This past weekend, a couple hundred devoted fans of Woodsist Records snaked up and down Highway 1 and spent two days at the Woodsist Festival in Big Sur. The lineup included the likes of White Fence, Woods, Jessica Pratt, Little Wings, and Real Estate–generally former and current labelmates on Woodsist. The annual festival, which just wrapped up its third outing, is a relaxed environment unheard of at most music festivals. It’s like your friends are playing shows in your backyard: there are blankets on the grass, everyone brings their own food and band members are comfortably mingling with festival attendees and friends. Now imagine you’re friends with Real Estate and Tim Presley (and you very well might be).
The Henry Miller Library is an oasis of natural beauty. This is probably the most beautiful, small scale outdoor venue you’ve ever seen. The festival provided beer and wine but lacked food which would have been a nice touch considered many festivalgoers and bands themselves camped nearby. Another small miscalculation of festival logistics was the lack of Woodsist merch. A handful of records and shirts from each band were available at varying points throughout both days of the festival.
The first day of the festival opened with the lovely Jessica Pratt, a former San Francisco lady who just moved to Los Angeles. Pratt played alongside her keyboardist and the songstress was subdued with her brood of tender folk songs. She opted to play mostly newer material and strayed away from songs off of her critically-acclaimed debut. While Pratt’s stage presence at other venues has been slightly awkward in between songs, she seemed far more comfortable and relaxed here.
Later, folk hero Michael Hurley took the stage with a calm but potent set. His voice sounded classic and almost cinematic in the midst of the redwoods. His lyrics of heaven and perhaps a deceased wife resonated in the overreaching beauty of the Library. It seemed even the breeze stood still while Hurley performed.
In lieu of Foxygen, Jonathan Rado took the stage and apologized for the line-up flip-flop and his voice because he was getting over a cold. Thankfully, Rado and his full backing band (aka the Gentlemen Jets) were not afraid to goof around and have fun on stage. Rado played tracks off his debut album, Law & Order, out now on Woodsist. Radio and co. wrapped up their set with a Big Star cover.
As the clouds came in and the sun went down, our garage-rock darlings, White Fence, took the stage. The band played a strong mix of songs off Cyclops Reap as well as older material. The lights went out at one point during their set but the band kept playing. White Fence certainly had the louder, garage rock part of the festival covered but could have played even louder and taken full advantage of echoes and acoustics.
Day two of Woodsist began with Alex Bleeker and the Freaks, fronted by the Real Estate bassist. The band strayed not too far from Real Estate’s sound, with a retro pop sound that’s amplified by female vocals. A notable highlight from their set was “Don’t Look Down.” The band closed with a slow burning break-up song.
MV & EE are a husband and wife duo that played simple, spacey harmonies at the beginning of their set. The duo seemed to lose the crowd when they launched into an overly intense song with pedal steel and warped guitar tones that lasted for just under ten minutes. They closed with an Elizabeth Cotton cover, though, which elevated the band back to a sweet and soft melodic sound.
Woodsist is unlike any other festival. The calm and friendly atmosphere put both attendees and bands at ease, and it was hard not to have a good time.