This Bay Area Promoter Is Bringing Joyful Sounds — and Love — to Amazing Spaces
It's nothing new for people to fall in love at concerts, but Bay Area music fans are getting married more and more often at locations inspired by promoter Britt Govea's scenic shows.
It's pretty easy to get starry-eyed at his events. Govea runs a cottage industry of small performances featuring buzzworthy bands and music legends in Instagram-worthy locations around rural California. Under the moniker (((folkYEAH!))), he's booked singer-songwriter Bonnie "Prince" Billy at a historic chapel near Sausalito, indie chanteuse Cat Power at a redwood barn on a Sonoma winery, pop darling Jenny Lewis at an Old West BBQ joint near Joshua Tree, and Grammy winners Arcade Fire at a literary landmark in Big Sur.
This landmark is the Henry Miller Library, a tiny cabin-turned-bookstore that doubles as a charming music venue. During (((folkYEAH!))) events at the Library, attendees mingle with musicians along the cabin's wraparound deck, or sprawl out in the tree-lined meadow housing the outdoor stage, strings of Edison bulbs glowing above them. Most recently, Joanna Newsom and Fleet Foxes frontman Robin Pecknold performed here, but the history of notable (((folkYEAH!))) shows at this venue includes Animal Collective, The Flaming Lips, The Walkmen, Pegi & Neil Young, TV on the Radio, The Chris Robinson Brotherhood and Dungen.
Govea considers it the ultimate flattery that countless nuptials have also taken place at the Library in recent years between couples originally drawn in by a (((folkYEAH!))) show.
"The fact that these events are creating love among fans is wonderful," he says. "That's the most important thing ever."
Regardless of his followers' marital status, though, the independent promoter has made a name for himself as an intrepid California impresario. (((folkYEAH!))) leads the cultural zeitgeist in experiential concerts where fans connect with their idols as easily as they commune with their bucolic surroundings.
"How cool is it to be there?" In an era where you can take your geographic pick of dramatic destinations for mega-festivals (Coachella, Outside Lands, Sasquatch), Govea attracts fans craving significantly less claustrophobic settings. Many of his bespoke concerts max out below 300 attendees.
Now in his 11th year as a promoter, Govea is still equally concerned about the quality of the experience for the artists and show-goers. When he's scouting a new location, Govea asks himself, "How cool it is to be there in terms of geography? Is there a space for people to stay and camp and make a night or weekend of it?"
Another important factor: "It's also about finding the right band that pairs with the space."
For the past seven years, Govea has partnered with New York label Woodsist to host one of his signature events, the annual Woodsist Festival. This year's psych-folk bender goes down July 26 & 27th with Woods, White Fence and eight other bands at another photogenic Big Sur locale, Loma Vista Gardens, an offbeat outdoor venue where giant woven wood sculptures tower overhead. A portion of the proceeds from the festival benefit the Big Sur Education Council.
Govea met Woodsist founder Jeremy Earl when Earl's band Woods played the Library in 2009. Earl says it was his first time in the land of sweeping cliffs, forested hillsides and turquoise ocean water, and he fell in love with Big Sur. He also forged a lasting relationship with Govea.
"Britt's venues and spaces are finely curated," Earl says. "They are beautiful destination locations that are usually off the beaten path. This makes for a more intimate and private show experience where audience and artists become one."
That communal (((folkYEAH!))) vibe extends beyond the encores. In Big Sur, official concert endings simply mark the beginnings of unofficial acoustic hootenannies with the bands around campfires at the rustic Fernwood Resort, or lead to huevos rancheros brunches next to the previous night's headliners at the popular breakfast destination Deetjen's.
Camping trips for music fans: Govea's festivals easily turn small towns into summer camps for the musically and geographically adventurous. The friendly (((folkYEAH!))) shroud will likely envelop the Fernwood once again during the Animal Collective Camping Weekend September 23-24. The event, co-curated by members of the experimental act and limited to 333 passes, sold out within minutes of tickets becoming available. Six bands will play the Fernwood's outdoor stage in a redwood-lined clearing.
Animal Collective's Avey Tare says he was inspired to contact Govea about hosting a weekend with his band after attending a similar camping event at the Fernwood last September with Bonnie "Prince" Billy.
"Britt has always felt like a very hands-on type of promoter who keeps in touch and actually cares about how bands feel about the show," says Tare. "I'm psyched we were able to make it happen because Big Sur is one of my favorite places on earth."
Although Big Sur is just one of many destinations for (((folkYEAH!))) events, it has special meaning to Govea. His 2-year-old son was born there, and the seaside hamlet was also the scene of his first foray into concert promotion. Back in 2005, the Bakersfield native was living in Monterey, working as a creative services manager and fantasizing about bringing his favorite musician, Will Oldham (aka Bonnie "Prince" Billy) to Big Sur for a show.
He emailed Oldham out of the blue, and the musician wrote back that he'd love to play — in two weeks. Govea hastily organized a gig at the Fernwood. Without a ticket vendor, he had to rely on taking reservations and hope that people would "show up and give us the money," he says. To his surprise, not only did the show sell out, but "every single person showed up and paid," he says. That level of commitment to a concert is unprecedented, he adds. "It gave me the inkling there was definitely interest in a different kind of intimate, rural show."
Food, wine and musical pairings: While Govea relied on hanging concert posters all over San Francisco to promote that first Oldham concert, today he distributes news of his latest events via a network of Facebook announcements and updates to his website. The site currently lists nearly 40 upcoming (((folkYEAH!)))shows, which range from casual gatherings (Little Wings at a Santa Cruz crepery) to larger one-offs at established concert halls (Mac DeMarco at The Warfield).
Not all (((folkYEAH!))) shows require San Franciscans to road trip. Govea does the booking at The Chapel in the Mission and promotes shows at standard venues around the Bay Area.
His reputation as a respected promoter helped him present his idols Bob Dylan and Patti Smith at theaters and auditoriums in the past. Working with esteemed musicians and venues adds prestige to Govea's one-man operation, but it's still the under the radar productions that earn (((folkYEAH!))) its loyal following with bands, attendees and music-loving landowners alike.
For the past three years, Govea has worked with Sonoma's Gundlach Bundschu, the oldest family-run winery in California, to book shows in its redwood barn and hillside amphitheater. Among other notable concerts, Govea is responsible for Real Estate, Fuzz and Bill Callahan performing there. He also partners with the vintner to book Huichica, an annual June celebration of West Coast food and music originally launched by the Fruit Bats' Eric Johnson and Gundlach Bundschu's Jeff Bundschu.
Bundschu, a SXSW regular, is thrilled with the level of indie musicianship Govea brings to his laid-back winery. "Britt has a real style and presence when it comes to curation and attitude," says Bundschu. "He's a great guy who puts the integrity of the artist first."
Govea says booking the kind of concerts he'd want to attend has gone from a "shot in the dark" to a hobby to a vocation that supports a family. And although he now works with venues all over California, he says that the (((folkYEAH!))) brand is ultimately about hosting experiential concerts outside the big cities: "My biggest joy is finding unique spaces for shows."
Lucky for us, we get to share in that joy.