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Floppy hats, Fernwood memories, and a big (((folkYEAH!))) to Big Sur 

Wednesday, Nov 29 2006
In the showroom of Big Sur's Fernwood Lodge is one of the most retina-boggling quilts known to craftmaking. It begins over the silhouettes of three howling wolves, their mouths expelling bright swaths of fabric. Midway up the wall the streams merge, blanketing everything in wilderness artistry. I spent hours staring at that crazy quilt two weekends back, marveling at this temporary backdrop for a temporary festival. Both the quilt and the music came courtesy of Monterey's (((folkYEAH!))). Over two crisp fall nights the Fernwood played host to fY!'s

Two Days of Autumn , which brought together San Francisco troubadours (Bart Davenport, Eric Shea, Dodo Bird, Tarnation, Court and Spark) with Los Angeles and Northwest minstrels like Eric Johnson of the Fruit Bats. It also created a community of trippers, hippies, campers, and rock 'n' roll kids, all of whom had caravanned to this musical utopia — where you could drink beer on a back porch surrounded by redwoods, borrow a corkscrew from a neighbor you later realize is one of the performers, and eat your seitan sandwich while millions of stars reserve the distance between green leafy canopies.

The fY!ers crashed in hotel rooms, tent cabins, tents, and cars. We lounged on beaches where the sand turns purple. We listened to music by the hearth, then next to raging bonfires. We inhabited a space that belonged to nothing outside this unpretentious event.

Midway through a set by surprise guests Jenny Lewis and Jonathan Rice, my friends overheard two puzzled drunks attempt to figure out what kind of scene they'd wandered into. Drunk One slurred to Drunk Two: "What's all this about? What do these kids have to protest about anyway?" It wasn't an anti-Bush rally, but (((folkYEAH!))) did make a statement — about music's ability to create a sense of belonging to something outside your CD collection, even if it's only for two days, three hours from home.

That weekend I watched as a half-dozen L.A. mountain men dusted Jonathan Wilson's breathy folk with only the lightest accompaniment. I realized that Vetiver plucks a million heartstrings every time Andy Cabic and company get that cosmic California sound blazing. I stood in wonderment as Jenny Lewis — of Rilo Kiley fame — displayed a voice so warm and sweet she doesn't need histrionics. Between bands, I drank with the owner of Birdman Records and gushed to Lewis about her talent for storytelling. I wished that we never had to leave — or, OK, that at least we could stay another couple nights, even if some folks got a bit too open-mike for my ears.

"Last weekend felt like one of the best Fernwood shows ever," says Britt Govea, fY!'s mastermind. He's produced some 30 shows in two years at that mystical seaside location, from Victoria Williams to Bonnie "Prince" Billy and Devendra Banhart. The next one-off is on Dec. 2 with Pearls and Brass and Entrance; a New Year's Eve party is also in the works. (The next weekender won't happen until spring; check for updates.)

"Magic things always happen in Big Sur. The trees like to be sung to," Govea says with a laugh. "I don't know how else to explain it." These Fernwood fests are part sleepover, part bonfire jam, and part leave-the-bullshit-back-in-the-city. "It's hard to put on any airs when you're in Big Sur. Within an hour of being out there I see all these pretensions fly out the window," Govea adds. "If you can't relax there, you just don't stand a chance." And if you can, well, there's a seitan sandwich and a wild weekend hootenanny with your name on it.

About The Author

Jennifer Maerz


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