Neko Case and Conor Oberst Bring Newport Folk to Santa Monica Pier

The Rhode Island festival invades the West Coast on Oct. 5-6.
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The Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island, legendary for the riotous 1965 response to Bob Dylan’s switch from folk to electric rock, is trying another revolutionary switcheroo this weekend – stars of Newport’s festival, under the rubric Way Over Yonder, will come to the Santa Monica Pier for two nights, Oct. 5 and 6, including Neko Case, Conor Oberst, Brett Dennen, First Aid Kit, Justin Townes Earle, The Felice Brothers, Calexico, Jonathan Wilson, Neal Casal, Shovels and Rope, Thao and the Get Down Stay Down.

Way Over Yonder signifies accelerating momentum for both Newport’s fest and the Pier’s music series, whose crowds have twice this summer overflowed the pier onto the infinite seating available on the beach. “Twenty thousand people showed up for The English Beat in August,” the Pier’s executive director Jay Farrand tells The Hollywood Reporter. “We’re rebranding the Pier as the go-to iconic venue on the West Side, which is starved for music. Over the summer, 150,000-200,000 people came.” The Pier's Twilight Concert series proved a hit. “It’s hard to argue with sitting on a beach or pier with an amazing sunset -- beats sitting in traffic to the East Side,” says Farrand.

Monster folk-tinged acts like Case and Oberst are proving the genre isn’t just for PBS duffers, and giving Newport a second wind. “Several new generations are discovering that music doesn’t have to be in the mold of most of what you hear on the radio,” says Martin Fleischmann of Rum & Humble, which produces shows at the Pier with eminent concert promoter Mitchell Frank’s Spaceland Presents. “There’s a newfound relevance to Newport Folk Festival in the past four or five years,” says Frank. “I told Mitchell, ‘This is something we should be involved in,’” says Fleischmann. “This is the first time they’re producing a two-day fest on the West Coast.”

The acts are in sync with what’s going on in the music scene. “We do a lot of Americana at Echo and Echoplex, and some of our other venues,” says Frank. “We’re creating a bespoke model for mini-festivals, a boutique approach.” Performers can wow 8,000 at the Pier and 800 at the El Rey on the same trip. “It’s a better experience for audiences and artists,” says Fleischmann.

And in the year since Farrand quit promoting the hip, socially conscious brand Toms Shoes and began as the Pier’s administrator, he has made it philosophically in tune with neo-folk/Americana music  -- though the acts he features range widely in genre. Like Americana, the Pier is all about respect for tradition and lively reinvention for the present. “We took a classic brand and made it modern. The Pier is a historic platform for contemporary culture.” The performers like it, says Fleischmann. “It makes sense for authentic acts. You’re not in for some craven corporate idea of a money factory for the promoters.”

Besides, says Frank, Newport and Santa Monica are physically symmetrical. “The setups are a perfect analog: Newport’s Fort Adams State Park juts out into the water facing east, and we’re facing west.”

Quiet-craving residents of the people’s republic of Santa Monica will be relieved to know that the music is over by 10 p.m., sharp. “It’s like the circus comes to town, sets up stakes, then pulls out,” says Fleischmann. “It’s like music itself: evanescent but transcendent in its evanescent beauty.”

See for information.

Saturday October 5th
Main Stage
2:10-2:45              Gospel Singers
3:00-3:45              Shovels & Rope
4:00-4:50              Justin Townes Earle
5:10-6:00              Calexico
6:20-7:20              Brett Dennen
7:40-9:00              Neko Case
Carousal Stage
3:30-4:15              Farmer Dave Scher
4:40-5:25              Jenny O.
5:50-6:35              Neal Casal
7:00-7:45              Jessica Pratt
Sunday October 6th
Main Stage
2:10-2:45              Joel Rafael
3:00-3:45              Thao & the Get Down Stay Down
4:05-4:55              Jonathan Wilson
5:15-6:05              The Felice Brothers
6:20-7:20              First Aid Kit
7:40-9:00              Conor Oberst
Carousal Stage
3:30-4:15              Aaron Embry
4:40-5:25              Frank Fairfield
5:50-6:35              Spirit Family Reunion
7:00-7:45              Hurray For The Riff Raff