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Woodsist Festival in Big Sur seems like the counterpoint to festival culture and its funhouse associations: it’s not necessarily big, there’s not so much a headliner as there is a curatorial band (Woods), the dozen or so performers orbit a handful of interconnected genres, and there’s no Ferris wheel. Returning for its seventh year, Woodsist Festival is produced by (((folkYEAH!))) and Woods.

I'm not sure if festivals are necessarily about anything, but Woodsist seems like it's about Big Sur. Instead of drawing attendees to a transformed enclosing[1], the festival rests modestly within what seems like the main event: the woods. It’s a profound distinction: When it comes to exploring a creative space with strangers, what’s the difference between the one that’s brightly disguised and the one concentrated on its place? If Woodsist is a meditation on location, big festivals seem more like exercises in setting.

I think this distinction trickles down to Woodsist’s lineup. It’s not that the performers are necessarily similar, it’s that they have an important similarity. Like the festival itself, the artists seem very cognizant of what’s at hand musically. These musicians don’t seem particularly interested in taking their instruments or songs into uncharted territory, and if it is uncharted, it’s roughly the same neck of the woods it was inspired in. When I think of the bands playing Woodsist, I imagine people who’ve listened to a lot of a specific kind of music, the kind of people who’d make mad obscure and focused mixtapes. There's a general bent towards older, guitar-centric genres. Rock and roll, folk, pysch, blues, surf.

But what's so good about this lineup is how the artists shine through the tears and wrinkles of their older influences. And what's shining through is a set of wholly unique voices — or maybe a better word is voicings. Listen to some of the lineup and you'll catch the same drift — that these are folks studied in genre, making them fully capable of pushing and reimagining said genres. It’s hard to talk about a collection of bands/artists at once, and it’s probably also a bit dismissive, but I genuinely think there’s some thing about Woodsist: some one thing.

This year’s lineup includes: Jonathan Richman, Woods, Steve Gunn, White Fence, Jessica Pratt, Michael Hurley, Kevin Morby, Ultimate Painting, Gun Outfit, Cian Nugent, Little Wings, and Alex Bleeker and Friends. A portion of the proceeds are going to the Big Sur Education Council.

Here’s a trippy promotional video for the festival, and a cool Woods song.

Woodsist
Loma Vista Gardens, Big Sur
July 26 & 27, 2016
12 pm, $150

[1] Think of the way people describe Burning Man, or Coachella, or whatever, and how it’s talked about as a world: Separate from and complete without everything just outside the fence.

 

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