Bear Shadow: The Little Music Festival with Something for Everyone
Bear Shadow music festival has a lot going for it including an eclectic lineup headed by superstars Spoon, The Head and The Heart, and Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit. Set to take place April 28-30 at picturesque Winfield Farm near Highlands, NC, Bear Shadow also boasts a unique undercard of up-and-comers drawn from the worlds of Americana, indie rock, roots, folk, and country — all set against a backdrop of stunning mountain vistas.
Music fans seeking the joy of discovery will find no shortage of it here. Bear Shadow’s undercard showcases the diverse talents of young music innovators Fruit Bats, Lissie, Neal Francis, Myron Elkins, and Amythyst Kiah, plus Woody Platt & Shannon Whitworth. What’s more, the event caps attendance at 2,000 participants per day, making the listening experience a relaxed and intimate affair.
Produced in partnership with non-profit organization Highlands Festivals, Inc. and Eleven Events, organizers (including Eleven Events’ partners Casey Reid and Christy Medford) have worked hard to deliver a boutique festival with diverse musical offerings that set it apart from the homogeneous concert industry dominated by big players like Live Nation.
“With the bigger festivals, although they’re amazing, and they have amazing budgets, you’ve got the big dog promoters like Live Nation or AEG, or whomever, producing those working with the same agents,” said Casey Reid. “They do definitely package artists together. It’s really important that we’ve tried to offer something for everyone and really showcase who we think are up-and-coming and exciting artists.”
Alternative rockers Spoon headline on Friday, April 28 with indie rock outfit Fruit Bats and singer/songwritter Lissie playing support. Born Elisabeth Corrin Maurus, Midwestern folk-rock singer Lissie kicks things off. The acclaimed artist made waves in 2010 with her first full-length album, Catching A Tiger. But she was commanding the attention of major music makers as far back as 2008 when Lenny Kravitz, tipped off to her talents by a friend, asked her to open for his Love Revolution Tour. Four albums later, including 2022’s intensely personal work Carving Canyons, Lissie continues to claim her place among music’s formidable singer/songwriters.
Headed by multi-instrumentalist Eric D. Johnson, Fruit Bats has been making a name for itself as one of the nation’s preeminent indie/folk/rock bands for nearly two decades. Founded in Chicago in 1997, Fruit Bats features a rotating cast of stellar musicians with Johnson as its sole permanent member. With the recent release of Fruit Bats’ 10th album, A River Running to Your Heart, Johnson takes fans on a sonic journey focusing on a sense of place, a theme revisited many times during his storied career. Years of relentless touring and producing inviting songs has paid off for Fruit Bats with a fanbase whose enthusiasm shows no sign of abating.
Indie pop/rock outfit The Head and The Heart close out Saturday night’s performances, which feature soulster Neal Francis and country bluesman Myron Elkins playing support. Just 21 years old, Elkins combines his love of classic country artists like Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash with his affinity for rock and blues. The resulting mix is reminiscent of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers and The Allman Brothers. His recently released debut album, Factories Farms and Amphetamines, was produced by award-winning producer Dave Cobb (Brandi Carlile, Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell), putting Elkins on the map as one of music’s most intriguing young artists.
Neal Francis has been wowing audiences since his days with the widely beloved instrumental funk band The Heard. Now a sought-after solo artist, Francis’ mastery of the piano began at the age of four and propelled him into Chicago’s blues scene, where he sat in with a number of acts as a teenager. As a solo artist, his free-spirited performances blend influences as disparate as ragtime, gospel, soul and rock into a ’70s-inspired stew that has captivated a growing fanbase since his breakout debut album Changes in 2019. His follow-up release, 2021’s In Plain Sight, cemented his rise as one of the industry’s premier rock pianists and vocalists.
Grammy-award winner Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit close out the festival on Sunday night along with openers roots rocker Amythyst Kiah and North Carolina folk artists Woody Platt & Shannon Whitworth. Platt & Whitworth join forces to bring the sounds of Appalachia alive. Platt is a Grammy Award-winning bluegrass guitarist and vocalist best known for his work with Steep Canyon Rangers in collaboration with banjo player and comedian Steve Martin. Shannon Whitworth, a spirited solo artist on her own, toured and recorded with the iconic bluegrass band The Biscuit Burners, sharing lead vocals and playing the guitar and banjo. Together they will be bringing their formidable talents to bear on the rich musical history of western North Carolina’s mountains.
A fiery performer and activist, singer/songwriter Amythyst Kiah is just coming into her own as an artist and powerful voice for marginalized communities. Wary & Strange, her debut album released in 2021, chronicles her struggles as a gay, black woman growing up in Chattanooga, TN and interlaces political commentary with personal revelation. As a member of Our Native Daughters, an all-women-of-color supergroup, she penned “Black Myself” which earned a Grammy nomination for Best American Roots Song. Dubbed “one of Americana’s great up-and-coming secrets” by Rolling Stone, Kiah pushes the limits of roots music, combining it with it an alt-rock sensibility and fearless presentation that makes her one of the most exciting young performers in music today.
Now in its third year, Bear Shadow was begun as a sister event to wildly successful and perpetually sold-out Highlands Food & Wine Festival with a focus on celebrating the natural beauty and culture of the Highlands-Cashiers plateau. With an abundance of hiking trails, waterfalls, lakes, rivers, and stunning vistas, nature takes a star turn here and offers attendees endless possibilities to immerse themselves in the area’s mountainous terrain.
Visitors can also enjoy the historic town of nearby Highlands, which has served as a summer escape for residents of the south and beyond for over a century. Its walkable town center is full of quaint shops, eateries, gardens, boutique accommodations, and historic sites. Primarily known as a retirement community, Highlands is undergoing a demographic shift with events like The Highlands Food & Wine Festival and now Bear Shadow drawing thousands of younger people to the region.
Bear Shadow is proudly dedicated to the environmental conservation and preservation of The Highlands-Cashiers plateau. Since 2021, Bear Shadow donated $20,000 to local organizations, including the Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust and Highlands Biological Station. In 2023 the festival is partnering with Sky Valley-Scaly Mountain Volunteer Fire & Rescue and The Resource Institute to help keep the area’s land and waterways safe for people and wildlife alike. $25 of every ticket purchase will go to support these organizations.
Connecting music with nature’s gifts is central to Bear Shadow’s experience, noted Casey Reid. “Music has always been a way to unite people and create an emotional memory or imprint for folks,” she said. “And when you connect music to a cause, it becomes really powerful. Preserving the area and allowing this experience to go on in such a gorgeous place was a natural fit for us to have that secondary message of conserving and education.”
Some tickets are still available for purchase. For more information about Bear Shadow, click on the links below.