Bear-ing it all in concert

Bearapalooza music fest hits Raleigh May 11

Two North Carolina artists will be the featured performers at Bearapalooza at Raleigh’s The View and Legends on May 11. The first-time event will bring together gay male artists from around the country for a concert filled with the sounds of country, jazz, pop, blues, rock and gospel.

Bearapalooza started six years ago in Tennessee and has spread throughout the U.S. with performances in New York, Philadelphia, Seattle, Nashville and Florida. Raleigh will be the final stop of the tour down the east coast and is sponsored by the Carolina Bear Lodge.

Among the performers will be North Carolinians Swin Dunbar and J. Allen Brown, along with Bigg Nugg of Northwest, Ohio; Freddie Freeman, Charlie K. Brown and Michael West, all of Nashville; Gordon Michaels of Boston, Mass., and Ron Morris of Easton, Penn.

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“We celebrate diversity, positive body image and positive attitudes about gender,” said founder Freddy Freeman on the Bearapalooza website. “Plus the music is top-notch quality work by amazing artists crossing all genre lines. I am proud to once again be showcasing these talented artists and celebrating this diverse community.”

Freeman, who is affiliated with the Woobie Bear Music label, mixes country, rock, folk and R&B influences into a tapestry of American Pop music. Much like his title song “Break the Silence,” Freeman does not hide his voice as an openly gay man — something far too common among talented gay artists who remain silent about their identities.

Dunbar, who lives in Clayton, N.C., first met Bearapalooza co-founder Mike West on Bear 411, and then was introduced to Freeman in 2005 at a Bearapalooza show in Nashville. Over the years the three men became friends. When it was time to take the tour on the road again West and Freeman contacted Dunbar about bringing Bearapalooza to Raleigh. Dunbar was also asked to perform along with Raleigh’s very own J. Allen Brown.

“This is something I have always wanted to see done,” Dunbar said. “My goal is to bring it to everybody.”

Dunbar, 39, mainly plays acoustic modern folk with influences from country, blues and rock. His early years were in the church where his mother was an organist and piano teacher.

“She did not teach me music, but I picked up listening to her teach,” he said. “When I was very young, living in Winston-Salem, I remember a priest, Father Joe, playing a guitar at a mass. The instrument fascinated me and I wanted to learn to play. From there I started playing and singing in a church folk group.”

Brown, 35, plays the guitar and is well-known in the Raleigh circuit for his acoustic rock performances.

“I had played a few live shows in Raleigh and through that exposure I was invited to join the lineup for the Raleigh show,” said Brown. “I enjoy playing and performing live, and I am excited to share my music with others.”

It was an online connection that brought West and Freeman together. Freeman was looking for bears who where musicians. During West’s first two years of writing music, he was commissioned to write “My Love Will Reach You” with Grammy- and Emmy-winning producer Joe Hogue for a Cystic Fibrosis Foundation charity event. He also obtained three single-song contracts on songs co-written with Bryant Keith. Two of the contracts were with Van Watkins Music LLC, and one was with The Sundance Channel.

West, 35, performs a variety of music from gospel and show tunes to rap, rock, pop, and country. He said he didn’t move to Nashville with stars in his eyes.

“I wanted to be around this creative place,” said West.

He added that it’s great to have a venue for bear artists. “We took the music from the basement where no one was hearing us.”

Nugg, 27, who calls himself a “gayhiphop” pioneer, raps away on his MySpace page with words of struggle for gay acceptance.

“I have always been a musician. It’s in my blood,” he said. “Because my dad did music for the church that meant so did the kids.”

Nugg performed in the coffeehouses in his hometown until the city closed them down. Officials didn’t like the fact that they were places where the skaters, stoners and outcasts hung out. Nugg got around the obstacle by renting a hall in the country and throwing parties.

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“It was always a ton of fun,” he said. “We pulled in nice size crowds, and ever since then I was hooked.”

Morris, 34, met Freeman when he was booked for a gig in New York City a few years ago. Morris joined Bearapalooza shortly thereafter.

“Music has always been a big part of my life,” Morris said. “My grandmother used to sing all the time. When times were tough she would get us singing and that would always make things feel a little better.”

Morris said he grew up learning his craft and performing live through the theater in high school and college. After graduation he hit the road with an old guitar and a book of chords given to him by his parents.

He writes and performs melody-driven, folk-infused pop songs and has released two projects on the Roadworm Music label, a small company based in Asheville.

Rounding out this slate of performers is Michaels, 43, who is also performing for the first time with Bearapalooza. He calls himself a vocalist and actor, who sings Broadway tunes, blues and R&B.

“The men all seem to be very gifted and talented in their very diverse genres,” he said. “I am a bi man and for me just getting any and all people to hear me perform is a joy. I love to be able to touch people with my God-given gift of song.”

Like so many of the other performers with Bearapalooza, Michaels got his singing start in church.

“Seeing how powerful music was, and how it moved people and made them feel, made me know right then that music would always be in my life,” he said.

Bearapalooza, Raleigh
Sunday, May 11, 5 p.m.
The View at Legends
119 Harrington St.
Tickets: $10 at the door

For more information on the Bearapalooza music festival tours and the participating artists, visit www.bearapalooza.com.

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