As he walks the grounds of his father’s home nestled between the trees and river on Tolt River Road, Morgan Henley can tell a story behind nearly every inch of the property.
Whether it’s the volleyball court that hosted three decades of weekly “Valleyball” games, the over 200 wood figures that were carved there, the signs of since closed businesses, the two music stages of the river itself, each section of the hallowed space — dubbed Club Tolt — has an almost palpable history to it.
That history was built over the last four decades by Morgan’s father, known to Carnation as Hippie Henley Henn Haus, who lived on the land from 1970 until his death earlier this year. A photographer, writer and music lover, Henley built the space into a bastion for community gatherings and local music.
Now, nearly six months after his father’s death, Morgan is continuing to carry on the legacy of Club Tolt. He is preparing the property to host its 15th annual BrodieNation Music Festival, which will be held in honor of his late father.
“Henley was a man of the community. He was our hippie,” Morgan said. “He wasn’t just my dad or my mom’s partner or my brother’s stepdad — he was our community hippie. He loved this community and he loved this town.”
Today, BrodieNation is a nearly four day festival featuring a bill of over 40 bands across two stages. But the inaugural festival was just a single day and followed almost directly in Henley’s footsteps.
For years Henley would host a community event every Fourth of July at the property featuring live music, a potluck and Valleyball, which Morgan said were a staple in the Valley between the 80s and 2000s.
But leading up to the holiday in 2006, it had been a few years since Henley had hosted the event. That’s when Morgan and his friends decided to throw a party.
They first asked the band The Mob Law — a group of friends they watch play every week in Seattle — if they’d be interested. From there they recruited three other local bands to round out the line-up.
“We were kinda just mimicking what my dad used to do, because he hadn’t done a Fourth of July party in a few years at this point,” Morgan said. “It was pretty much just my close friend group and some people outside that got wind of it.”
Initially they were considering several names for the event, including “ValleyPalooza,” but when they thought of BrodieNation, they knew they’d struck gold. The name pays homage to an old college friend of Morgan’s who used to call people brodie and a subsequent joke that followed.
“Instead of like dude or man or buddy he was like, ‘what’s up brodie,’” Morgan said. “To me that was hilarious … so we started calling each other brodie.”
Morgan said the event was prompted by “bros who just wanted to throw a party,” but it soon took on a life of its own. By 2014, with the help of a friend, the festival expanded to two stages. It was the first event Morgan had ever put on and it thrust him, and friend Alex, into forming a production company. Today, Morgan is behind nearly every Valley festival.
“I’ve definitely come to realize more and more how much of an influence my father was on the man that I am today,” Morgan said. “I wouldn’t be involved in any of the music scene here locally if I wasn’t raised that way.”
For his part, Morgan said Henley loved BrodieNation and that his son had taken the reins of promoting local music. Henley loved the festival so much that bands would get a disclaimer ahead of time that he could — at any time — hop on stage.
“Early on I had to tell bands that more than likely my dad will get on stage with you. He’ll sit there or pick up a tambourine and jam,” he said.
“I’d say ‘sorry but we wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t for him, so you gotta deal with it,’” he continued. “Most bands thought it was the coolest thing ever. It was like a rite of passage. It was like ‘all right, the hippie accepts our music!’”
Interacting with the mythical Henley — who hadn’t shaved his face since 1969, was known for skinny dipping in the Tolt River and went by multiple aliases — became something of a right of passage for Carnation residents too, Morgan said.
Since his death, Morgan said he has heard countless people tell how his father helped them and that they didn’t feel like they were really part of the community until they met him. Morgan said Henley, a writer and journalist with a degree in English, had a way of speaking and connecting with people that captivated those around him. He said people respected Henley for living a lifestyle that today is nearly impossible to replicate.
“People remember their one conversation with Henley,” he said. “People tell me they were intimidated to even talk to him because he was this mythical hippie creature … people would come up to him and say ‘you don’t know me but I’m so and so and I’m just happy to meet you.’ He was always engaged from that moment on and he wanted to know everything about their story.”
During BrodieNation last year, Henley, suffering from dementia, was hardly himself, Morgan said. However, he still got up to the sound of Blues chords and danced as best he could. Still, Morgan said it was difficult to watch him lose his natural gift of storytelling.
“Bathing him, changing his diapers, helping him walk, helping get from seat to seat and taking him in the wheelchair to the river wasn’t that difficult, but the fact that he couldn’t communicate anymore was heartbreaking,” he said. “The fact that he went from a man who could keep a crowd of people enthralled with what he was saying for hours to a man that couldn’t put together a coherent sentence was the toughest part of all of it.”
Fitting with his mythical nature, Morgan said his father’s final moments were like they were in a movie.
Although he traveled just about everywhere during his life, including India, Afghanistan, Germany and Turkey, Henley’s last request was to be at Club Tolt for his final moments.
It was there, after getting a kiss on the forehead from his lifelong partner, Sally, that Henley turned, and before taking his last breath, looked out at the community space he had built one last time.
“In a lot of ways he was Carnation, he was the most known figure here because of the things he did,” Morgan said. “He influenced countless people’s lives and that’s really all you can ask for. It’s something I strive to do everyday.”