The Queen of BurntWoodsStock

When you’re driving down Highway 20, weaving your way to Newport, you might notice an unusual barn jutting from the tall grass like a friendly mirage. You’ll see large, bright letters painted on the side that spell BurntWoodsStock. This was the Kasner family farm—189 acres that housed cattle, sheep, chickens, and ducks—and, for a few short years, it was the grounds of a grassroots music festival.

The last iteration of this event never came to fruition, after the death of Leone Letson Kasner, “Queen of BurntWoodsStock,” which signaled the end of an era in many ways. Jimmie Kasner, festival founder and her youngest son, remembers Leone as a woman “who didn’t allow herself to recognize her own genius.”

Leone, Farmer and Artist
A Tillamook native, in 1937 Leone found herself in Hawaii helping the Navy design camouflage while she attended art school. “Mom was an artist. She painted, she sculpted, she did oil paintings, water color, wood prints,” Jimmie said—and the list goes on.

It was in Hawaii that Leone met Hanyan Kasner, or Slim to his friends—a diver and boxer in the Navy, and a bit of a ladies’ man. A light-heavyweight champion, he really met his match in Leone.

“The story goes that my mother knocked him out one of the first times they met,” Jimmie said. “He pinched her butt on the Navy base, trying to show everyone that he was cool, and she laid him out.” They were together ever since.

Hanyan was in the Navy for 20 years and, when he retired, Leone said they could live anywhere as long as it was in Oregon. They found the farm in Burnt Woods in 1956. For many years, Leone and Hanyan ran a successful farm along with their daughter and three sons. On top of that, Leone was an assistant librarian in Eddyville and always made time for her art.

“When Mom was doing her art, we understood that it was important. We didn’t bug her. It was just as important as running the farm,” Jimmie said. She never sold her work. It was her belief that making art to sell was synonymous with being a tradeswoman. She was an artist, through and through.

Local Historian
If Leone set her sights on something, nothing could stop her.

“Mom was an absolutist, black and white. She was the strongest person and had the strongest values and walked the walk better than anyone I’ve ever been around,” Jimmie said.

When he was in high school, Leone started taking one class at OSU every term until she graduated with a Master of Fine Arts and a minor in art history. She later became a West Coast Indian art historian.

Through spending time in Salem, Leone started helping the Siletz people get their tribal status reinstated. She became an honorary member of the tribe and learned basket-weaving, a skill that sparked an interest in the history of Native American art, particularly that of the Siletz tribe.

She eventually wrote two books, Siletz: Survival for an Artifact and Spirit Symbols. While both were heavily researched and contain original drawings by Leone, Spirit Symbols took 14 years to write and gained her status as an adviser for the State Committee on Indian Services. In his forward to her book, OSU archeologist Richard E. Ross praises Leone’s devotion to finding the meaning and function of Native American art as a spiritual practice.

The Festival
When Hanyan suffered from a stroke in 2003, the Kasners quit raising cattle. At that time, the traffic on Highway 20 was changing the way of life for many farmers in that area.

“It used to be open-range,” Jimmie said. “Cows kind of had the right of way.” There was a time when if someone hit a cow, it would have been the driver’s fault. That all changed as more tourists flocked to the coast and travel became a more sacred industry than farming.

In 2006, Jimmie moved in with his parents and a few years later had the idea for BurntWoodsStock. He had been playing music most of his life and knew a lot of local musicians. The first festival started as an end-of-year party for Corvallis friends. They only had 55 people, but by 2010 they had 1,000.

Jimmie loved hosting out-of-town bands and providing an event that local people without a lot of money could enjoy with their kids. It was, above all, kid-friendly, and Leone loved it. She hadn’t always liked people but dementia made Leone more social, according to her family. Jimmie describes her as being on the autism spectrum, though she was never diagnosed.

He laughs when he recalls being five or six and asking his mom what she thought about a drawing he did. He was pretty proud of it and Leone went on to give him an honest critique. She told him, “Well, Jim, if you want me to say something nice about it, just say, ‘Oh, Mom, look at what I made! Isn’t it pretty?’ But you come down and ask me what I thought so I told you what I thought. If you don’t want to know what I think, don’t ask.”

The End of an Era
Leone had a hiatal hernia, which pushed her stomach right up against one of her lungs. She survived that way for quite a while, but eventually it became very difficult to breathe. “She just wore out,” Jimmie said. He was with each of his parents when they died in their living room.

“They never went to a nursing home. My mom wouldn’t have survived the nursing home. She knew where she was at the farm,” he said.

After a few years of working out the kinks, Jimmie felt like he was finally on the cusp of breaking even with BurntWoodsStock. They had lost money every year, but he held onto the dream. Neither Jimmie nor Leone saw that last festival unfold in 2014, but it didn’t matter. When he thinks about the last years he spent with his parents on the family farm he said, “It was a blessing for me, as well as them. I consider that some of my finest work, taking care of them.”

Jimmie was the only sibling who wanted to keep the farm, but he couldn’t afford it. After 10 years of taking care of his parents, he had to face the abrupt transition of selling the family farm, of losing the festival, and of someday watching that barn get torn down.

“It’s one of my favorite places on Earth,” he said, from his new home in Seal Rock.

Jimmie hoped to sell the property to a family in the community but, in the end, the only buyer willing to pay what it was worth was Starker Forest. Jimmie knows the sale is controversial, that Starker Forest is the “Big Bad Wolf” of buying farms and planting trees, but he also knows they keep a lot of Western Oregon alive.

“My parents were the last of the cow farmers,” he said.

Life without Leone
At Jimmie’s new home in Seal Rock, pieces of the festival still exist. When I pulled up the long driveway, he was working on a ’66 Cadillac he had cut the top off and turned into a convertible. It was plastered with flower stickers and a BurntWoodsStock banner.

“The kids put all of them on there,” Jimmie said with a smile. “The BurntWoodsStock limo.”

He proceeded to give me a tour of his home, a quiet patch of land far away from the bustle of Highway 20, but still holding relics of his previous life like cheerful ghosts. He gave me a leftover T-shirt and some posters, and let me admire all of Leone’s artwork and flip through family photographs. You can’t turn a corner without seeing Leone—a sketch of the family barn, a horse sculpture, a painting of the landscape she worked and studied—and her careful attention to detail. She took months to finish painting a tree stump, Jimmie said, and it shows.

A self-proclaimed hippie, Jimmie radiates generosity and is looking for new ways to give back to the community.

“My sweetie, my partner now, has quite a story herself, but we are trying to [create] a retreat for kids who need help,” he said. “There are a lot of kids who need help and have no money, so we want to help the ones around here if we can, help them get a bit better grasp on the way the world works.”

He may have traded 189 acres for six, but Jimmie will find a way to expand what he has and share it with the world. He just has to remember the expectation his mother set for her family: “It was just acknowledged that we would do good.”

By Anika Lautenbach