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Sometimes, certain settings pair so well with specific kinds of music that it's hard to imagine one without the other. In particular, the Bay Area's boundless natural beauty, and the outdoor venues hidden within, pair perfectly with the enveloping melodic haze of psychedelic rock.
In fact, the two have a long history together, especially in the North Bay: The Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival, purportedly the first American outdoor rock festival, took place in an amphitheater on Mt. Tamalpais and featured the Doors, Captain Beefheart, and many more. Near Muir Woods, the notoriously hidden artists' collective Druid Heights (which may soon become a nationally recognized Historic Place) was the site of legendary weekend-long fêtes and jam sessions with psychedelic rock musicians from the Bay and beyond.
On the afternoon of Saturday, May 7, the contemporary psychedelic Swedish band Dungen visited an impossibly beautiful property tucked away in Nicasio and made their own little piece of history. The gig was announced quietly via Facebook, and spread quickly by digital word-of-mouth — it seemed, at first, too good to be true. But when I arrived at the sprawling private property, shrouded amongst the redwoods off Nicasio Valley Road, I quickly realized every expectation I had would soon be exceeded.
After following the sound of music down a short wooded path, I found myself upon a small stage topped by a gazebo, with a colorful, seated crowd listening to the folksy sounds of opener Sophia Knapp. The audience was delightfully rag-tag: denim-clad rocker types sat next to older Marin folks sharing blankets with thirty-something families, young children in tow. While Knapp and her talented band rang out easy-going bluesy numbers, I explored the forested grounds, stumbling upon numerous hand-crafted wooden structures, each filled with a variety of knick-knacks and ephemera. Evergreen, and with something new to catch the eye in every corner, the site seemed plucked from a children's storybook.
Knapp wrapped up, and by 4:15pm, Dungen cut loose with their first song, "Sätt Att Se," the lead single from their sixth album (confusingly titled 4). As plaintive as it is ecstatic, "Sätt Att Se" perfectly captures Dungen's ethos -- it owes as much to the Beatles as it does to Black Sabbath. As soon as Dungen began, the crowd sat up and huddled the stage, eager to catch their fill of the music.
It was obvious, from minute one, that what we were experiencing was not an ordinary concert. Those at the front of the crowd were standing directly before the band -- separation between artist and audience was nonexistent. Bandleader Gustav Ejstes (who, on record, writes and performs nearly all Dungen's music himself) bantered frequently with his band (guitarist Reine Fiske, bassist Mattias Gustavsson, and drummer Johan Holmegard) and just as frequently with the audience; after about an hour, he remarked that they were playing their "ultimate set, in the woods. What songs do we even play? Who knows!"
The band were clearly overwhelmed by the beauty surrounding them. A short break later, the crowd danced and sang along in a second set to favorites like "Festival" and "Ta Det Lugnt," rarely performed live. Nearly two and a half hours later, they finished with the epic "Sova," a soaring, ten-minute journey in multiple parts.
Afterwards, as the crowd slowly dispersed, everyone seemed in awe of what they had witnessed. It was one of those "only in the Bay Area" kind of moments. We found ourselves wondering if (or when) something like this would happen again. With any luck, this occasion marked the first of many.