Notes From Bear Stone Festival 2024 — Day 4

Posted in Features, Reviews on July 8th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

Bear Stone Festival 2024 Day 4 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Before show; by the river

Hard not to chuckle at the river-rafting group coming down the rocks and being surprised by the jolt of speed, especially when they’re laughing so hard themselves. This place. The clear water, the sound of it rolling, the rocks around, trees, vines, moss for the tardigrades, dirt, bugs, birdsong during the day, peeper-frogs trying to get laid at night; life. Some clouds today, which is perfect. The van came early — 12:15PM for a 4:15 show start — but it’s a pleasure just to be here and sit, smell the water, drink my coffee and feel a little bit of spray to take the edge off the heat. Today I remembered my hat. Stuffed it in the camera bag last night to be sure.

I got back to the room last night, charged the camera batteries, dumped the photos off the memory card, and almost finished wrapping up the writing for the review of yesterday before sleep shut me down. Some sentences require an overnight, apparently. Getting all the photos sorted was a task, but so it goes. I screwed up naming them — fucking Windows 11 is the worst; been considering wiping the machine clean and downgrading, but it would take more time than I’ve got — and WordPress got all dumb about it withBear Stone Festival 2024 Day 4 3 (Photo by JJ Koczan) replacing band images with the wrong ones, but my hope is that at some point today or sorts itself out. It’s right in the html, so I’ve done my best. I’ll check it later when I get back to the room.

The Patient Mrs., The Pecan and Tillydog are doing well in Zagreb, as affirmed on a video call shortly before coming here. They’ve done a lot of riding the blue trams, it seems, and sightseeing around the city. I told The Pecan she would have to be my tour guide for the city since I haven’t been there yet and she got all excited. She likes me much better when I’m not there. Reasonable. I’m also markedly more fond of myself in concept than reality.

Only four bands today — Vukojarac, Misery Crown, Rens Argoa and Zolle. No jam stage, but maybe a secret set (?), which adds to the mellow afternoon. But even getting here early it was by no means empty, with campers having breakfast and/or beers and bumming around as one does. Existing, which is a worthwhile endeavor. I went a little up the river with Sander van den Driessche from Echoes and Dust, whom I’ve known for years at this point and consider a friend, and found a bench to sit on. He’s got a book, I’ve got my phone to write on, and neither of us minds the quiet. Easy win.

I may or may not get the chance to say it properly again, so thank you to Bear Stone Festival for having me, for letting me come here for these busy, incredible days, seeing and hearing things that I otherwise never would in a setting/context that is unto itself.

Specifically, thanks to Marin Lalič for making it happen. It is amazing and surely not a little bit of work to get such stunning results. To say I’ve never experienced anything like it fails to encompass how fulfilling it has been. I wouldn’t presume being invited back for 2025, but wouldn’t hesitate if that email came in. Either way, it will be fun to watch Bear Stone grow in the years to come.

As always, thank you to The Patient Mrs., who on every level is the universe in which I am a speck of dust (also gas). I am loved, supported, and cared for and about in ways I could never hope to justify.

Thank you to the press contingent with whom I did much of the back and forth — Sander of course, James from the UK, Gabriel and Anya from Switzerland, Kate and Tom, Ewu (great to finally chat). And from the very fabric of my being, thank you to Nelly and Elias for the kindness, the conversation, the rides at the end of the night and a spiritually-refreshing generosity that went well beyond the food. I don’t know that they’ll read this, but if so, don’t be surprised when I show up at your door in Bulgaria.

Something going on the Jam Stage now — that secret set, I assume; someone from Seven That Spells? — but I’m content to let it drift over on the air. Tempting to walk over, put the batteries in the camera, do the thing, but in the free spirit of Bear Stone, I’m going to take it as it is rather than force something. My own aspirations toward the organic, manifest in laziness, trying to turn fatigue into art on some level. Some intensity to be had with industrial ticks and bass wub, but that’s cool.

I’ll need a water refill soon, which means the fleeting moment is on its way to gone, but that is okay too. There’s no shortage of spots to be in for a while, so I’m going to put my phone down for a couple minutes and stare out. Still plenty of time before the bands start, but I brought more writing to work on as well, and if I spent three hours — or two, at this point — taking pictures of plants, insects, rocks and people’s dogs, I wouldn’t be wrong. I would, however, probably be even sweatier than I already am.

The first notes and snare hits of line check waft from the Mill Stage as I sit again and watch the churning water just below this bench on the small cliff. It’s about 45 minutes before the day starts, and I’m up for it, despite reveling in this spot, appreciating the time, the little spinning circle of water-plants that has me wanting to dive for a korok seed, and the sound of the river.

But if the message of today is the finity of all things, I’m fortunate to be here now, while looking forward to what comes next.

What comes next, as it happens, is the show. Thanks for reading.

Vukojarac

Even their line check was among the nastier of the tones emitted this weekend, and under an appropriately clouded sky with a suitable humidity at ground level, Vukojarac’s set proved likewise dank, if less punishing initially than expected from that short preview as the drummer and bassist (who played an electric/acoustic, presumably for resonance) shared lead vocal roles and both swapped between gutturalisms and morose, cleaner melodies. In combination with the heft of the riffing, flashes of more extreme aspects — I hope someone will correct me if I’m wrong about theirs being the first blastbeats of the weekend, if not the first double-kick — and the occasional bellow echoing out down the river, Vukojarac were still well in aggro territory, but I got more depression than anger in terms of mood. Dark, in any case, but able to roll out a stoner riff or speedier progression and transpose it to their purpose, as they did more than once while the sun dared show its face for a quick minute before again receding, only to return in force before they were done. Have I told you I’m thinking of founding a religion based on modern sun worship and astrophysics? As to what makes it a religion? Five bucks to join (digital transfer accepted, cash-in-envelope preferred). Might make patches too. Anyhow, something clicked and Vukojarac got rawer as they went on, and for sure there was burl to spare, but by then, that was adding to the character of their sound rather than defining it, and while it got mean, they kept up the roll and the now-full pavilion matched it with synchronous nod. One more on the list of bands I’d probably never be able to see if I wasn’t here.

Misery Crown

Low-slow groove saturation. I saw Misery Crown walk up when they got here just before Vukojarac got started, and one of their two guitarists had a Down shirt on, while their bassist/lead vocalist wore one for Pantera’s “Drag the Waters,” and my impression of them couldn’t helped be defined in part by that, though they were more metal altogether. Both six-stringers added backing vocals throughout (the one in the Down shirt changed to A Gram Trip; fair enough), and in keeping with Vukojarac, they switched between clean singing in a Southern, low-mouth style and growls to go with some but not all of their bigger riffs. More double-kick from the drums was a decent fit with the brood and periodic pace-upping, and as they pushed into a building chorus, they were all the more able to serve the song with the vocal dynamic. I split in the middle – empty water bottle would not do with the sun out – but made it back in time to see theirs last couple songs, and no regrets, even if it’s probably not the kind of thing I’d put on for a given afternoon reading to my daughter or playing board games. And considering what Misery Crown were going for sound-wise, they should probably take that as a compliment. That works for me. I had some reservations about themes, notions of things lost being regained, and so on, but I wouldn’t judge one way or the other without reading actual lyrics. They finished upbeat with “10 Years of Misery,” which was aiming catchier (and getting there) more than most of their material, and backed that with due punch to reinforce the point.

Rens Argoa

Dudes in the front tried to get a “hey! hey! hey!” going during one of Rens Argoa’s songs but couldn’t quite find the time signature. I was ready for a change in vibe and the trio brought that with a more technical and quirky approach to heavy instrumentalism, the return of the funk bass, and an edge of shenanigans that manifest as well in the guitarist and bassist swapping instruments after the first song. Adventurous, with some shimmer of psychedelia running throughout, but whoever was doing whatever after that charming initial misdirect in the strong section, the core was urgent heavy prog, and they were just as likely to math out as to bounce on a more straight-ahead riff. When they eventually won me over was the quieter song — I’m sorry, I don’t know where in the set it was and I can’t look it up — that built up gradually around an emotional current in the guitar. I’m a sucker, I guess. They were back to the jabs and bops on the head soon enough, no worries, but the more they played, the more depth their was to hear in their sound, and while the balance was pushed toward the dizzying, that was a wakeup people needed. I’d like to go on record and say I wasn’t the one shouting for English when the guitar player — who started on bass — was talking between songs. Speak your language, dude. Unless you’re telling me my foot is on fire — and it’s not; I just checked — it’s all good. To end, they paired a flowing heavy roll with more spacious lead guitar, and I guess I wasn’t the only one digging it, because the pavilion went off when they were done.

Zolle

Italian duo Zolle had pink balloons on their cymbal stands with hearts on them, most likely in honor of their new album, Rosa. The day had been pretty subdued up to here, but all signs pointed to a blowout to bring Bear Stone to its finish, and the anticipated high-impact fuckery was delivered. Dudes in the crowd were dancing even before the two-piece walked up through the crowd to fanfare and the ringing of churchbells. Energy-wise, they were up there with Melvins at their most coked, and arranged next to each other in the front of the stage area, with stops for beer from the stand in front of them, Zolle let the Mill Stage have it with a party rock born as much of heavy punk as sped up AC/DC’s school o’ riffing. I acknowledge those two might be the same thing when you do the math. The drummer sat on a chair instead of a stool, and that seemed like a good move given how much time he spent standing on it egging on the audience for sing-alongs to parts that very clearly were written for singalongs, which worked, and they kept it up. Not at all the same kind of unrelenting as High on Fire, but a shot of adrenaline just the same and ready and willing to be silly and fun. They finished with more sampled fanfare and were mobbed by clearly established fans and new ones alike. No argument from me. They were a total blast.

That was it. I took the bus (van) back to the rooms with a crew of press after saying goodnight and last thanks to Marin and his wife Ivana for having me here. It has been an incredible time, and I’m well enough asskicked, but even in such a state I had to stop and get the camera out for a picture of the sunset sky over the mist of the river. Unfathomably cool.

I don’t want to get into some trite diatribe about how lucky I am, but as I swatted the odd fly off my dome, I’ve also been scratching my head at how I got here. I spend a lot of my time sort of bringing myself down, and sometimes anyone else who happens to be in the room, including my family who I could never hope to deserve. Being able to do this, to travel and see things I’ve never seen, meet people and hear great music, makes me understand in a different way how special my life is and how fortunate I am to live it. With more gratitude to my wife for keeping me alive all these years, I’ll leave it at that.

And finally, once more, thank you for reading. None of this happens otherwise.

More pics after the jump.

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Notes From Bear Stone Festival 2024 — Day 3

Posted in Features, Reviews on July 7th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

Before Show; In the food tent, then Jam Stage

Me and my silly ADHD brain left my bucket hat back at Rooms Daniela. Big mistake. Also no sunblock anywhere in my luggage, which I feel like is even dumber now that I’m here. There’s no definition of “adult” that doesn’t apply to me. I should be better at this stuff by now.

That will make finding and staying in shade all the more urgent, and my pale form will burn as though torched like the cosmos by Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs themselves, but cancer is later-me’s problem, and he’ll deal with burns, tumors and such as need be. But yeah, might spend more time in the press area today, which is covered. There are also a couple clouds here and there to provide periodic relief. I’ll do my best, but it is sweat-while-stationary hot. More water. It will be okay. The music will start. Night will come.

Took a ride back into town with friends during Mother Vulture yesterday, as I mentioned near the end of that post, but I didn’t actually get to sleep until around 5AM. I was caught up sorting photos, which on my not-that-new-anymore laptop is less efficient than it used to be, and then just couldn’t quite key down. I guess the adrenaline that carried me through had a half-life. So it goes. I got up at 10AM, so not entirely sleepless, but yeah. The second long festival day here is going to be a trip, I think.

You could see the Milky Way banded across the sky as I made my way out last night, which was perhaps all the more valued as I missed out on stargazing during my recent Southwest US jaunt. A stirring reminder that we are all gas and dust revolving at however many hundreds of thousands of miles of hour around a supermassive black hole, which I feel like is worth keeping in mind anytime you might be tempted to think a thing matters or has any kind of permanence as humanity sits one EM pulse away from the Stone Ages. I could go on here, but it doesn’t seem in the spirit of things to be comforted by hopelessness. If nothing matters, you understand, it’s okay that I forgot my hat.

It is impossible to ignore the idyllic nature of this space; a forested canyon carved out by the Mrežnica, if I have it right, and the swimmers, canoers, kayakers, campers, and lawn-layers are correct to take advantage of the river, the trees, the grass, all of it. I’m a little too in my own head for that kind of whatnot, but that doesn’t stop me from seeing the pricelessness of the physical location and layout both for the attendees now and as Bear Stone continues to build on its to-date accomplishments, as one hopes it will.

However cool it will look in the aftermovie and all the posts people will put on Instagram once they’re back where there’s cell signal, the character of this spot is more perfect than a single sensory media can capture. I could do with fewer dudes urinating in random corners — I get it, bro, you’re drunk and you love nature, but the portajohn is two meters that way and the composting toilet is another five beyond that; you don’t need to pee in the river either — but you take the bad with the good, and as regards this place and this fest, it’s an easy trade to make.

Time to start this thing. Here we go.

Azutmaga

I’ve false-started on writing about Azutmaga three times now, which I guess means I’ve had enough coffee. The Hungarian instrumental two-piece — I’m pretty sure the guitarist said they were from Hungary; magyarok vannak, szerintem — got started quietly and kept a subdued, meditative vibe throughout, despite getting fairly heavy at times. They have a new album, which I will want to chase down hearing after seeing them play. Put it in my notes to remember. Just guitar and drums, though there were more effects pedals on the floor than some entire bands had, so perhaps an expansive sound isn’t a shock, but the languid groove hit me with the right kind of soothe, and in my shady stairs spot, maybe 10 steps up of the total a-whole-bunch, I watched as the pavilion likewise casually packed out, the comings and goings. A sprig from one of the trees above me fell into my lap and I stuck it behind my ear. It didn’t last, but I mention it because it seemed like a fitting thing to do as Azutmaga played, delving into some slower nod as they emerged from a wandering drift, apparently playing their new record — I’m sorry, I didn’t catch the name and can’t look it up; I assure you I mean no disrespect — and exploring through one fluid jam into the next, no pretense about it but ready to build it into a fuller nod, patiently. The guitar player spent most of the set facing the drummer head on, turned away from the crowd — one imagines them on a differently arranged stage set up next to each other, though I have no idea if they actually do that — but it didn’t matter. The focus was on trance, immersion, and I was grateful for the chance to let go of some of the anxious buzz for a bit.

Rifftree

As pure riff and volume worship as I’ve yet seen at Bear Stone from the weekend’s second duo — and right in a row; a duology of duos –Rifftree had guitar and bass tones dialed in through separate amps to maximize volume and depth, and it worked well. They were more about rolling largesse than Azutmaga initially, and both the bass player and the drummer offered rough-edged vocal shouts, but it was the way the low and high ends of the riffs were arranged that made it work so well for me. One or the other would click off, guitar or bass sound, then snap back in a manner no less satisfying for being so clearly telegraphed. They sped up and slowed down, more High on Fire here, more Sleep there, as will happen, but the dirty tone was vivid and central, with some raw feedback for extra scathe on the sludge and pummel. It was a threat that lingered when they drew back the onslaught for a nod-out, and the set was more effective for that. Not the first time I’ve said this this weekend, I know, but I swear I heard a Kyuss riff in there somewhere. Fair use in the building of such stonerly shrines. They capped with a welcome insistence of chug and shove brought to a sudden halt, and I have to think that if they were called Bong-anything, you’d already have heard of them.

I walked back over to the Sviraj!Jam and caught a few seconds of Colour Haze soundchecking. They weren’t even playing songs yet, though that would come after Rifftree finished and could be heard over by the pavilion for the Mill Stage, but I could still sit for hours and just listen to that band meander. Gladly.

Acidsitter

Throbbing heavy psych rockers Acidsitter, whose slogan “make acid great again” — it’s also the name of their record — just kind of feels tragic coming from the States, where this notion of greatness apparently translates to christofascism, were a good time. The performative elements of their two guitarists’ stage costumes were contrasted by the bassist who mostly sat on an amp case, but the vibe was potent either way. They wove between drift and thrust, synthy flourish for a touch of prog but not much more than that as their priorities were clear from the outset. They would enact a full-tone nod topped with a duly classic-style solo, but they didn’t dwell in any one place for so long as to sacrifice volatility, and wherever they went, they continued to serve the song or the moment they were in, whether that was vocal effects, a guitar played with a wisk, or a sudden turn to garage-ier push. More bass on the synth was the request, which brought about a worthy rumble to match the bass on — wait for it — the bass, and in true acid rock fashion, they felt punk-born even in the calmest parts. I’m not sure which side of their approach was druggier, but after a while it all kind of forms a haze anyway. People caught on as the set played out, and though there was a near-heroic dose of chicanery, Acidsitter held together around the rhythm section and the close-your-eyes-and-go groove thereof. Another record in the notes.

Kayleth

Kayleth on the Mill Stage. I know their stuff, had an idea what was coming, so wasn’t caught off guard when they space-blasted desert riffing with synth and theremin during “We Are Aliens.” Headlining the Mill Stage puts the five-piece in a tight space, but there’s something cool about that too, right? I don’t get to European club shows every decade, so the chance to experience a band in a smaller setting works for me. I’ve heard a few complaints about how the Mill Stage and the Jam Stage should switch, and maybe that would work, but at least with the bands who’ve played it this far, I don’t think it’s held anyone back. Just the opposite, and that goes for Kayleth as well. I can’t always hang in a crowd press — okay, I never can — but I know that’s not the case for everyone or nobody would ever go to gigs, which I’m told people still do sometimes. Kayleth were easily worth showing up for, and I don’t honestly know if they usually do bigger or smaller shows, but they owned that space easily, like veterans, and put on a show that was fueled as much by heart as by the tone of the guitar. Of course the synthesizer expanded their dynamic, but it wasn’t by any means alone in that between the backing vocals, loud/quiet and tempo trades. A lot to dig, so I dug.

Nemeček

A deeply pleasant surprise were Nemeček, whose style brought together pieces of soulful Eastern European folk, progressive rock and post-metal, space rock, electronic noise and probably six or seven other styles I’m not cool enough to know about. They had given a few short teases during soundcheck, playing half of this or that song, and even from that it was clear something equal parts divergent and special was about to take place. I knew nothing about them prior other than they’d be here, but consider myself fortunate to have seen them. All three members sat, though the keyboardist did get up regularly as well, and the acoustic guitar (or something to it; pardon my ignorance if I’m wrong) still tapped deep into a sense of heavy that was about more than sound in terms of atmosphere, though when they hit a pulse coming out of a melodic contemplation, they had power behind it. That made their set that much richer, but again, that wasn’t something they were leaning on, just part of a more encompassing whole. I wonder how it comes across on record — like a lot of things, the production would matter — but even from the photo pit, the textures they unfurled were unlike anything I’ve seen in the last three days, and they spoke to traditionalism in a way that only enhanced their individual impression. I hear they’re local. In any case, Nemeček is a band I am glad to have seen. Now I know.

Blitzpop

Aptly named, if you take the blitz as signaling the energy with which Blitzpop took and commanded the stage and ‘pop’ to mean hooks, of which the four-piece brought plenty enough for everyone and generously offered them in with boogie as a bonus. Classic in a ’70s via ’90s way, they were for sure a turn from the more severe persona cast by Nemeček — perhaps that doesn’t apply to the catchy chorus that went “Kill that motherfucker” — but even that they made fun, though I wouldn’t want to be the motherfucker in question, as their argument was pretty convincing if you count the tempo kick later in the song. A quick plug for merch, then back to the hook. They were another one about whom I knew squat, but they did a bit of “woo! woo! woo!” and ululating to bring the crowd with them and locked soon enough into a groove that at least to my ears sounded like Rage Against the Machine, not that they were at risk at that point in the set — a little more than halfway through, probably — of only doing one thing. They toyed with funk, but never lost track of where a song was headed, and as the direct sun beat down on the Main Stage, they kept the momentum up. In the back, in the shade, where I was, people ate and drank and chatted and dogs played chasing each other around as Blitzpop closed out with a Blur-style “woo hoo” that I have no doubt I’ll still be hearing on repeat in my head when I’m trying to sleep tonight. Hazards of the trade.

I ate. This part is mostly for my wife, to whom I’ve not spoken in an actual day — not unheard of if I’m off somewhere, but rare even so — but it was such a joy that I don’t mind sharing. It was a local cheese that tasted to me like sheep’s milk and was divine, and tomato stuffed with cheese, garlic and truffle flanked with greens — greens! — that was whatever the next step up from divine is. Transcendent? Probably. Not my first experience with the sustaining nature of sustenance, but after nothing but nuts for the last three days, it was a pretty amazing moment in my life that I’d like to remember. It was so good. I finished those, but have more for later. Still a lot of day left, but the sun has started to recede, which is something else I’m thankful for.

Them Moose Rush

Weren’t the band I thought they were, but were way funkier than that band, so I’ll take it. Distinguished by a tendency toward unexpected pivots, you could probably hear as much noise as punk or heavy rock in what they were doing, but it seemed clear in the intention to get bodies moving in the crowd, which it did through the course of their hour-long set, and with a notable range from their guitarist’s vocals, they immediately felt like a standout. Again, not what I had been expecting, but better. I’ll admit I’m having trouble getting over how good the bass sounds here, echoing around as it does, but Them Moose Rush were as much about the subtly mathy twists as the heavier stretches to which they alternately did and didn’t lead, and that coupled with the rampant falsetto and vocal reach, the badass bass, the ready-when-you-are drumming made for another shift on the Main Stage, but a natural one coming off of Blitzpop, who also used heavy rock as a starting point for their own purposes in craft. They went hard a couple times, and had now-we-riff-big there when they needed it, but they were just as likely to find themselves in head-down push or someplace else entirely. I’ve heard a lot of rock and roll this weekend, so if I’m repeating myself, I’m sorry, but the bottom line is they made their own kind of sense stylistically and seemed to work from the ethic of conforming genre to them rather than the other way around.

1000mods

I don’t know how much I have to say about 1000mods that I didn’t say when I saw them like a month ago, but hell, Greece’s foremost heavy rockers once more justified that title, taking the Bear Stone crowd on a ride that barely let up even when a guitar gave out and they had to fill the time with a sampled loop and cymbal wash. I had 1000mods tunes stuck in my head for weeks after Freak Valley, and if the same happens when I leave here, I won’t complain. They moved the festival into the portion of the night that’s basically three headliners back to back (to back), between themselves, Colour Haze and Kadavar, and I don’t know how you don’t get into them if you have any place in your heart for heavy rock. They’re pros; they take the stage and do their show. And if you’ve ever seen them, you know that means something. “Their show.” They got rolling again after the technical interruption like nothing had ever happened. It’s never a good time for that kind of thing, but if you have to deal with it, before “Vidage” is when you want to. The audience, clapping along to the drums — and with good fucking reason — sang along, put hands in the air and gave the band back the energy that burst from the stage, and whether I said it last time or not, it remains true: 1000mods are one of the best bands of their generation. And they’ve never done the same record twice, or given in to hackneyed songwriting or made any music other than that which they needed to make. Anytime you can see them, yes, do that.

Colour Haze

Speaking of generational bands, Colour Haze were soon to follow. I don’t like picking favorites, but I can’t think of anyone I’d rather see take a stage on a given night. They’re always finding a route, some new nuance, some turn or small improvisation or just some moment, to make it special. They made an hour and 15 minutes feel short, but it’s a festival set, so I’ll take what I can get. “Skydancer,” always a highlight. Jan Faszbender’s keys taking the spot where the horns go in “Transformation,” which closed. Mario Oberpucher playing the melody while Stefan Koglek takes a solo. And what on earth can you say about Manfred Merwald’s drumming. It had character, it’s intricate, tight on the guitar, but free-flowing, impactful when it needs to be. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen them, but I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that they’re part of the reason I do this in the first place. They’re inspiring, and only more so as they grow more progressive in sound and build on their foundation of heavy psychedelia, which itself set a path of influence so, so many bands have followed. Bands who at this point don’t even realize they’re influenced by Colour Haze because the bands they were trying to sound like were trying to sound like Colour Haze. That they were themselves is the highest compliment I can give them. They are my favorite band in the world.

Kadavar

Again, I caught them pretty recently, but I had cheesed out early on Kadavar’s set and lived to regret it last time, so I knew I wanted to make up for that to myself at Bear Stone. I know they’re long past the vintage thing, and I love those records too, but they have so much more room to grow now, and they have grown, and when they get on stage, the new and the old come together and it’s all united by the passion in the performance, the strut, the swing, vibrant. I love that they’re such a known quantity — they’re the last band tonight, third of the three headliners; people are familiar — but I have no idea what their next record will sound like beyond “it’ll probably have songs.” That’s the safer bet, anyhow. But whatever shape that takes, the fact of their delivery is that it’s encompassing of decades of heavy rock while remaining entirely their own. Onstage, they’re part glam, part hard-hitting, brazen rockers, never willing to settle artistically or stop pushing the parameters of their sound, but somehow so sure of what they do regardless of outside expectation or pressure. Of course the set was awesome. Kadavar were on a stage and the power didn’t go out. That’s a recipe for a winning way to close ab evening right there. I don’t know the status of the album they had been working on in the last however long, but it’s a no-brainer must-hear in my mind when the time comes. The same “duh, yes” principle applies to whenever the next opportunity to see them live might be.

Back at the room now, falling asleep at the keyboard a little bit. Long day, not enough sleep, blah blah you’ve heard it all before. I got a ride back from Nelly and Elias again this evening, and Nelly was the one who brought me food. She also gave me what she called “mishmash,” which was egg, roasted bell peppers, cheese and I think some tomato in there as well. I ate the last of it like five minutes ago and now I am ready for sleep.

Bear Stone’s second and final long day — tomorrow is back to just the Mill Stage — was a banger. You can see the potential all over this festival, and I’m too goddamned tired to see anything clearly right now. Thank you for reading, goodnight, and there are more photos after the read more thing. You know what I mean.

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Notes From Bear Stone Festival 2024 — Day 2

Posted in Features, Reviews on July 6th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

Bear Stone Festival 2024 Day 2 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Before Show; At Fest Grounds

“Kava” is coffee. I repeat: “Kava” is coffee.

I still ordered “coffee.” Chicken shit.

Hotter today than yesterday, which will reportedly be the trend for the weekend. The sky is cloudless, but I have water and a hat and the sun, and as I walked up to the backstage area where the espresso is the birdsong mixed with the already-tripping-out Svirav!Jam stage — I’d assume they just never stopped since last night, but the group was wearing different clothes, so at least there was a break overnight for some amount of time — and that’s a thing I hope to remember about this experience. The Main Stage soundcheck is loud, it wasn’t High on Fire, maybe ###, but I headed over quickly to the Mill to catch the start of Tight Grips. Less downtime today and tomorrow generally, but the tradeoff is more bands, so yes, all good.

More people swimming than yesterday too — kudos to the dude with the floaty that looks like a pocket calculator — and more people, period, but that’ll happen too after the warmup. I’ve still had no food beyond a pack of nuts, but I’m as ready as I could hope to be for this.

So we’re off.

Tight Grips

An interesting blend happening in suitably low-key style from the guitar/vocals, bass/synth and drums trio Tight Grips. Seeing them live is my first real exposure to them apart from a mention in the announcement that they were playing here, but with a foundation in heavy psych, they expand into more solidified riffage — a word I’m almost embarrassingly proud my phone recognizes when I type it — while keeping a rein on meter and aggression but still finding room for low-mouth duder vocals, some drone, a keyboard solo, sampled Tuvan throatsinging, some tremolo guitar in among and the crowd, and so on. Their builds were patient and the nod that paid them off heavy and big-riff enough to draw a crowd from among the swimmers and sunbathers, plus whatever I count as, and the impression they made despite the volume and snare snap was more subtle, calming but not without a cathartic side. Very clearly a band that listens to and draws influence from more than one kind of music, even if that’s mostly under the ‘heavy’ umbrella, and whether it was a more intense crescendo or a dreamier soundscape, crash or roll, they held tight to the weighted groove drawing together what would otherwise be disparate elements and so I guess Tight Grips is an apt moniker on that level, whatever else it might mean.

And all the while, the Sviraj!Jam rolls on.

Quiet Confusion

They were, of course, neither quiet nor confused. Very much the opposite, actually. The French four-piece brought a depth of perspective to their brand of heavy rock, with songs that were casually dynamic, ace basswork, two guitars — plus a cigar-box guitar that came out later — and a resultant style that left the crowd little choice but to be swept up. Accessible in a post-Queens of the Stone Age kind of way, they didn’t shy away from more motor-ready fare, jamming or a bit of crunchy jazz, some blues of course, and though they were heavy enough to fill whatever quota you might have for it, the songs were primary, thoughtfully constructed with dual-vocal arrangements, confidently pushed through their amps, and they leant a sense of range to coincide with the hooks and grit. The crowd under the pavilion ate it up like they’d been waiting for it, and if they had, I get it. Character is the word. I wouldn’t call them revolutionary, but they knew and clearly conveyed what they were about — shuffle included — and were infectious. I watched from the dappled light of the steps in back as a group of campers who I don’t think were attending Bear Stone at all came through in matching blue kayaks on the water. A tour group, maybe. They wound up where the swimmers were but didn’t stick around as Quiet Confusion hit a swinging slowdown and brought out the cigar box guitar at last. Their loss, surely.

Stonetree

Quiet Confusion were a hard act to follow, but Stonetree from Austria had a stoner rock thrust of their own with which to do so, and a vitality that served them well as the afternoon heat bore down. Limited shade to be had, even under the trees in back; I ended up walking those stairs all the way up — for any of my countryfolk reading, I’ll call it a Statue of Liberty’s worth of uphill steps — but I couldn’t find either the wifi or the management office, so I sat for a minute to catch my 40-something breath and made my way back down. When I arrived back at the Mill Stage, maybe eight minutes of real-time later, Stonetree were also visibly sweatier, and the crowd was packed into the shade under the pavilion’s roof such that there wasn’t really anywhere to be. I thought about sitting beneath, like, under the pavilion, but nah. A little further down the path, I found a corner near the river and could hear alright from there, even if there was some space rock bleedover from the jam stage. Gotta survive. There’s a lot of day left. Stonetree looked like they were considering hard whether to heed the calls for one more song, but in the end said their thanks and took their leave, having set their own high standard for the Mill Stage in energy and impact.

Baron Crâne

I didn’t know funk was the theme on the Mill Stage today, but I chalk it up to my own ignorance as so-tight-it-was-like-a-moral-position Parisian three-piece Baron Crâne closed out the pavilion-based portion of the day with noodly-nerdy quirk opening to big-nod groove that both accounted for what everyone else was doing and diverged in another, weirdo-jazzier direction. They were pointedly individual, down to setting up their speaker cabinets facing each other, and purposefully swapping out tempos and effects as they went, more changes in a song than some bands have on entire records, but flowing despite the inherently busy modus. Not entirely instrumental, but more interested in that end than vocals, they were able to land hard or bounce as they wanted, and as they danced around the stage, pulled this way by a riff or a solo or a build or whathaveyou at any given moment — not to imply randomness or lack of intent behind what they were doing — the crowd took it as a cue to do the same. So be it. The intermittent heavier roll served as both arrival and departure points, complementing the parts weaving through and around it in a slew of directions, some surf rock happening in there too, because of course. They mellowed, Hendrix-jammed, but you knew it was momentary, and in the end their blast was propulsive and raucous. That payoff was the most satisfying, but it got a worthy follow-up in the next song they played, complete with a stirring guitar solo echoing out. For the duration: never any more out of control than it wanted to be, riding dangerous turns and making hard changes sound easy. They were pretty fucking rad, in other words. “We have two songs left to play for you. Time to dance. Let’s dance together.” And they did.

Stopped by the Jam Stage to see the end of the Sviraj!Jam for the day. They had it going right up to the Mill Stage’s finish, and people still got up on on the Jam Stage after throughout the day to noodle and bang around. Awesome to see such open creativity fostered.

###

Ah yes, the beginning of the day. Opening the main stage, the band whose moniker is properly pronounced by banging three times on a hard surface — I believe wood is preferred — kept it punk-rock short and noise-rock intense with some experimental flashes for vibe’s sake. It’ll be less cool when someone starts calling them Knock-Knock-Knock, but it ain’t gonna be me. No words from the stage — as would make sense, in context — save for some shouting into the guitar pickups toward the end, they were there and gone in maybe half an hour. Or maybe I’m just not counting the stretch of amp noise from which they launched the set. Or maybe I lost a few minutes somewhere. Or it took me longer to get water than I thought. I don’t fucking know, okay? It felt short, and I mean that as a compliment, because if what they were playing felt long, it would mean it sucked. It didn’t. I got my photos quick and did meander a bit — it will be a mercy when the sun sets, for more than just the psychedelic visuals to be projected, but we’re not there yet — but wound up watching the finish by the side of the stage, and they pushed further for the culmination facing into the sunlight. It looked hot as hell up there, but ###, as the first band on Bear Stone’s big stage — I’d say “at last” because it feels like a lot of the day has already happened, but I’ve already established I’m Billy Pilgrimming on time — unveiled hit with a force not yet heard today or yesterday, and the notice they served did not go, well, unnoticed.

Gnome

My first time seeing Gnome. Thank you, Bear Stone. Starting with their new single “Old Soul,” the Antwerpen three-piece moved between more and less aggressive parts in their material, but what I hadn’t realized about the band prior to now was just how much their material was made for the stage. That is, I knew that was the concept, but you see it live and it’s a different experience. Drenched in attitude and self-effacing swagger, they asked the crowd early on, “Are you ready for some more stupid shit?” And given the number of Gnome hats in the crowd, some of them autographed, people clearly were. I’m not sure I buy Gnome as dumb, though. I mean, it wouldn’t work if they got on stage and were hyper-pretentious about playing their songs, but as they hit into “The Duke of Disgrace,” another one from the forthcoming record, with some rougher vocals to emphasize the hook, I didn’t at all get “stupid shit” from it. Their King album was a big deal in Europe — the videos were great, they’re a touring band and all signs point to that continuing, etc. — and I’m not about to argue with that, but they’re toying with the idea of being ridiculous in a way that’s actually pretty clever. The hats? Well, if they’re still doing this when they’re 50, they might find the hats a little stale — or they might not; AC/DC still wears the same shit they wore however many decades ago — and two-thirds of them were off by the end of the set, but they’re having fun on stage, they’re righteously heavy, and they have the songs. To me, at least, that’s the source of their potential. If they were actually just screwing around, if there was no heart or consideration behind it, I don’t think it would have clicked as it has. Fuckery, but with songs, and just the right kind of revelry when it gets nasty. Riffs you want to know better for the next time you see them, and a “next time” that’s a given before they even finish this one. Dudes in the crowd went off. Good band. Look out for that album.

Muscle Tribe of Danger and Excellence

While they boosted the only cupped-mic thus far into the weekend, the heretofore-unknown-to-me Muscle Tribe of Danger and Excellence were as dudely as one might expect from the name, informed by hardcore, and had an underpinning of Clutchy groove that came out in both the quieter and outright pummeling parts, and as the sun went down and the stage lights were visible for the first time — last night’s projection test notwithstanding — they kept momentum on their side and had people out front dancing for most of their hour-long set. I don’t know where in Croatia they’re from, but the local contingent of the crowd — and that’s an assumption, yes; I’m not out on the grass checking passports — obviously was more familiar. Maybe more burl than I’d go for in general, which is what I’ve been beating around the bush of saying, but I’m not going to take away from the vitality they brought to the stage or the ease with which the metal side of their sound came and went, guttural shouts and cleaner singing intertwining for a broader take than the “dudely” tag I saddled it with above really communicates, though I stand by that too. Or sit, as it were, since I moved to the back, the food tent, to psrk my ass at a table and write as the set progressed. No worries though, that punch carried over the evening air just fine. Done well, and at a certain point hard groove is hard groove and this particular Tribe had plenty of it to go around, but not really my thing on the balance of it. That happens. They had the dogs barking approval between songs, so there you go.

Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs

Am I cool enough to call them PigsX7? Nope. Someday maybe? Probably never. It’s typing out Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs every time for me. This would be my first on-stage encounter with Newcastle’s Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, and one to which I was looking forward. There was a half-hour break before they went on, presumably to let people eat — something I again failed on, because I am terrible at being a person; I’ve found an option though, so maybe tomorrow I’ll pull the trigger on it — and in that interim the last vestiges of evening began to turn to night. I moved up to the press area by the Jam Stage-adjacent bar for a few minutes of away-ness, and I think it did me some good in resetting before Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs — oh come on, please? nope. — Pigs Pigs got to it. And when they did, surely LIGO could measure gravitational wave as they wrent the fabric of spacetime with a cosmic thrust that, in my experience, is singular among their generation. I felt a bit like a rube having not previously been indoctrinated, but for anyone else who might be reading this who hasn’t seen them, rarely does lysergic music get delivered with such ferocity. Imagine getting five dudes in a room and this is what happens. My goodness. And not only were they charged, but h-e-a-v-y. I knew they had a reputation. It is earned, unflinchingly. Not enough hyperbole for it. They’re the most most. Stars came out while they played, drawn I assume by the gravity as Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs began fusing hydrogen in the middle of a stellar nebula. Whatever you’re thinking when you ask the question “were they really that good,” I assure you the answer is yes. I wasn’t ready for it. They knocked me on my ass. Imagine a now-heavy incarnation of earliest Monster Magnet prone to fits of cosmic hardcore punk and doom. Hell yes I’ll type their full name. It’ll be an honor.

High on Fire

Jeff Matz on a Boris-style double-neck guitar/bass. Not sure what you could ask of High on Fire than that, but you’re getting the barrage anyway. I wouldn’t trade this lineup of High on Fire, Matt Pike, Matz and Coady Willis for any other in the band’s quarter-century history. They’re tighter than ever, and they have a catalog to draw from that they’re able to bludgeon you from any angle they want, even if that’s usually just straight out running you over on their way to the next in line. They played “Fury Whip,” did a bunch from Cometh the Storm, and were High on Fire. That’s it. It’s a rare band where you know what’s coming and get blindsided anyhow. But that’s who High on Fire are. There’s a reason they’re headlining heavy fests across continents, and it’s because no one else delivers like they do on stage. Loud but precise, hanging by a thread like Slayer at their Dave Lombardo-drummed best, more able now to change up around that core breakneck pace, but absolute masters regardless of tempo of this monstrous, only-theirs fucking sound. And I’ve never seen them, with this lineup or any other, where they phone it in. They get up there and kill. Reliable into themselves. I was here and there as they played, but wound up by the side of the stage near the photo pit, and watched the finish from there, Matz picking the double-neck back up to riff at centerstage with Pike before swapping back to the bottom end. My goodness what a show. Like cruel kings reigning. Coady Willis gave someone in the front his crash cymbal when they were done. Wow.

Mother Vulture

You know, I’m not gonna lie and say that I saw the whole set or that I’m any kind of expert on what the UK’s Mother Vulture do, but I respect the shit out of the fact that after High on Fire handed the Bear Stone Festival crowd its collective ass, the brash Bristol heavy punk-metallers refused to be cowed. They would not be an epilogue, or an afterthought. They played their show and it was its own kind of intensity, with the band all over the stage — the bassist even leapt off from behind his cabinet at one point — the guitarist couldn’t seem to stop spinning in circles, and their vocalist was both ringmaster for the circus and in on it. I was surprised the drummer sat at all. But at the same time, what they played had so much more going on than a young band’s penchant for physicality. Some classic rock, loads of punk, some screams worthy of black metal, and a whole lot of “uncompromising.” They gave Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs a run for their money, while doing something different musically than any other band who’ve played thus far. Admirable and tight in kind.

My ride was waiting for me to get Mother Vulture pictures — thank you Nelly and Elias from Threechords Records for the lift; it made finishing this in time possible — and as we rolled through the dark and twisty streets on the way back to Slunj, we listened to Queens of the Stone Age’s Rated R and I looked at the stars and it was a good way to end the day, being able to take people from ‘people I know’ to ‘friends’ in the span of a weekend. That’s how it happens at these things in the best of times, which seems to be what I’m having. How about that.

Day three tomorrow is another long one. Buckle up. Colour Haze, 1000mods, on and on. Gonna be fun. More pics after the jump in the meantime.

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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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Traveling to Croatia; En Route to Bear Stone Festival 2024

Posted in Features on July 3rd, 2024 by JJ Koczan

My name on wood bear stone festival 2024

The wooden sign with my name on it greeted me as I walked out of the arrivals door — a moment anticipated by weeks of anciety, and not just the usual me-for-myself kind. In addition to Bear Stone Festival, which I’ll cover over the next four days, and being in Croatia for the first time, the travel to get here included my wife, daughter and dog. And the dog. Weeks of paperwork, chasing down this or that. I had to go back to my vet to get a hand-signed rabies certificate so the US FDA could certify the dog to enter the country. We got papers FedExed to our house with official government crimps all over them, signed off with diligence by some bureaucrat who I’m sure would value knowing that those papers weren’t even checked as we made our way out after baggage claim. Anything to declare? “Uh, I’m really fucking tired and speak absolutely zero Croatian? Also this is The Pecan and if you don’t let her out of here she’s gonna start climbing the baggage claim again?” I could go on.

It was 18 hours of travel — so far; hang on I’ll get there — rendered a full day by the time zone change to CET. We flew through Schiphol in Amsterdam, connecting from JFK to Zagreb. A nightmare. Commercial air travel, Hi Croatia 2terrible at best, with a six year old who, if she was here, surely would remind me forcefully that she’s six and a half. Perhaps if we’d been home in New Jersey for more than four days after coming back from our trip through various national parks of the Southwestern US it would’ve been easier. But I doubt it.

In addition to being severely enough ADHD that I see a real possibility I’ll spend the rest of my life picking up after her, The Pecan’s neurodivergence has come to the fore in my consciousness in seeing her absolute overwhelm at the travel. Granted, she was younger when we went to Ireland, and a baby that time she got kicked out of The Black Heart in London — she didn’t even get the chance to start a barfight — but still, neither of these situations could count as her first time at the dance, and seeing the way she gets hung up on “I want it” as a be-all-end-all standard for what absolutely must happen, to a point of crippling her own experience and certainly that of anyone else in the vicinity — tantrums, I’m talking about — I don’t have the background to say autism but if she was a boy there isn’t a doubt in my mind she’d already be diagnosed.

So she had a hard time. So we all had a hard time. Difficult. Not the dog. The dog got Dramamine and conked out for the duration. I wish I’d done the same for myself. Maybe 20 minutes of sleep on the first, six-hour red-eye from NYC to Amsterdam? The second flight fared better; it was about two hours and I, The Patient Mrs., The Pecan and, yes, Silly Tilly Herself, got real, hard sleep. PBS Nova put The Pecan out, neither I nor my wife needed the help. Just a matter of collapsing.

The next couple days? Bear Stone in Slunj. Here’s a look at what’s to come:

bear stone festival 2024 thursday friday

bear stone festival 2024 saturday sunday

I don’t know that I’ll get to see all of everything — literally, I don’t know how it works; I’ve never been here before — but if you’ve ever kept up with any of the fair amount of fest-type coverage that’s appeared on this site before, you know that I’ll do my best to see and document as much as I can. I’ll need a shower before that happens — I am nothing short of disgusting and a night of sleep. Fortunately both of those things seem to be what I’m heading toward.

And I’m speaking literally there, because the travel is ongoing. I’m writing in back of a van en route from the airport in Slunj to the apartment I’ll be staying at for the next few days, through hilly, green countryside and highway giving over to more rural streets Hi Croatiathrough farms and little towns. My understanding is it will get greener as we go. Won’t complain about that. It was not too hot, not too cold stepping out of the airport, which I first did to let the dog poop since she hadn’t gone in 18 hours (pet relief area at JFK wasn’t cutting it, and Schiphol doesn’t have any, presumably because Dutch canines don’t pee?), then did again so that I could accompany The Patient Mrs. and The Pecan upstairs to where their rental car shuttle was picking them up. They got on their way, I got on my own, and we’ll reconvene after the weekend somehow, some way.

In the interim, there’s rock and roll and then some to be had over the next few days, and I plan to get as much of a dose as I can. Thanks if you’re still reading this, and double-thanks if you keep up with what’s to come. It’s been a ride up to now, both actually and in figurative terms, and I have only the faintest idea what I’m in for here, but I can’t wait to find out for real.

Onward.

bear stone festival 2024 banner

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Bear Stone Festival 2024 Completes Lineup; Kadavar to Headline, 1000mods, Them Moose Rush & More Added

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 4th, 2024 by JJ Koczan

Thrilled to say I’ll be at this one. My flight is booked to Zagreb, and from there I’ll travel to Slunj for a couple days to hang by the riverside and cover the Bear Stone Festival, which has completed its 2024 lineup with the additions below. You can se Kadavar joining High on Fire in the headliner position, and as Greek heavy rock kingpins 1000mods add the fest to what will no doubt be another busy summer, they’re joined in this last announcement by a swath of bands representing Croatia’s local underground — Them Moose Rush, Muscle Tribe of Danger and Excellence###, and so on as you can see below — and others from Austria, Hungary, Italy, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Poland. It’s like an international conference, and one which I’ll be honored to attend.

Not even going to pretend to know all the names listed below, but I’ve included the descriptions with the announcement in case you’d like to check them out as well as for my own reference to study up before departure. While I’m talking about it, thank you to Bear Stone for inviting me. I look forward to being in Croatia for the first time, seeing old and new friends, and of course being pummeled into oblivion by volume for a few days. It’s going to be quite a summer. Stay tuned, and thanks for doing so.

From the PR wire:

Bear Stone Festival 2024 Full Lineup Poster_Square

Bear Stone Festival 2024 Full Lineup Announcement

Ticket link: https://eventix.shop/cexrwn4b

Here it is, the full lineup for Bear Stone Festival 2024!

28 bands spread out across 3 stages with our festival veterans Sviraj!Jam taking over the Jam stage as always.

There will be a couple more surprises announced as we get closer to the festival, so make sure to stay tuned to our socials.

Standard festival tickets include parking and camping for the entire duration of the festival and they are available on our website and via Entrio. There will be no day tickets.

Get your festival tickets here: https://eventix.shop/cexrwn4b

KADAVAR (DE)

We are beyond happy to announce the legendary Kadavar as the second headliner of Bear Stone Festival!

Their meteoric rise began with the release of their debut album in 2012, followed by breakout records like “Abra Kadavar” and “Berlin”, which earned them critical acclaim and chart success in Germany. With subsequent albums like “Rough Times”, “For The Dead Travel Fast” and their latest album “The Isolation Tapes”, Kadavar continued to evolve their signature sound while also establishing their own label, Robotor Records.

Known for their energetic live performances, Kadavar’s self-recording approach and unique production techniques ensure an authentic representation of their dynamic stage presence. Their riff-heavy sound resonates with fans of Hard Rock and Psychedelia alike, solidifying their status as pioneers in the modern Rock landscape.

1000MODS (GR)

Rising from smokey basements to packed arenas, 1000mods stands as Greece’s most successful rock band of recent decades. Their seminal album “Super Van Vacation” in 2011 revolutionised European rock with its heavy sound and vintage vibes, cementing their role as leaders of Greece’s Heavy Rock scene. With subsequent releases like “Vultures” and “Repeated Exposure To…”, they showcased remarkable songwriting skills and garnered critical acclaim, setting the stage for international recognition.

MUSCLE TRIBE OF DANGER AND EXCELLENCE (CRO)

Muscle Tribe of Danger and Excellence, born from the vibrant Zagreb Stoner scene nearly two decades ago, brings together top musicians from diverse backgrounds to create a potent blend of Rock and Metal.

With two albums and EP’s under their belt, the band’s latest release, a new EP titled “Call If You Need Anything Else” featuring three fierce tracks, solidifies their reputation for delivering energetic, no-nonsense rock with their thunderous frontman Domagoj Šimek leading the charge.

THEM MOOSE RUSH (CRO)

Them Moose Rush, though often likened to Mars Volta due to their specific vocals, carve out their own sonic niche with a blend of influences spanning from Mike Patton to Radiohead, resulting in a unique fusion of Prog, Noise, Math, Pop, and Stoner elements.

They are already notorious for their DIY art, inventive videos, and critical acclaim from outlets like Prog Magazine and Metal Injection, the band returns with their fourth studio album, “Zepaxia”, featuring 16 tracks, embarking on a European tour and gracing festival stages to promote their latest release.

BLITZPOP (AT)

Formed by Yves Krismer from Mother’s Cake, Pia, Arthur, and Kajetan from Motion Sick, Blitzpop emerges as a revolutionary, convention defying musical force with an ethos that transcends mere music and embodies a vibrant philosophy that resonates with contemporary social dynamics.

Their compositions echo the raw intensity of Dead Weather and Nirvana while forging a path uniquely their own, marking a bold new chapter in the realm of rock ‘n’ roll.

### (CRO)

### (pronounced by hitting a random object three times) is a band best described by instrumental guitar noise, feedback and pulsating lights. They are already well known in the Balkan underground for their DIY approach while avoiding a normal course of things, they have recorded and/or performed in abandoned ironworks buildings, roofs, lavatories as well as moved a whole studio to a squatted cinema.

Since 2013, this group of people have tried the best they can to harvest the silence of their small hometowns Sisak and Novska into a self-propelled world of video experiments, tinnitus and print stains on their fingers.

ZOLLE (ITA)

Zolle, the heavy rock duo comprised of Stefano on drums and vocals, and Marcello on guitars and vocals, defy conventional boundaries with their raw and intense sound, echoing the primal essence of existence.

Their latest album, “Macello”, delves into the complexities of human existence, exploring themes of ambivalence, contradiction, and paradox with unapologetic honesty. From the chaotic energy to moments of profound introspection, “Macello” invites listeners on a journey through the raw, visceral realities of life.

KAYLETH (ITA)

Formed in Verona in 2005, Kayleth draws inspiration from the Stoner/Desert Rock sounds of Kyuss, Monster Magnet, and 37005, infused with space influences. Over the years, they’ve self-produced several EPs, evolving their sound to incorporate space/psychedelic landscapes, culminating in the release of “Space Muffin” in 2015 under Argonauta Records.

With successful albums like “Colossus” and “Back to Earth”, Kayleth continues to captivate audiences, earning praise from both critics and fans alike, eagerly anticipating their forthcoming album slated for Spring 2024.

STONETREE (AT)

Emerging from Austria, Stonetree delivers a potent blend of riff-oriented Heavy Rock, characterised by explosive instrumentation, dynamic vocals, and polished production. Formed in 2016 following the disbandment of Machine Zoo, they’ve honed a distinct style fusing elements of Alternative Rock, Grunge, Stoner Rock, and Prog Rock, showcased in their debut album ‘”The Tempest” (2017).

Renowned for their energetic live performances staged from “Evertruck”, an old Volkswagen van transformed into a live stage, the trio has continued to innovate, releasing EP’s like “VOID FILL” and “VOID FILL 2” during the pandemic, setting the stage for their upcoming EP “VOID FILL 3”.

ENTROPIST (CRO)

Entropist is a Rijeka-based trio whose musical oeuvre spans through Instrumental Doom with nuanced influences of Space, Psychedelic, and Post-Stoner Rock, reflecting their diverse musical palette and harmonious fusion.

Their low-key approach and affinity for a bold, robust sound turns their live performance into a must-see experience of their sonic ethos. While carefully balancing diligence with patience amidst the pandemic’s challenges this trio dedicatedly crafted a commendable debut album which, in their own words, is best experienced live.

ACIDSITTER (PL)

AcidSitter are a vibrant musical collaboration, uniting seasoned Psych Rockers from Poland and Japan, headquartered in Krakow, where they delve into a diverse spectrum of psychedelia fueled by Rock ‘N’ Roll fervour and Punk vitality. Having graced stages at renowned festivals such as Red Smoke and Soulstone Gathering, and even embarking on a brief tour alongside King Buffalo, they’ve solidified their presence in the live music scene.

Their latest album “Make Acid Great Again” represents an exhilarating journey through dreamy, spacey realms intertwined with a solid Rock core, evoking a uniquely grounded yet fuzzy sensation akin to stepping into a new Earth.

MISERY CROWN (BIH)

Originating from the picturesque city of Bihać, Bosnia and Herzegovina alongside the scenic river Una, Misery Crown emerged in 2012 as a Southern/Sludge/Stoner band with influences from genre pioneers like Down and Crowbar, evident in their debut album “When North Meets South” released in 2013.

Evolving their sound with subsequent EPs “One Stone” and “Northern Wind”, Misery Crown balanced homage to genre roots with a quest for originality, culminating in a performance at Croatia’s Bear Stone Festival, marking their debut in the country’s vibrant music scene.

VAN MANAKIN (AT)

Van Manakin, a Vienna-based instrumental duo formed in 2020, has been crafting music together for nearly a decade, channelling their daily experiences into their jams and performances.

Creating wild and energetic soundscapes in their natural habitats, the rehearsal room and the stage, Van Manakin’s music is a cathartic blend of Post-Rock, Stoner Rock and Progressive Rock with hints of Metal and Funk, inspired by the panamanian bird of paradise known for its lasting friendships, creative sounds, grooves, and mesmerising moves.

AZUTMAGA (HU)

Azutmaga, a Budapest-based instrumental stoner rock duo, embarks on a sonic journey marked by climbing riffs and tribal rhythms, interspersed with improvised departures. Founded in 2019 by Patrik Veréb and Martin Várszegi, their music is a meditative massacre, blending psychedelic elements with the raw energy of Stoner Rock.

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Bear Stone Festival 2024 Spotify Playlist

Bear Stone Festival 2023 Aftermovie

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Bear Stone Festival 2023 Adds Monster Magnet, Conan, Cojones and The Freak Folk of Mangrovia

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 9th, 2023 by JJ Koczan

bear stone festival 2023 banner

This is the second lineup announcement for the 2023 Bear Stone Festival in Croatia this July, and it’s a doozy with Monster Magnet and Conan joining the bill for the two-day riverside camp out, along with native purveyors Cojones and The Freak Folk of Mangrovia, the latter of whom recently issued their new nine-minute single “Astral Nomads,” which you can stream below.

As you can see in the poster, there’s room for one more four-band batch to be announced, and I’m curious to see who’s in that top left spot right next to Conan as well as the other three, but with Orange Goblin and Monster Magnet established as the headliners for each day supported by Conan‘s crush, Seven That Spells‘ intricate and spacious prog, the funk fusion of Mother’s Cake and so on down the lineup, there’s a lot to dig here if you’re looking for heavy vibe without fillers. Which I think everybody is to some extent or other.

I’d be at this in a second if I could. Sunny summer days spent breathing unfamiliar air in a place I’ve never been before, watching killer bands in the kind of friendly, inviting environment one sees portrayed in the aftermovie from last year’s fest — also streaming below; granted the reality won’t be in slow-motion, but it’ll give you an idea — and yeah, that’s enough to hang a daydream on for the afternoon.

To wit:

Bear Stone Festival 2023 second poster

Monster Magnet Leads The Next Batch of Bands Announced for Bear Stone Festival!

It is with great pleasure that we announce the new names of the upcoming edition of the Bear Stone Festival.

For all Spacelords and Superjudges! It is a great honor to announce the performance of the legendary American Rock band Monster Magnet, the second headliner of this year’s festival edition. They are followed by English stoner/doom champions Conan. Favorites of the underground scene and a highly respected band that are going to promote their new full-length album.

We’re bringing stoner rock aces Cojones from a deep, five-year sleep. This will be their first performance after the break and their first appearance at the festival. We round off this shot of names with the psychedelic sounds of the city of Rijeka. A group with a bit of a strange name, The Freak Folk of Mangrovia.

Get your festival tickets here: https://www.entrio.hr/event/bear-stone-festival-2023-12404

Don’t forget about the Bear Stone Festival Warm-Up Party with Colour Haze and Bosco Sacro performing at the legendary Klub Močvara on April 14th.

Tickets: https://www.entrio.hr/event/bear-stone-festival-predstavlja-colour-haze-13230

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The Freak Folk of Mangrovia, “Astral Nomads”

Bear Stone Festival – Year Zero Edition aftermovie

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Bear Stone Festival 2023 Makes First Lineup Announcement

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 13th, 2022 by JJ Koczan

bear stone festival 2023 banner

People, dogs, a river, plenty of rock and roll. If you have a minute, take a gander at the slow-motion-prone aftermovie from Bear Stone Festival in Croatia earlier this summer. It’ll make you nostalgic for the event whether you were there or not. A frog even shows up. That’s always fun. And they’ve got the same bear back on the poster art for consistency’s sake. I vote we name him ‘Beartholomew.’

Perhaps bear and frog alike will put in an appearance next July for Bear Stone Festival 2023, the first lineup announcement for which has just been made. Orange Goblin stand among headliners, as they will, and Mother’s Cake, Croatia’s own Seven That Spells and Hungary’s Woodstock Barbie are the initial confirmations, and you can see with handy visual aid of the poster below that there’s plenty more to come for the vibe-heavy two-dayer set for July 7 and 8. I’ve never been much good at things like camping, enjoying sunshine, being around humans, etc., but I’ll be damned if they don’t make it seem enticing here, and what looks like an intimate vibe balanced with the outdoors in a kind nestled-in spot? Yeah. I think there’s something cool happening with this one. Like, let’s watch over the next couple years and see what happens.

The fest sent the following down the PR wire. I love that they call them ‘early bear’ tickets instead of ‘early bird’:

bear stone festival 2023 poster

Bear Stone Festival 2023 – First bands and ticket presale info announcement

It’s with great pleasure that we are announcing the first bands that are set to perform at Bear Stone Festival 2023 as well as the presale date for a limited number of Early Bear tickets!

We are very eagerly expecting the next edition of Bear Stone Festival after this year’s “Year Zero Edition” which created quite a buzz and very quickly established the festival as a fresh new concept that has been recognized both by its domestic and international audience. The symbiosis of Rock music with all of its (sub)genres and untouched nature has never been more beautiful.

See you again on July 07&08, 2023 on the banks of the magical Mrežnica river (Donje Primišlje, Slunj).

Our first headliners are a world famous UK institution for over 25 years, the legendary Stoner Rock/Blues Metal band Orange Goblin. They are followed by Croatia’s very own Psychedelic Rock magicians Seven That Spells for whom this will be their first public appearance since the pandemic. Mother’s Cake are a band that tenaciously expands their Alternative Space Rock gospel across the European stages for a number of years proving themselves to be the backbone of the Austrian alternative scene. Coming from Hungary are Woodstock Barbie led by the charismatic vocalist Alexandra Pádár with an arsenal of material that guarantees a wild ride.

ORANGE GOBLIN (UK)
SEVEN THAT SPELLS (CRO)
MOTHER’S CAKE (AT)
WOODSTOCK BARBIE (HU)

We are also announcing the presale date of limited and discounted Early Bear tickets that will be available from Wednesday, 19.10. from 10 a.m. Follow us on social media below for important links that will be posted soon.

Grab your discounted tickets on time!

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Bear Stone Festival – Year Zero Edition aftermovie

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