Seven days and counting, waiting for the clouds to divest themselves of what seems like endless rain, until the 7th annual Nelsonville Music Festival. I pretty much gushed about the Fest last year, and am looking forward to another go. If the buzz around Columbus is any indicator, I’m not alone in my anticipation – some combination of the word getting out about a good thing and a growing contingency of recognizable national headliners makes me think that this will be a bigger and better operation in terms of both crowd and bill. The Fest has undergone a fairly meteoric rise from rustic small town beginnings, becoming a must-see event for many around here and garnering some greater attention abroad. It’s not too late to get on board and cement your ‘I remember when…’ memories – daily and weekend passes are still available. It’s clear that part of the experience with Nelsonville is the aesthetics of the grounds, the charm of the volunteers running it, the accessibility of the artists and sets. I’m optimistic that the fine folks at Stuart’s Opera House (who organize it) will both recognize and preserve the neighborly vibe, even while playing host to some pretty big name acts.
In baseball parlance, the old Nelsonville line-up model might be akin to a blue collar team like the Brewers- not necessarily a household name on the roster, but solid up and down, the lineup working together as a sum-is-greater-than-parts unit allows them to kick the crap out of the National League Central. In successive years, the Fest has still been about the middle of the batting order, with regional and smaller national acts dominating the porch stages while a few sluggers like Willie Nelson, Sharon Jones or Black Joe Lewis trickled onto the main stage roster. This year, while not quite the Yankees/Redsox payroll reserved for the Coachellas or Bonaroos of the world, there seems to be a real emphasis to bring some heavy hitters to the top of the order.
Nelsonville has always had a bit of the county and folk flavor, apropos for the Appalachian foothills of southeast Ohio. That continues to be the case this year with headliner George Jones anchoring the country end of the spectrum, but a progression of headliners will transition the vibe from there to a more solidly rockin’ endpoint. From Jones to Wanda Jackson, to Justin Townes Earle, to Neko Case then Yo La Tengo and finally to The Flaming Lips. It’s a transition that both makes sense and sits well with my preferences. In the coming days, I’m going to get more specific about those preferences, with specific acts that I will not want to miss. For now, I encourage those still on the fence to grab a pass for the weekend, grab a lawn chair, and head south.