Over the past decade there has been a bit of a homogenization of music festivals. They all too often seem just a new shuffle of the same deck and a few new ones pop up every year. There are so many festivals these days that I’m guessing that nearly everyone lives within a half day drive of one. With so many options for your festival bucks, there’s little incentive to travel for one. Unless of course, it’s Nelsonville Music Festival.

The growing number of fests and their similar lineups make it hard to differentiate one from the next, making things like the setting, curation of the undercard, and character of the event the deciding factor. That’s what makes festivals like Treasure Island, formerly located on the unique setting in the middle of the San Francisco Bay and Eaux Claires, with its artist-curated lineup, travel-worthy festivals. So what makes Nelsonville worth a road trip?

CHARACTER AND EXPERIENCE

Chris Biester at the NoFi Cabin // Photo: Brian Bruemmer, Rubatophoto.com

Nelsonville Music Festival, located in southeast Ohio, offers unique experiences like the No Fi Cabin, where artists perform intimate sets without electricity in a tiny log cabin, the free Boxcar stage, and late night parties in a giant tent in the campground. The first thing that struck me when arrived at my first Nelsonville Music Festival was the vibe. Immediately it felt like a community. There are family friendly activities, workshops for kids, group yoga every morning, a parade, booths featuring only local artisans and artists, and much more. It really feels like a big gathering of friends, so much so that seeing artists and bands milling about all weekend is a regular occurence. It’s truly a festival that is loved by fans and artists alike.

“It’s the perfect size festival. Any bigger and you’d lose something.”
ANDREW BIRD, NMF 2012 ARTIST

LINEUP CURATION

John Moreland on the Boxcar Stage // Photo: Brian Bruemmer, Rubatophoto.com

There are three specific attributes of Nelsonville lineups that set it apart; respect for heritage, inclusion of lesser-known influencers, and up-and-comers.

The team at Stuart’s Opera House, NMF organizers, put together lineups approaching mainstream, but stopping just shy of a full-on pop festival. While their lineups have big name headliners like The Flaming Lips, St. Vincent, and The Avett Brothers, they also include lesser-known influencers like Michael Hurley (a contemporary of Bob Dylan in the 1960s Greenwich folk scene, cited as an influence of Cat Power, and Julian Lynch of Real Estate), and the Gories, old school Detroit punk from the late 80s who influenced Jack White. Nelsonville also features legends and throwback artists like Mavis Staples, Merle Haggard, and Ray Wylie Hubbard, showing a strong respect for the heritage of the music they love. Lastly, the seem to have their finger on the pulse of what’s to come, with artists like Tyler Childers (2017), John Moreland (2016), and St. Paul & The Broken Bones (2014), who have gained considerable steam since their NMF appearances.

CAN’T MISS SETS

THE BLACK ANGELS

Psych Rock torch-bearers for the 21st century include bands include bands like SlyVinyl favorites Tame Impala, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard and 2018 Nelsonville artist The Black Angels. Their psych rock cred is solidified not only by their 6 studio albums of swirly, fuzzy goodness; but set in stone after a stint as the backing band for Roky Erickson, the frontman of genre pioneers 13th Floor Elevators.

 

GEORGE CLINTON

Pyschadelic Funk superstar George Clinton recently announced that he will be retiring from touring in May 2019. So take advantage of one of the few remaining opportunities to see him and Parliament Funkadelic before it’s too late.

 

TUNE-YARDS

Merrill Garbus and Nate Brenner released their first album since 2014’s critically acclaimed Nikki Nack with I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life. The new album is deliberately darker and more introspective as Garbus inspects her place in the world by confronting topics like white privilege and cultural appropriation. Though Tune-Yards tackles some heavy questions, they never let up on the energy and somehow manages to carry a sense of optimism that if we try, we can all be better, especially while dancing your ass off.

 

SUNFLOWER BEAN

All three members of Sunflower Bean are only 22 years old, but their new album Twentytwo In Blue sounds like a band hitting on all cylinders. In a few years this will be a band you’ll be able to say “I saw them back when…”

 

THE DECEMBERISTS

Along with The Shins, and Death Cab For Cutie, The Decemberists ushered me out of a decade of listening to hard rock and opened me up to the explosion of indie rock in the early to mid 2000s. I can still remember how confused I was when I was introduced to the whimsical, hyper-literate Billy Liar EP. It was so unlike anything else I was listening to at the time and seemed a breath of fresh air after so many years of angst and distorted power chords. They’ll always hold a special place in my heart as one of the turning points in my musical tastes. Their eighth studio album I’ll Be Your Girl was released in March.

 

STUART’S AFTERSCHOOL BANDS

Stuart’s Opera House (NMF organizers) runs an afterschool program for kids to learn music and form bands. I would have killed for a cool opportunity like this when I was a teenager. They are green and sometimes it shows, but it’s always a great experience to see a kids with passion and drive for music and there are always a few pleasant surprises every year.

 

ANTIBALAS

Afro-beat, Latin, Jazz, or Funk… Antibalas is hard to pin down. They effortlessly combine influences from all corners of the musical world into a sound that is familiar but also unpredictable and adventurous. Plus, they received props from the Afro-Beat king, Fela Kuti, and you can’t argue with that.

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