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RECAP: Woodsist Festival Takes Big Sur, Day 2: The Henry Miller Memorial Library

By Breanna Murphy; photos by Max Chapman Sweeney on August 9, 2011


RECAP: Woodsist Festival Takes Big Sur, Day 2: The Henry Miller Memorial Library

[continued from Part 1]

After a peaceful night's stay in a one-room cabin alongside the Big Sur River, it was an earlyi(ish) rise and short drive for the second day of the 2nd annual Woodsist Festival—a day-long series of sets at the Henry Miller Memorial Library. The library is located directly off of the 1 freeway; a large, hand-carved wooden sign and a very large mailbox with the word "EMIL" welcome visitors to the front gate. The propery was originally the home of Emil White, a painter and writer and close friend of Henry Miller, who was given the grounds from the state in 1965 as a replacement parcel after his original home near the Burns Creek Bridge was condemned due to road work. Miller would come here often to stay with White, and after his his friend's death in 1980, White turned his home into the Henry Miller Memorial Library. Today, the library is a popular Big Sur destination (for good reason) and it functions as a community arts center, a non-profit and a bookstore, run by its director, Magnus Toren, and a team of devoted staff.

"There are all these stories about the Henry Miller Library and how fantastic it is. And [tourists] imagine when they come that it’s going to be a little castle or something," Toren explains, laughing. "They go, 'Where is it?’ And you have to say, ‘Well, this is it.' Most people recognize the charm of the place, but others are kind of wondering, 'Where is it?' The place itself, though, when you come in here, it’s pretty humble. It has a green lawn area and the stage, the big redwood trees, and a small little wooden cabin."

Toren came to Big Sur from Sweden, leaving home in 1977 to sail around the world. By coincidence (or perhaps fate), he carried a copy of Henry Miller's The Colossus of Maroussi in Swedish for the journey. After delivering a boat to San Francisco in 1984, Toren visited Big Sur, eventually deciding to stay, and met Emil White in 1986. The two became friends and remained so until White's death in 1989. In 1993, Toren was brought on as the non-profit center's library director. Since 2005, Toren and (((folkYEAH!))) founder Britt Govea have worked together to bring one-of-a-kind musical and artistic projects and shows to the library's grounds. They have collaborated on numerous performances including (to name only a few) Patti Smith, Neil and Pegi Young, Philip Glass, Red Hot Chili Peppers (whose surprise show was just three days before) and, of course, the Woodsist Festival. So what attracts these artists and their audiences to the library?

As Govea explains: “The most beautiful setting in the world. It's the most peaceful place to see music, art, film, whatever it is that your there for—or to just sit and do nothing. I go to a lot of shows, I present a lot of shows, and shows in the city are just different. In Big Sur, it's more of a communal trip that people are taking together, who are looking forward to taking it. People always have to take a car ride that’s going to be between two and four hours, and they get all this great time together while they’re driving one of the most beautiful views in the world. The scene, the setting, the trees, I think they just humble people—and they inspire the artists. It’s always an exceptional performance and always an exceptional audience."

"For artists, there are a couple of things," Toren elaborates. "Quite a few people come up here and play. It started with Patti Smith in 2004. For her, it was a sense of being indebted to Henry because of his having inspired her a lot. I think there are many other artists who feel the same way. As an artist, to play here, I don’t think there's been any time where they haven’t said afterwards, ‘That was such a great place to play.' It has the peculiar acoustics with the big redwood trees that sort of absorb the sound in some way. [Artists] all feel like it has an atmosphere and acoustics and feeling here that’s unrivaled."

Words that are easy to read and hear, but I couldn't have said anything better about our own trip to Big Sur for Woodsist. It was really that magical. The Brooklyn label's curation of a two-day festival, made up of their own roster, proved to be both dynamic and diverse—a truly unforgettable weekend. The crowd (max capacity of 300) was able to leisurely sprawl itself out on the lawn beginning at noon, the cloudy marine layer still very much present, so flannel-layering and blankets-a-plenty were an absolute must (in July!). As the sun cleared through the trees overhead, the small grounds were too wonderful not to enjoy, which made staying through the length of the whole day a comfortable experience. Beer and wine and tacos on the lawn of the Henry Miller, in front bands who had come from near (San Francisco) and far (New Jersey), is an experience I cannot recommend enough to everyone. The space was peaceful and thought-provoking, even in the face of far-out psych-rock and punk-spitting raucousness—and, as both Magnus and Britt relayed, the acoustics are second-to-none. It felt special.

Day Two of the Woodsist Festival featured a day-long lineup beginning with Los Angeles' Sun Araw, White Fence (Tim Presley's, of Darker My Love, side project), San Francisco's Sic Alps, the flagship Woods, The Fresh and Onlys, a sunset set by New Jersey's Real Estate, and a fantastic late-night wake-up by Thee Oh Sees.

Below, check out a gallery of photos by Max Chapman Sweeney, featuring Woodsist Day Two at the Henry Miller Library. To see pictures from Night One at the Fernwood, click here.

And, as a last note, I'll leave an invitation from Magnus and Britt to the world:

"Anybody can always come in here and hang out, have a cup of coffee, make a donation, buy some books. That’s the way to support the library, by coming in and checking us out."—Magnus Toren, Library Director, Henry Miller Memorial Library

“I just like the cultural aspect of the Library, and Magnus has curated one of the best bookstores in the world there. The vibe is just unbeatable. The best part of the Henry Miller Library is the double entendre; it’s a community center that is billed as a ‘library,’ but it’s so much more than that. It’s a really wonderful bookstore, too. It’s a vibe there that is unlike anything else in California. Everyone just falls in love with it.”—Britt Govea, Founder, (((folkYEAH!)))

Fore more on the Henry Miller Memorial Library and how you can contribute, donate or volunteer, please visit


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