America the Beautiful, the Star Spangled Banner and Bruce Springsteen all took a back seat this July 4 in Battery Park in favor of a pair of indie crooners.

Fans at the River to River Festival on July 4
Fans at the River to River Festival on July 4

Conor Oberst and Jenny Lewis, perhaps better known as the vocalists of Bright Eyes and Rilo Kiley, lent their services to this year’s River to River Festival, the summer long series of free concerts, performances and other events in New York City.

And neither artist disappointed the hundreds of fans who turned up—in some cases hours early—to celebrate Independence Day.

Lewis opened the afternoon with See Fernando, a super-catchy tune off her latest solo album Acid Tongue. And while the performance was energetic and well done, Lewis suffered the pitfalls of working a crowd that didn’t pay for their tickets: a call and response that wasn’t…well, responded to.

But Lewis recovered, and finished out her set which included Born Secular, Jack Killed Mom, and Rise Up With Fists!!, all tracks from her two solo albums.

Conor Oberst took the stage with his new accompaniment, the Mystic Valley Band, and opened, predictably, with NYC-Gone, Gone, a short but entertaining anthem off of his eponymously titled solo album.

As the afternoon progressed, Oberst and the band seemed to gain momentum, ultimately peaking with an encore rendition of I Don’t Want to Die (In the Hospital) that had most of the crowd dancing on the lawn.

Despite Oberst’s recent decision to perform and release work under his own name rather than the Bright Eyes moniker, it was a performance of Air Mattress by Mystic Valley Band guitarist Taylor Hollingsworth that proved to be one of the highlights of the afternoon.

In addition to Air Mattress, the set featured several songs from Outer South, the first album from Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band, including Nikorette and Ten Women.

Oberst also included several songs from his self-titled album. Cape Canaveral, Souled Out!!!, and Moab, which he dedicated to opening act and girlfriend Jenny Lewis, were all crowd favorites.

Audiences can’t always count on quality performances from free shows. But River to River’s organizers have a knack for selecting artists who know how to put on a show. Oberst and Lewis are just the latest examples of that.

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