This is a big weekend for music festivals tucked into scenic locations. And, really, there's nothing like breaking free from the dark concert hall standard for a night or two, instead crowding under redwood and eucalyptus giants, the fog drifting down from the tallest branches. Standing at the intersection of tree groves and amp stacks is one of the best perks of being in Northern California, where living near the great outdoors leads to a handful of great outdoor festivals.
If last year was any indication, Outside Lands should be a blast for folks who crave the multistage, multigenre blowout in a singular park setting. But for those whose tastes trail into the unconventional, and who are looking for a more intimate (capacity: a couple of hundred) setting, In the Pines is a huge summer fest highlight in a confined space, one that, like Outside Lands, is also drawing crowds from all along the West Coast.
In the Pines takes place on Saturday, Aug. 29, on the picturesque lawn of the Henry Miller Library at Big Sur. It's a Christmas-lights-and-folding-chair–strewn setting, one that I've noted before in this column looks more appropriate for an earthy wedding ceremony than a gathering of hippie hipsters and progressive metalheads. But that contrast makes the scene especially inviting, as does the curatorial skills of (((folkYEAH!)))'s Britt Govea, who is hosting the show along with the vinyl imprint Mexican Summer. The label is part of New York's Kemado Records, and it specializes in metal, stoned folk, and acid rock. In the Pines pulls the top names from Mexican Summer and mixes in a couple of eclectic acts from other indie rosters, resulting in what promises to be the region's best excuse to break out the camping equipment all season.
Almost every artist on the Pines bill is a highlight, but the most exciting bits of the lineup are the fairly new acts and/or ones whose tours rarely reach the West Coast. Sweden's Dungen takes Syd Barrett's moonstruck psych and gives it heavy rock girth and flashes of blistering jazz. The group is the project of Gustav Ejstes, who sings in Swedish. He gathers musicians for live shows who help tease out the myriad Swedish folk and acid-rock textures woven through his songs.
The rest of the performers didn't need a passport to travel here, but some sound international in scope. New York's Gang Gang Dance drives beats with the ritualistic intensity of an exorcism, mixing Middle Eastern, Indian, and African chants and rhythms with galactic disco. Live, their instrumentation overflows from a cauldron of electronics, topped by Liz Bougatsos' shamanistic howls.
Then there are the groups who jam with just enough punk distortion to keep the folk freaky. Kurt Vile, Woods, and VietNam get all soul-soothing droney at times, but balance the slower-rolling melodies with surges of loud guitar. Woods has built a particularly impressive buzz as of late, as its eerie elfin vocals and delicate instrumental lattices keep fans guessing as to where its records will meander next.
The final four artists are California-based. Venice's Farmer Dave Scher is a known dude among the cosmic pop scenes, while San Franciscans Wooden Shjips and Saviours round things out with meditative metal and hard rock muscle. Los Angeles' Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, one of In the Pine's headliners, is as fun a performer as he is unpredictable, his lo-fi AM tunes coming off like a distant radio transmission of romantic pop ditties.
In the Pines is a perfect showcase for urban adventurers, the music fans willing to travel not only down the coast, but beyond the mainstream canon, landing in the deep recesses of sunny psychedelia.