Bear music is music created for and by Gay men who identify as Bears (men who are not concerned with having physically perfect bodies and who favor facial and body hair). In contrast to much of Gay men’s music, which stereotypically leans toward electronic dance music, ballad-singing divas, and Broadway show tunes, the prevailing expression of Bear music is mostly acoustic rock. The artists are male, though female voices are used occasionally for backup.
The Bear community has its own big dance events with DJs playing electronic dance music (EDM) in any number of genres. These events may also be considered within the realm of music for Bears played by Bear DJs, but not necessarily created by Bear musicians.
A major inspiration for Bear music is the women’s music movement, which promotes music by women for women and a sense of sisterhood among women everywhere. Bear music has comparable objectives, but focusing on one facet of the Gay male community. Although artists in Bear music have been around since the 1980s, a Bear music scene did not arise until the 1990s. Woobie Bear Music (a company that produces the work of Bear musicians) debuted in 2003 with a compilation of Bear artists and songs called Bear Tracks Volume One. Other volumes followed, providing independent Bear musicians with a level of exposure that they otherwise may never have had.
Bear music lyrics are designed to empower Gay men who were ostracized by other Gay men for not living up to body-image stereotypes. The lyrics often speak of hope for a better future, Gay pride, and personal empowerment for men, including those who do not fit the Chelsea boi stereotype (muscular, macho, and manicured, also known as Chelsea clone, named for the Chelsea neighborhood in Manhattan, NYC). A prime example is the lyrics to Freddy Freeman’s “Free Man” from his album Break the Silence (2006):
I’m a Free Man, a big man
A fat man and a hairy man
Freeman repeatedly flaunts his non-Chelsea clone physique, tying it directly to his identity as a Bear, and his refusal to change:
Well, I’m a big man, a sexy man
A proud Bear, I ain’t goin’ nowhere
Bear Music Festivals, Radio, and Artists
Bear music festival include Bears on the Run, a tour that goes through many cities over the course of a few months, and Bearapalooza, which took its name from Lollapalooza, an annual rock/popular music festival created in the 1990s. Founded by Freddy Freeman in 2002, Bearpalooza has become a national celebration of Ursine (from ursus, Latin for “bear”) brotherhood. Bearapalooza has averaged two shows per year, one in Nashville, Tennessee and one in a different location. Bearapalooza resembles women’s music festivals that are held on private land where clothing may be optional. Like women’s festivals, there may be a time and place set aside for spiritual functions.
Bear Radio Network was started in Rochester, New York in 2003. With two streaming MP3 feeds, the network put forth the following mission statement: “Our objective is to introduce our audience to a diverse selection of music, an alternative to the pure techno/house format.” The weekly schedule has featured shows such as “Bear Soup” on Monday, “2 Fur Tuesday” on Tuesday night, “Bear Podcast” on Thursday, and “Brokeback Friday.” Despite its mission to provide alternatives to techno/house, the schedule included club music for Saturday night.
Some Bear music artists that have made names for themselves are Freeman, Elijah Black, Troy Rusnack, Kendall, Nekked, the BEARatones, and Bear Crusader (Quebec). On a less serious note, camp aesthetic won out with what was labeled the first Bear boy band, Bearforce 1 from the Netherlands. The crew of four bearded men (with shaved heads most of the time) produced a video in 2007 of their self-titled disco song medley “Bearforce 1,” while dancing in pastel polo shirts and white trousers. The video was posted on YouTube and became an underground LGBTQ hit. Bulgarian pop star Azis’ video, “No Kazvam Ti Stiga” featuring three muscle Bears and Azis as both masculine businessman and black-draped diva, was a hit in the Bear community in 2008.
Dececco, John and Les Wright. The Bear Book: Readings in the History and Evolution of
a Culture. New York: Routledge, 1997.
Kampf, Ray. The Bear Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide for Those Who Are Husky,
Hairy, and Homosexual, and Those Who Love ‘Em. New York: Haworth, 2000.
Suresha, Ron Jackson. Bears on Bears: Interviews and Discussions. Los Angeles:
www.bearradio.net, accessed July 2010.
“Bearforce 1” www.youtube.com/watch?v=twQlpFrm5iM&feature=PlayList&p=8BBA6DD823B92B03&playnext_from=PL&index=0&playnext=1, accessed July 2010.
“No Kazvam Ti Stiga” www.youtube.com/watch?v=TbeLVoWgraQ, accessed July 2010.