The very first thing that struck me when we walked through the entry tent and into the Nelsonville Music Festival (after being taken in by the beautiful Appalachian foothills as we arrived into the area that is) was how well planned and laid out the festival was. That immediately set the tone for what would unfold as a very enjoyable day filled with one exciting experience after another.
The main stage, located conveniently just past the entrance, was immediately approachable from the side with a generous field for the festival goers to populate. There was a pit area at the front for people to pack into close-quartered to dance, and plenty of room for people to kick back on a folding chair or blanket further back to watch from a relaxed distance.
Dark Dark Dark on the Main Stage
The food stands were also placed at the entrance, with a great little communal picnic table courtyard in the center of the ring. Huge props to whoever coordinated the food as there was something (very delicious) for everyone via very carefully selected regional vendors—there were gyros (I pronounce it the proper Greek way, by the way—a long standing joke is my quest to teach the proper pronunciation, but that’s because Greek is one half of the two Sis’ ethnic heritage, so we grew up not calling it a JYro!), pizza, vegetarian and non-vegetarian Indian selections, coffee, burritos, bbq, and my personal weakness/subject of a culinary love affair, Jeni’s Ice Cream to mention a few. Later in the evening I found myself literally standing frozen with indecision, eyes closed and sniffing the air to try to figure out which vendor to visit because it all smelled so good! (I chose the gyros.)
This was only just the first few steps into the festival.
Just at the edge of the food area was the merch booth where we (we being me and not Ady but one of the Misters Dissonance) picked up a very cool signed limited edition block print festival poster by artist Bobby Rosenstock of Just A Jar Design Press. Beyond this area tucked in between the trees is where local artists were selling their works (again, a nice cross section of types of goods and styles), including some very cool screen printers producing made-to-order, screened in front of you Nelsonville Festival t-shirts.
Historic building near the Porch Stage
This led to the secondary Porch stage, more intimate and shaded, where people could laze in the grass or sit upon the porches of some of the historic buildings that peppered the property. At the far back in the nooks and crannies of this area was the truly unique (and hard to get into!) No Fi Cabin where bands, some of who also were performing on the Porch and Main stages, would unplug and give an acoustic set to those lucky enough to secure a spot within or immediately outside.
Finally, a maze of fun tents where loads of activities took place created the kids area. And I’m not even including the city of tents in the camping area that we only saw from a distance (we were only able to attend as day trippers for Saturday only, unfortunately, but we were there for the entire 12+ hour day).
To paraphrase, the festival coordinators had already built us a fantastic world to inhabit and explore before they even began populating it with a wildly eclectic selection of performers.
Lee “Scratch” Perry
And now for the music. Three stages with music continually tempting us this way or that way, everyone ping ponging back and forth to catch new bands, old bands, well established bands and up and coming bands of many different genres. We walked away with some new-found favorites, and were treated to some big time pioneers in music history (and the Nelsonville folks certainly know who the legends are).
Saturday’s closer was indeed a rare treat. Legendary music producer Lee “Scratch” Perry—who, as a longtime fan, I was really looking forward to seeing in person for the first time ever—took the stage past midnight and closed out
the night with his intriguing rhythms and grooves. Perry incidentally produced the Junior Murvin-penned “Police and Thieves”, a song famously covered by the be all end all favorite of mine, the Clash).
13th Floor Elevators founder Roky Erickson, who I first learned of through a compilation cd that I purchased back in the early 1990’s called Where the Pyramid Meets the Sky, was also performing. I was thrilled at the opportunity to catch both Erickson and Perry live in one place and on the same day.
Shovels and Rope (Cary Ann Hurst and Michael Trent)
Shovels and Rope was also at the top of my list to see for the first time and they cemented my growing love for them during their fantastic Porch Stage performance. Clearly they were a favorite of many others as well, as their audience grew larger and larger and more ecstatic with each song. Cary Ann Hearst is such an energetic and engaging personality it was a treat to watch her. Even setting up was an enjoyable event as she playfully goofed around with their keyboard until they got it working properly during sound check. Live musically, her incredible set of lungs and beautiful voice drives the music and weaves in and out with Michael Trent’s as the two play together and switch back and forth between drums and guitar in perfect rhythm and harmony. They’ve got the grooves and some infectious tunes to boot, and are just so much fun to watch. We caught them a second time for a bit of their No Fi Cabin set, though it was so packed before we got there we only heard through the windows. I can’t wait to see them again sometime.
Enter Mucca Pazza! front of the parade, en route to the main stage
Mucca Pazza, the Balkanesque circus punk marching band from Chicago, arrived on the scene with a huge bang via a massive parade. Led by sousaphone (which served as the beacon of the oncoming mass of music) traveled throughout the festival grounds before taking the Main stage. There was a stir of activity in the audience as people gathered round to see what looked like a proper living incarnation of a Dr. Seuss rumpus. They later appeared as a surprise guest with Andrew Bird (who was of course amazing to watch) during “Tables and Chairs” (their cheerleaders leading the charge with the SNACKS!). I’d not yet heard of Mucca Pazza until seeing them listed on the schedule about an hour before they appeared, but they are now very high on my radar for new music to plunder.
We also caught R. Ring at the Porch stage, who again, I only noticed just before they came on was fellow Ohioan Kelley Deal in collaboration with musician Mike Montgomery. It was really great to hear her familiar, hallmark (beautiful) voice while laying there in the shade on a sunny Ohio day, as well as see first hand her silly/radiant/down to earth personality (at one point she asked the audience “do I sound like I just smoked a big joint?”) shine through as they worked their way through their set.
This is but a small sampling of the many bands who where scheduled.
I’ve yet to somehow weave into this article that the Nelsonville Music Festival (produced by Stuart’s Opera House) is a non-profit, non-commercial, green festival, where recycling, composting, conserving and preserving area at the top of their priorities. Working with Rural Action and its Zero Waste Initiative, the Nelsonville Music Festival is working hard to become a zero waste event in the future.
Honestly, this festival really was, and had, everything (I think I later spotted a kitchen sink). We joked that about the only thing overlooked was that someone forgot to make arrangements with mother nature and ask her not to make it so damn hot! (though by about 4pm it was perfect out, so there you go). Andrew Bird said it best when he was onstage late Saturday night, telling us that he was so happy to be there because those behind the festival were so incredibly nice and welcoming and he thanked them for putting on “a proper festival . . . for all the right reasons.”
Complete 2012 Nelsonville Music Festival gallery of photos and video will appear shortly!