The contract was signed in blood: They were to play only folk songs. The maniacal mastermind behind the coup watched from the wings, shooting ominous looks at the man on display as he toyed with the idea of throwing in a little rock 'n' roll. That wouldn't fly here. One misstep, and he'd be fed to the sharks. Or worse-- the tourists. Capitalizing on the success of the summer Twilight Concerts, which featured No Age and Jimmy Cliff, among others, the well-established Newport Folk Festival's Way Over Yonder set up camp for two days at the Santa Monica Pier. It was the first go for this West Coast companion to the extravaganza that led to Bob Dylan going electric back in the day. Experimental troubadour Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes, Desaparecidos), jokingly made that above vow to event organizer Jay Sweet. No blood was shed, but his set stuck to folksy tenets. A washboard even made an appearance during the boisterous "Another Travelin' Song." Oberst's performance was an effervescent one. He marveled at the pier's iconic Ferris wheel, and appropriately timed shrieks emitted from the roller-coaster in the distance. Though, the Santa Monica shoreline was obscured, to which Oberst remarked: "They fenced off the ocean because I told them I hate oceans." A tongue-in-cheek comment from a lyricist best known for the line "Do you like to hurt? I do, I do." (The song from whence that comes, "Lover I Don't Have To Love," didn't get played, but beloved acoustic ballads such as "Lua" were. That one featured honeydew backing vocals from Swedish sister act First Aid Kit, a nice touch to a usually lonesome tune.)
Jackson Browne joins Jonathan Wilson for a couple of tunes.The second day of Way Over Yonder featured another notable guest spot: Jackson Browne joined the shaggy Jonathan Wilson for the shamanistic "Gentle Spirit" and Browne's collaboration with Warren Zevon, "Frank and Jesse James." Seeming that Browne calls Santa Monica home, it was an ideal cameo (once the technicalities were allayed-- there was something amiss with the acoustic guitar the legendary songwriter was using). Also impressive was Thao & the Get Down Stay Down. A festival staple this year thanks to the strength of their 2013 album, We the Common, the gang wrestled up honky-tonk and sumptuous slide guitar. The Appalachian airiness of "Kindness Be Conceived" saw vocalist/instrumentalist Thao Nguyen and her keyboardist chiming in together about love and regret. And the band's leader claimed she was "living the dream," getting paid to perform in the sunshine and get a tan.
Thao & the Get Down Stay DownThe introductory Way Over Yonder wasn't flawless-- the Carousel Stage was cramped and obscured by an antique merry-go-round and limpid acoustics. But the outdoor stage provided a lively alternative to the breakdancers and only-adequate busking musicians that normally clutter the nearby 3rd Street Promenade.