Ten years before Woodstock, the festival of all music festivals had a humble start off the coast of Rhode Island. The goal was to celebrate the folk sounds that tell the stories of America, and over the years it became known as the historic Newport Folk Festival, a platform for icons like Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Janis Joplin to the masses.
More than five decades later, it's traveling to the West Coast.
Way Over Yonder, the California incarnation of the Newport Folk Festival presented by the same producers, is making its Los Angeles debut at the Santa Monica Pier on Oct. 5-6.
“The Newport Folk Festival is America's festival. It's the grand daddy of festivals and was the first one. The word festival wouldn't be used in the lexicon if it wasn't for the Newport Folk Festival,” said Newport Folk producer Jay Sweet. “Now we want to bring that experience to California.”
The idea came to Sweet after being approached year after year by fans to expand the Newport Folk Festival. The annual festival has been hosted at Fort Adams State Park, which has been regarded as a national treasure.
“Then ‘sea to shining sea' jumped into my head,” Sweet said. “We figured if we were going to go anywhere, it would have to be somewhere just as iconic. So when the opportunity came to have it on the historic Santa Monica Pier it just made perfect sense. If we were invited to come to some normal venue in L.A. it wouldn't have happened.”
The two-day beachside festival features performances by Coner Oberst, best known as the frontman for Bright Eyes; singer/songwriter Neko Case; the Swedish folk duo, First Aid Kit; California folk star Brett Dennen and more.
“Newport is a world-renowned folk festival that brings acts from all over the place, but for Way Over Yonder we really had California in mind,” Sweet said. “Brett lives in Venice down the street, Coner has a place in L.A., Aaron Embry and Neal Casal have more the California folk styling. So there there's a little splash of California in this festival, a festival that has deep roots on the other side of the country, that we think will really fit the venue.”
In a time where “mega festivals” are all the rage, Dennen said he is excited to bring that folksy vibe Newport is known for to Los Angeles. The Northern California native, who splits his time between his mountain home and Venice beach house, performed at the Newport Folk Festival in 2009.
“I think we're lucky to be the freshman class of Way Over The Yonder,” Dennen said of the inaugural lineup. “Nowadays, when people hear the word ‘festival' they just think of the mega festivals like Bonnaroo and Coachella (Music & Arts Festival), Outside Lands and ACL (Austin City Limits), which are all fun and amazing — it's definitely where the party's at — but a lot of people don't remember that before those festivals, there were a lot smaller ones like Newport.
“This one started out as a folk festival where Bob Dylan and Joan Baez got their breaks, so this is a big deal to plenty of artists playing Way Over Yonder who want to start that same kind of legacy.”
Dennen plans to perform new songs off his latest album, “Smoke and Mirrors,” which is set to release Oct. 22.
“I put together this new band and we've been rehearsing and playing little shows here and there, but this is our first L.A. show,” Dennen said. “The sound is a step back to some of my earlier albums and is more centered around acoustic guitar. It's very much about going back to my folk beginnings.”
And much like Dennen bringing it back to his folksy roots, he hopes festival-goers will find that their love of the music made popular now by The Lumineers, Mumford & Sons, The Head and the Heart had its start with Newport.
“There's this trend in pop culture of this whole Southwestern shabby chic meets Western Americana ... a lot of artists are dipping into that ‘70s country rock folk sound, and I think it's important for fans to known where that legacy comes from,” Dennen said. “There is a legacy that Newport is helping carry on to the West Coast and if people want to get to that purity of it all, this is where it'll be at.”
Way Over Yonder
What: Newport Folk presents Way Over Yonder, the West Coast version of the legendary Rhode Island folk festival, featuring Coner Oberst, Brett Dennen, Neko Case, First Aid Kid, Calexico and more.
Where: 200 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica.
When: 2 p.m.-9 p.m. Oct. 5-6.
Tickets: Single day tickets start at $45 with two-day passes starting at $80.