Ohio’s music scene was buzzing this weekend (pun absolutely intended) with Bunbury happening right here in Cincinnati for its 6th appearance. However, just two hours up the road deep inside Hocking Hills there was another fantastic music festival occurring. This was the Nelsonville Music Festival, and in its 13th year running, once being called “one of the best kept secrets of the U.S music festival circuit” by Billboard, is now one of the nation’s premier festivals for anyone searching for rock, folk, and every genre in-between.
While Nelsonville Music Festival attracts some of the world’s best rock acts, there is something that truly makes this four-day festival stand out. The grounds are located inside the heart of Hocking Hills, one of Ohio’s most beautiful state parks. The main stage is surrounded by the rolling hills, creating a picturesque backdrop for those dusk concert sets. The smaller Porch Stage is surrounded by foliage and old cabins preserved inside the campgrounds for people to lounge in when watching a show.
Apart from the fantastic acts and atmosphere that Nelsonville provides, the festival prides itself on being a zero waste event. I was truly astonished with the measures they took to recycle and compost all the waste on site. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the most eco-friendly festival in the nation.
While CincyMusic’s coverage started on Saturday, Thursday and Friday provided some fantastic acts including Big Thief, Parquet Courts, and Conor Oberst to name just a few. And to get everyone in the right mindset for the day, campers woke up to morning yoga every day as well as a guided hike around Hocking Hills early Saturday morning.
Saturday featured some fantastic acts ranging from up- and-coming to age-old cult favorites. The day started with an acoustic set by female indie newcomer, Jay Som in the electric-free No-Fi Cabin. She then graced the free admission Boxcar Stage later in the afternoon. She played many songs off of her latest album, Everybody Works, which many critics are already calling it one of the best albums of 2017. After hearing her acoustic and electric set, her soothing vocals and dangerously catchy guitar hooks can carry across all channels, validating her status as one of the best rising artists this year.
I had little knowledge of many of the bands playing midday, so I used this as an opportunity to find some new music to listen to. I was all open ears, and boy did I strike gold. I stuck around the Porch Stage for a while and was able to listen to two incredible bands. The first being Mr. Elevator. These guys are relatively unknown outside their hometown of L.A, but their unique vintage 60’s sound was sure to gain instant followers during their set.
The other band I heard was, Boogarins. These guys are a four-piece band all the way from Goias, Brazil. Nelsonville was their first stop on their nationwide tour. These guys stuck out to me due to how excited they looked to play. It was easily one of the most enjoyable sets I have ever seen. Their set was mostly a jam set, extending their songs an extra 5-10 minute, but they were able to keep the central focus of song, something many jam bands struggle to do. After watching them play, I listened to their discography, and I highly suggest you do the same if you want get lost in a psychedelic wonderland.
Saturday ended on the Main Stage with cult legends Ween, drawing huge numbers to hear them play and understandably so. This past year, Ween has been embarking on a reunion tour, and with shows selling out quickly, campers all the way from Washington to New York to Nelsonville to hear these guys play. It was safe to say the general consensus got everything they wanted and more from Ween.
The Porch Stage was where Saturday officially came to a close as Twin Peaks took to the stage to end the day with a bang. The once rookies on the scene are now the band drawing the larger crowds to shows. It’s hard to believe knowing how young they still are but their shows make it seem like they’ve been playing together for decades.
Sunday was the day where everyone started to pack up for the long trip home, but fortunately there was still music to be played. There definitely seemed to be a more folky, laid-back vibe on Sunday, as everybody was probably exhausted from the four-day haul of nothing but great music and incredible hiking and camping spots. The band Ona, a WNKU Discovery of the Month alumni, encapsulated this laid-back vibe perfectly with songs like “American Fiction” and “Sleep, Rinse, Repeat.”
To close the festival out were two legends in the folk world, the first being Son Volt. Frontman, Jay Farrar’s trademark vocals sound just as good live as they do in studio and their sound captured the aesthetic of the rolling landscape perfectly, something that Nelsonville Music Festival is so great at doing. The last act of the festival was definitely a grand finale, that being the 13 Grammy award-winning Emmylou Harris. At 70 years old she still has the spirit of a teenager, and a voice that utterly timeless. She does not tour as much as she used to, so those who decided to stay until the very end were well rewarded.
Nelsonville Music Festival checks every box for a great Midwestern festival: beautiful backdrops, a large campground, unique local food and beer pairings, a resident-powered marketplace, and most importantly, great music. If large festivals aren’t your thing, and you prefer a more low-key, laid back festival that can still bring in some of the world’s most talented rock acts, Nelsonville Music Festival is just the festival for you.