t know that I’ve slept like that since before I had a kid. I. Slept.

The ride to Apartments Daniela — the room is a bed, small table, tv, rug, couple chairs, bathroom with shower, etc., AC which is always crucial, and a shared kitchen right outside the door; I’m in room 1, the couple in room 2 seemed to be having it out this morning — was plenty pleasant. I haven’t seen the town center of Slunj yet, but I already got a recommendation on a place to get good trout that I hope to take up at some point soon. Quiet though, which is good. Could use coffee, but that’s pretty much always the case. It’s a walk. I’ll walk it tomorrow, I hope.

The reason I didn’t today? Because I was sleeping. Hard. I showered as immediately as I could upon arrival yesterday evening, finished up a little other writing and email, blah blah, and thought I might play a little Zelda, but was unconscious before I even picked up the controller. I woke up at 11:30 in a panic thinking my alarm hadn’t gone off or I missed it or shut it off or whatever and brushed my teeth, got dressed for the pickup to go to the fest at 12:15PM and started packing my camera bag only to realize a few minutes later that it was still nighttime and 11:30PM and not 11:30AM, as I had apparently thought. Disoriented much? Coffee will help that too, I suspect.

I did play for a bit on the Switch, maybe an hour, just to calm down from that moment’s rush, then put on Star Trek: The Motion Picture — a download of the original director’s cut, as opposed to the 4K restoration — and was asleep again before the wildly indulgent circa-’79 sci-fi opening credits were done. I’d wake up a few more times, either to soon-reset alarms or not, and it was finally around 11:30AM that I convinced myself it was time to actually get up and get ready to go.

Being my first time at this fest, in this country and in the Balkans more broadly, I’m a little anxious for how it’s all going to go, but I’ve got a schedule document from the fest that I’m relying on. My 12:15 ride came a little after 1PM, so I spent some time writing/dicking around on my phone and watching a dude cut some stone tiles to put around concrete columns across the way — masonry — but it didn’t really matter as the day only has four bands, plus a big ol’ Sviraj!jam that I’m curious about, and seems to be easing the crowd into the weekend to come. Sunday is likewise mellow, while Friday and Saturday are more packed, with two stages (plus said jam) instead of one, more bands, headliners and all that. I look forward to seeing as much of it as I can.

“Bok” means “hi.” “Hvala vam” means “thank you.” “Voda” is “water.” “Molim” is “please.” “Kava” is “coffee.” If I can get these down by the end of the weekend, I’ll feel pretty good about it.

Bear Stone Festival Day One 2 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

A long, twisty road surrounded by green round-top hillsides and more distant, likewise eroded mountains, sporadic farms and residences and camps and such leads to the festival grounds on the bank of the Mrežnica, the river, which is clearly a draw for the area. It was about 20 minutes from my room to get there, driven by an apologetic Marco. No worries, dude. I slept.

The festival site is gorgeous, as anticipated. Since 2013, this place has hosted the psy-trance festival Mo:Dem, which takes place in August just up the hill with a likewise stunning in-the-round stage area — almost an amphitheater — with more of the incredible wood carvings that seem to be just part of the thing between the two events run by Marin Lalić, who was kind enough to show me around. There’s no wifi where Bear Stone happens — I’ll be writing without a net since I can’t save as I go; never without risk but a tradeoff I’m glad to make — but up by the management office, past Mo:Dem’s currently-closed experimentalist cinema/vegan bakery, there’s a connection. A bit of back and forth suits me fine. I get restless at these things anyway, if it wasn’t obvious.

This is the third edition of Bear Stone Festival proper, behind the last two years and a ‘Year Zero’ test run in 2021. It’s easy to see there’s room to build it bigger — 1,800 people are expected; about 50/50 Croatian and foreign contingents — should they want to, but the surrounding hillsides and the tiny fish in the river, which pours over rocks into a lake also fed by an underground spring, 18 meters deep and cold year round, the woodworking and so on all feels executed with naturalism in mind, and it lends the whole area an intimacy that has its own appeal. I opened the door of the van and stepped into the vibe. People were setting up tents to camp, and the buzz in the air as the production crew made final preparations, security all-in on first-day diligence, gave some underlying tension, but quiet corners and under-tree shade are everywhere even outside the press area, and there’s espresso to be had.

I’ve been attending concerts since I was about 10 years old. In the more than three decades since, I’ve never quite experienced anything like this. And it hasn’t started yet. Bear Stone Festival has the chance to make and become something really special, and I am humbled and honored to be here for it, whatever the next few days will bring. I’m on an adventure.

The first four bands on the Mill Stage — a purposefully small pavilion which can be seen/heard from the path and knoll by the river — are A Gram Trip, Jantar, Entropist and Slowtorch. I had some time to explore, which is how I happened on the cinema/bakery, and get more espresso before the start. No regrets, there or thereafter when the music started.

Here’s how that went:

A Gram Trip

In what I suspect will be a theme of the fest as a whole, people crammed in tight to the Mill Stage to see Zagreb’s A Gram Trip open the weekend with duly sludged ceremony. Riffs and screams backed by shouts, a persistent nod with aggressive undertones that might’ve been too much volume for the couple dogs I saw hanging around, but was compressed nicely by the slanted roof of the pavilion-ish stage itself. Shades of Church of Misery, maybe earlier Electric Wizard; Dopethrone if you want a modern analog; stonesludge that knows from whence it comes. The band started jamming instrumentally and were joined by their vocalist soon after, and some of the mellower parts — a touch of earlier Clutch in “Cosmic Fortress,” with cleaner vocals to match, leaning more directly into Sabbathy build later on — echoed that side of their apparent persona, but they were all reverence and no pretense for the duration, bolstered by light reflecting and refracting through translucent flowers and panels to create color. As if on cue, the sun came out to aid that and bake the swimmers and denizens of the grassy area around. Don’t mind the bees — remember you’re a guest in this ecosystem — and try not to leave too many footprints on your way through. As much stomp as A Gram Trip put into “Quite Nice,” I suppose that was bound to happen one way or the other. They’d inject a faster stretch near the end — in “Speed Queen,” suitably enough — but the roll was primary, and rightly so.

Jantar

Jantar 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Sharper in tone and more progressive feeling in their still-jam-based compositions, Jantar brought a touch of doom-jazz with foot-pedal Moog and no shortage of twists and turns. I heard a Kyuss riff in there though, I swear it. It wouldn’t be the last of the day. A little spazzy around their root groove, the three-piece were instrumental for the duration despite A Gram Trip’s center-stage mic holding down that spot amid the rhythmic intricacies surrounding, which to their credit would’ve left little room for vocals anyhow and were about more than the technical showcase the band would probably have no trouble otherwise putting on. Songs, in other words. They played songs, rather than part-collections as is the sometimes-wont of the style, and while they felt very purposefully conscious in being unpredictable, the procession was such that folks were dancing as they looked on in the late-afternoon/earliest-evening air or under the roof itself, where vibe was all the more right on. Ultimately, they were weird for more than just the sake of it, dared a touch of funk in the bass, and presented complex sounds as a means to their own end. It was a shift from A Gram Trip, to be sure, but not so much as to throw anyone off as tension mounted and was released in succession. When they got to the last one, in “Disco King,” you knew it in the boogie. A couple of the dogs even got on board.

Entropist

Entropist 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I had stuck around in the stage area after Jantar, rather than adjourning to the picnic tables in front of where the jam stage will be later, and when Entropist went on, they just kind of started. First there wasn’t a set, then there was. I wasn’t sure if it was a line check or what, but nope, they were playing. I dig that. Also instrumental, they were a bit spacier and they let their songs breathe in a way that was post-metal-aware, if not necessarily actual post-metal, moving with a fluidity that wasn’t by any means lazy, but cast a gradual impression just the same. With some Pelican/Russian Circles chug and tempos malleable but mostly in a middle range, they were kind of thing you could really get lost in, and I did that for a while before I ran out of water and decided to rectify that and move to the patch of grass by the water for what ended up being most of the latter half of the set. There’s a kind of secondary gathering here, people sitting facing the direction the sound of Entropist is coming from, but not really able to see it all as such, both because of distance and a tree in the line of sight. I guess I just didn’t want to fall too much into the routine of taking pictures then moving back to the bakery/cinema stairs to sit and write. I’m doing something I’ve never done before, maybe I can change up how I do it as well. Entropist — a moniker I interpret as being one who plays the universal drift toward chaos as one might the tiny violin mocking that very same decay — would soon loose their slowest plod (before a faster finish) and even from where I sat, the sense of their basking in it was palpable. I’ve also seen a lot of press passes, so I guess the word’s out about Bear Stone. Fair enough. I’m always late to the party.

Slowtorch

Slowtorch 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

The jam stage actually started warming up before Slowtorch went on, but one the Italian outfit got the ‘go’ sign, there was nothing else to be heard at the Mill Stage. The night’s headliners tore with vigor into classic riff rock, a little burl here, some blues there for sure, but fun more than anything else, with their singer poking out from the side of the pavilion to say hi to the folks watching from below and making his way mid-verse through the crowd, perhaps appreciating the forward shove of the band behind him. Slowtorch made a highlight of the title-track to their latest LP, The Machine Has Failed, which was of a kind in catchiness and punch with the rest of the set, and I found a perch a little higher up the stairs where I could see — there were more people on the steps as well — and appreciate the pull of more and more people to the vicinity. I guess you’d call Slowtorch the most straightforward of the four bands who played today, at least in a rock and roll sense of that, structures and whatnot, but in stage presence and performance, they put everything they had into that set. “Never too old to rock!” before requesting and chugging a “tasty Bear Stone beer” from the crowd. It was that kind of party, and it wasn’t over. There would end up being enough beer for everyone in the band and more besides, enjoyed communally as their time wound down and the set itself wound correspondingly up. They rocked until the lights came on — because it was getting dark, not because they were being told to stop — and it started and stayed a good time. Front to back. Fucking a. They rocked the sun down.

Sviraj!Jam

I wasn’t sure how the jam stage was going to work, but the answer to that seemed to be “it works like a fucking jam, you dope.” There were three synths going as I made my way over from the Mill Stage, dazed but not entirely done, which is fortunate since there are three more days. Live drums and vocals joined in soon enough — no idea what those echoes were saying, but it seemed like the kind of thing that if you had a guitar and wanted to hop up there and be part of it for a while, no one would yell at you. Someone did that, and I wasn’t sure if it had been preplanned or not, but probably. A band gradually took shape. I sat at one of the tables, drank my water, happy to roll with it and to be here generally, happy to have slept before the day started, to have reset my alarm the two or three times, whatever it was. The band that wasn’t until they were built up a decent head of steam, and it was easy to dig in a spacey, obviously meandering sort of way. Just a jam, maybe, but also both epilogue for today and preface of more to come, something to dig into before you go back to your tent or room, but emblematic of the professionalism that’s rampant beneath the surface at Bear Stone. I’m not sure any of this would work without it, and so far, it all very much works.

Thank you for reading. I recognize that the only reason I’m here — certainly not my charming personality or social grace — is because you do, so know that it’s appreciated. My ride back to Rooms Daniela was at 10PM, which would give me enough time to shower and start in on the day’s photos before conking out. I failed at eating today. Old habits. A pack of almonds during Slowtorch and some last bites of the nut butter I brought from home were it. Tomorrow at some point I will need to search out a meal, however that ultimately happens. Until then, you’ll find more pics after the jump. Thanks again. Good night.

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Bear Stone Festival 2024 Makes First Lineup Announcement

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 23rd, 2023 by JJ Koczan

bear stone festival 2024 banner

There’s more here than I knew was coming, which is cool. High on Fire are the first announced headliner for Bear Stone Festival 2024, to be held next July across four days and three stages. Big, in other words. Or getting bigger, anyhow. I’d imagine that some of the acts listed here who are Croatian-native — Jantar, Tight Grips, Rens Argoa, A Gram Trip, Vukojarac, etc. — will feature on the newly-added third stage, and since I’ll be in attendance for this one (I don’t have the flight/lodging booked yet, but I’ve been invited and said yes and it’s okay with my wife, so I’m going) I look forward to finding out more about the country’s hometeam underground. Having the likes of Colour Haze, GnomePigsx7Mother Vulture and more to fill out the bill is huge, and if it seems like a lot, it’s half the fest. They say there’s one more announcement coming.

What they don’t say is when, but when I hear something I’ll let you know, and while I’ve got your attention, I’d like to thank Bear Stone for the invitation to attend their incredible-looking festival. I have high hopes for both the experience and the music, and I expect both to be exceeded. If you’d like to know more about the bands, there’s a Spotify playlist at the bottom of this post. Bear Stone made you a mixtape.

Here’s info from the PR wire:

Bear stone festival 2024 poster

First Lineup Announcement For Bear Stone Festival 2024

Here it is, the first half of Bear Stone Festival 2024 lineup. As we have previously announced, Bear Stone Festival 2024 will have 28 bands spread throughout 3 stages over 4 days of the festival.

We would also like to announce that Early Bear festival tickets are now on sale! At the end of this email you will find the button that will lead you to the Entrio ticketing site.

Check out our poster below to discover the first 14 bands of Bear Stone Festival 2024.

HIGH ON FIRE (USA)

Prepare for an electrifying experience as the legendary High On Fire take hold of Bear Stone Festival’s main stage! Marvel at the unforgettable sonic journey filled with their signature blend of heavy riffs and powerful vocals.

Witness their seismic performance and join us in an epic night of Metal mastery!

COLOUR HAZE (DE)

Following their sensational Bear Stone Festival Warm-Up club show in Zagreb, we are thrilled to announce that the mesmerising Colour Haze will be gracing our festival stage for the very first time!

Get ready for an unparalleled fusion of Psychedelic Rock and intricate melodies that will transport you to new sonic dimensions. Don’t miss this chance to experience the captivating artistry of Colour Haze in the vibrant atmosphere of Bear Stone Festival.

PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS (UK)

Allow yourself to be ensnared by the mighty presence of Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs as they summon the very essence of Doom Metal overlaid with their distinctive blend of Psychedelic Rock and Heavy Metal. Let the walls of sound crafted in the fumes of Black Sabbath, Electric Wizard and Sleep wash over you, as they embody heaviness itself.

Witness their unparalleled display of distortion, unveiling the exhilarating saga that is Land of Sleeper and encapsulate the heart and soul of the genre in an electrifying performance!

MOTHER VULTURE (UK)

After their electrifying performance at Bear Stone Festival Year Zero edition in 2022, Bristol’s very own Mother Vulture are back by popular demand! Gaze at their adrenaline-fueled spectacle as they once again shock us with their unique energy and raw Rock prowess.

Get ready to be blown away by the powerhouse performance of Mother Vulture at Bear Stone Festival 2024.

GNOME (BE)

Do you feel like your life is missing more songs about gnomes that are oppressed by their evil king? Belgian band Gnome will take care of that and more with an enchanting performance soaked in their signature blend of Progressive and Stoner Rock, accompanied by their already legendary gnome attire.

NEMEČEK (CRO)

Immerse yourself in the raw, intense sounds of Croatian band Nemeček as they mesmerize Bear Stone Festival with their powerful blend of folk-inspired music marked by its fierce and darkly evocative tones.

BARON CRÂNE (FR)

Baron Crâne are a Paris-based instrumental trio known for their dynamic fusion of psychedelic, progressive, and experimental sounds that shape an immersive musical journey filled with powerful riffs and a blend of diverse influences.

SLOWTORCH (ITA)

Channeling an explosive blend of Clutch’s fervour, Black Sabbath’s heaviness, and Corrosion of Conformity’s raw energy, Italian heavy rockers Slowtorch deliver an incendiary onslaught of relentless, riff-driven soundscapes, marked by their fiery intensity and hard-hitting musical prowess.

JANTAR (CRO)

Jantar are a Post-Metal/Prog Rock band from Zagreb, formed after the dissolution of Pink Fairy Armadillo. They are set on delivering a sound that delves deep into irregular rhythms, dissonant tones, and overlapping layers of analog synths.

RENS ARGOA (CRO)

Wonder at the genre-defying musical experience with the instrumental trio Rens Argoa, whose passion for rhythmic riffs and melodies has inspired them to blend together elements of Jazz, orchestral music, Prog Rock, and Punk all across their four albums.

QUIET CONFUSION (ITA)

Join us in welcoming the dynamic Rock’n’Roll/Psychedelic/Heavy-Blues band Quiet Confusion from Verona, Italy, best known for their electric performances and distinctive 70’s-style Stoner Rock vibes showcased in their latest album “Magella”.

TIGHT GRIPS (CRO)

Tight Grips are an explosive and experimental Croatian Rock trio with an evolving sound which infuses mono-synth, Blues, and Grunge elements. They captivate audiences across festivals and regional tours and are currently gearing up for the release of their highly anticipated third album “Jewels”, set for release in autumn 2023.

VUKOJARAC (CRO)

Vukojarac, the dark embodiment of chaos and despair, emanates an otherworldly power that beckons followers into an abyss of maniacal madness. It is driven by its unstoppable desire to spread The Riff and plunge humanity into the void.

A GRAM TRIP (CRO)

Hailing from Zagreb, Croatia, this four-piece band fuels their sound with fuzz-driven intensity, intertwining mantric Doom riffs, Sludge vocals, and intermittent Stoner melodies. They are carving out their unique path across the trifecta of these genres, best exemplified in their debut album “Long Overdue” released in May 2023.

You can listen to our favourite songs from all these bands by clicking on the button below!

https://www.instagram.com/bearstonefestival
https://www.facebook.com/bearstonefestival
http://www.bearstonefestival.com

Bear Stone Festival 2024 Spotify Playlist

Bear Stone Festival 2023 Aftermovie

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