Rain and technical delays were no match for the mighty fans at Nelsonville Music Festival this year. 2011 marked the seventh annual festival hosted on the grounds of Hocking College and if this year’s event is any indication there will be many more to come in the future.
The words that were on the lips of everyone I spoke to was “laid back.” There was a wonderful small festival feel despite the massive star power that NMF packed this year. People were friendly, the talent was accessible and the staff (largely comprised of volunteers) seemed sincerely happy to be there. Most of the time security was non-existent or invisible and people treated each other very well. It was nothing to have people sharing food, smokes and good company. Having attended the festival alone, I was never lacking in conversation.
People of all ages walked around the grounds enjoying everything the festival had to offer, which wasn’t just music. Artists and craftspeople from all over Ohio were present at the event to sell just about anything you can imagine. Handmade drums, reclaimed pieces of art, jewelry, paintings and soap were all available in the vendors area of the festival. Even students of the Hocking College art department were getting into the action by selling their work at a booth behind one of the performance stages. From pottery to pendants, the students were given an opportunity to meet the crowds and make some money off their hard work.
Not just content to give back to the local student body, the festival made great attempts to give back to the environment as well. I have been to many events that claim to be environmentally conscious before, but I have never seen it executed as well as at the Nelsonville Music Festival. Beer wasn’t sold in cans or cheap disposable cups, but rather was only dispensed to customers that had a reusable plastic cup that could be purchased for a dollar. The festival also put its money where its mouth is by giving up a large portion of potential profit in bottled water sales by encouraging attendees to refill their water bottles at a provided station that was equipped with its own water filtration device. These steps, along with many others, made Nelsonville Music Festival one of the cleanest events I have ever attended.
Though in the end a music festival is only as good as the music being played and in this regards the 2011 Nelsonville Music Festival was amazing. For about $100 a person could get three days of some of the best music in the world and a camping spot. The lineup included living legends like country artist George Jones, internationally beloved freaks like The Flaming Lips, and even some of the best up and coming bands Ohio has to offer. With three stages of music it was nearly impossible to not find something that would entertain you and while I went there expecting some of the groups to be good, there were a couple that completely caught me off guard.
As far as pleasant surprises go, Nick Tolford and Company out of Columbus, Ohio was one of the biggest. An infectious traditional soul group that wouldn’t be out of place on a bill with Otis Redding or Sam & Dave. One of the truly amazing things about this band (besides their talent and amazing energy) is their catalog of material. They performed two sets during the course of the festival without doing a single cover or repeating a song. They are a total joy to watch and should be seen live if you ever get a chance.
Another surprising act was Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger; a group which at its core is Sean Lennon and his girlfriend Charlotte Kemp Muhl. While GOASTT has been around for a couple of years, they have made a transition from quirky acoustic folk to full-blown electric psychedelic. Their music and Sean’s guitar work now seem inspired more by the likes of Pink Floyd than the Beatles. It’s clear that Sean is not happy just being known as the son of John Lennon and is attempting to make a name for himself. Luckily for him, it seems that he has the musical chops to pull it off. I went in to their show half expecting the music industry’s typical semi-talented nepotism and couldn’t have been happier that I was completely wrong.
I think what really made all the weekend’s musical performances special is that everyone was happy to be there. Performers and audience members alike could always be seen with a smile plastered on their face. Often it seemed that the musicians were having a better time than the crowd. It was not uncommon to see Wayne Coyne or other artists standing in the wings watching as one band after another completely killed the audience. Just when you thought a band couldn’t be topped, the next one would come out with the red-hot energy of a sun.
Overall I would say the festival was an amazing success. It will be interesting to see if Nelsonville Music Festival will be able to keep its intimate atmosphere as it undoubtedly grows in popularity. At the end of nearly every performance the artist declared their love for the event and unofficially committed themselves to coming back for next years event. I can’t think of a single act I wouldn’t want to return next year and can’t wait to see what 2012 has in store for me when I return to Nelsonville.