Over yonder at the Santa Monica Pier, folk and alt-country music fans weathered the scorching, early-autumn heat to see a stellar lineup of acts including Conor Oberst, Neko Case, Calexico, Shovels & Rope, and First Aid Kit perform at the Way Over Yonder festival, the first of hopefully many more to come.
The two-day concert was the West Coast extension of the annual Newport Folk Festival, which has been going on in Newport, Rhode Island since 1959, and where Bob Dylan was famously criticized for going electric in 1965. Justin Townes Earle, son of singer/songwriter Steve Earle and a fan favorite at the festival, referenced that moment in music history when he was on stage and a fan shouted out song requests. He yelled back, "Don't tell me what to do," and played a number of soulful songs, including a few from his upcoming record, before ending with his well-known cover of The Replacements' "Can't Hardly Wait."
Headliner Neko Case filled the pier Saturday night before taking off to play a similar role at the Austin City Limits Festival the next day. Conor Oberst, backed by the ragged but subtly brilliant Felice Brothers, closed the show on Sunday. A highlight for many of the Oberst set were the multiple contributions of the Söderberg sisters of First Aid Kit on backing vocals. Oberst thanked them at the end of each appearance with the words, "holy shit." If you were there or have seen the Swedish duo perform, you'd know why.
The caliber of artists and size of audience at Way Over Yonder was a testament to the efforts behind it, namely Mitchell Frank (The Echo) and Martin Fleischmann (The Hollywood Bowl), two of L.A.'s top concert producers who were brought on to bring premium shows to the pier. Also ever-present was Newport Folk Festival Producer Jay Sweet, who Oberst gave constant fun-ribbing to throughout his closing set, telling the audience that Sweet reminded him to keep it "folk" and not rock too hard.
Judging by the the look on fans' faces stomping on the boardwalk and banging on the guardrails demanding an encore from Oberst, which he graciously obliged, the festival's mission was accomplished.