Patti Smith is keeping it simple these days. With her son, Jackson Smith, accompanying on the guitar and longtime bassist Tony Shanahan, the slimmed-down Patti Smith Trio will play two evenings of “Words & Music” on Sept. 6 and 7 as part of the 40th-anniversary celebration for the Henry Miller Library.
The Trio appearances were originally sold out, almost as soon as they were announced, but a few more tickets have been released for the Tuesday show Smith agreed to the second gig. She’s appeared at the venue before, in 2004, telling the Weekly: “Helping out the Library is helping out the consciousness and legacy of Henry Miller. The place is symbolic of his mind and life and energy.”
Father John Misty and Jonathan Wilson will also appear at HML anniversary benefits this month, but Smith’s shows are the main event. It’s a fitting way for her to return to live performing after a year of living dangerously which we’d all just as soon forget. She was originally slated to play CNN’s highly hyped “We Love New York” Central Park concert last month, but when she and co-stars Bruce Springsteen and Paul Simon were rained out, she was resolutely herself. She told Anderson Cooper that she was happy to honor Clive Davis’ request that she perform, but citing climate change and ongoing Covid concerns, she asked: “What are we celebrating?”
The Henry Miller Library’s bohemian milieu is more her kind of venue. I still remember seeing Patti in full-tilt, spitting, slum goddess regalia in the early Horses days at CBGB’s. She’s retained an unremitting commitment to her punk passions and political convictions in the intervening decades. Fueled by a seemingly endless reservoir of talent, even her Instagram feed is a source of wonder, where @thisispattismith remarks upon artwork, books and concerts. She captions one recent photo simply, “This is just a moment of happiness with my kids.”
One of Smith’s saving graces is that she’s resolutely uncool, at least compared to some junked out contemporaries. Although deeply influenced by the Beat icons, she’s also unabashedly ambitious. In this sense, she reminds me of Allen Ginsberg, who had no problem courting fame, and who also used that fame to promote a better world. It’s also reminiscent of Henry Miller, who was bemused by his celebrity but never let it prevent him from speaking his own truths, in his own way.
Her newest album, Banga, features Smith in fine fettle, particularly on This Is The Girl, an elegiac, ’50s-sounding tribute to innocence lost, and regained.
She’s also slated to play the Dream Inn in Santa Cruz on Sept. 8 (don’t ask, you have to book a room). But Big Sur is the place to be, if you can get there.
THE PATTI SMITH TRIO plays at 7:30pm Monday, Sept. 6 and Tuesday, Sept. 7. Henry Miller Memorial Library, 48603 Highway 1, Big Sur, $175. folkyeah.com