Summertime reminds us all of signature moments. We picture cold beer, good friends and beautiful warm nights. In the Athens area, Strouds Run State Park and other state parks give us lazy beach days and breathtaking scenery. Nestled in the wilds where summer meets vacations from school, the quintessential late spring necessity awaits in Nelsonville: Music.
California has Coachella. Illinois has Lollapalooza. Tennessee has Bonaroo. Here in Ohio, placed in Appalachian Ohio's rolling hills, we have the Nelsonville Music Festival, drawing thousands each spring. This year's festival, May 28-31 at Hocking College's Robbins Crossing, is sure to be a rollicking good time.
Festival organizers anticipate anywhere from 5,000 to 7,000 attendees for the 201 edition, with multiple stages, arts, crafts, food and fun available to all. People from all over Ohio and beyond come to the Nelsonville Music Festival to engage with the beautiful scenery, hear new (and old) performers and create lasting memories.
The 2015 Festival features a wide array of musical artists that cross genre, style and fan base. Music will be ongoing at three different stages (the Main Stage, where the bigger acts play; the Porch Stage, where mid-size acts play in an intimate outdoor setting; and the No-Fi Cabin, where mainly singer-songwriter acts [some well-known, some not] play in a small cabin with no amplification). Some festival acts will find themselves playing on all three stages during the course of the festival.
Kicking off the festivities Thursday evening are Trampled by Turtles, a bluegrass/folk-rock quintet from Duluth, Minnesota, and punk-pop renegades Lucero, whose catalogue spans over 16 years. Fun, wild and even controversial rock 'n roll acts like these two are the perfect way to get the crowd pumped for the weekend.
Friday's lineup stars alt-rock game changers the Flaming Lips, who last played the Nelsonville Music Festival in 2011. The psychedelic rock outfit fronted by enigmatic maniac Wayne Coyne, was ranked by Q Magazine as one of the "50 Bands You Must See Before You Die."
Their shows are electric, typified by Coyne's energetic presence and aided by psychedelic visuals. These visuals usually include a man-sized plastic bubble that Coyne uses as a personal vehicle to traverse the crowd, giant hands, strobe-laden lighting and confetti blasters. The band is a flashback to the subculture of the '60s and '70s when the music was dreamy, adventurous and had an element of danger often lacking in modern rock music. The Lips' melancholic blend of psychedelic rock and spacey science-fiction based lyrics make them a must-see, must-listen act for 2015's festival.
Built to Spill will precede the Flaming Lips Friday night on the Main Stage. The alternative/indie rock outfit from Boise, Idaho, blends catchy guitar hooks with intense vocals; they have been mentioned by bands including the Ataris and the Strokes as a major influence on their respective sounds.
2015's Grammy winner for Best Alternative Album, electro-pop darling St.Vincent, will electrify Saturday night. Characterized by electronic licks and surreal soundscapes, the pop songstress will no doubt dazzle crowds. Reminiscent of Blondie with a synth-pop flare, St. Vincent should provide an impressive climax to Saturday night's Main Stage lineup. She will be preceded by garage-rock heavy hitters, the Black Lips, whose live shows have been known to escalate to sheer mayhem. Their post-punk sound is personified by their onstage antics.
Also on Saturday's Main Stage bill is the Budos Band, an afro-soul outfit from Staten Island, New York.
Sunday brings an earthy country vibe with one of the genre's biggest names. Three-time Grammy winner and Country Music Hall-of-Famer Merle Haggard will close the festival early Sunday evening. His career spans decades, and his classic songs and vocals will be on full display in Nelsonville. Expect to hear medleys of many of his most famous songs (including "White Line Fever," "Branded Man," "Okie From Muskogee," "Fighting Side of Me," "Sing Me Back Home," "Silver Wings," etc.). Also playing Sunday are singer/songwriter Brandy Carlisle, singer/songwriter Tim Easton and folk-singer/songwriter Greg Brown, among others.
The line-up is always unique but there are some new attractions to 2015. In addition to the jam-packed music schedule, a midway gaming alley and a photo gallery showcasing shots from previous festivals, available for purchase, will be ready to enjoy.
If you want to get closer to the action, lodging is available. Festival goers can stay on site at two different locations, each providing their own NMF charm. Dorm rooms at Hocking College are open to patrons for 200 dollars total and can accommodate up to four guests. The alternative is an immersive experience camping at the campsite on the festival grounds. The campground is home to its own musical escapades including a rocking late-night electronic dance party featuring DJ Barticus and a ho-down for country fans hosted by T. Claw. Both events kick off after lights fade on the main stage.
Whether you're camping, lodging or just commuting locally, the four-day festival can be an exhausting experience, so it's essential to be prepared. As with any outdoor event, Nelsonville Music Festival visitors should mind the weather, bring layers and load up on sunscreen and water. If a storm hits during the festival, shelter is available within a few hundred yards till the storm passes.
"First-time Festival goers should come with a sense of adventure," says festival spokesman Brian Koshko. "Nelsonville Music Festival is different. Over 50 acts from all sorts of genres play in a beautiful setting for four days."
Aside from the nationally acclaimed artists who headline, Koshko says the backbone of the Nelsonville Music Festival remains the local artists. "My personal advice is to see some of the amazing local talent. We have lots of Ohio, artists. We have to support our own."
Over 20 of the bands on this year's bill are from Ohio, making Nelsonville Music Festival a proud host for local acts. Athens is well represented by the Wild Honeybees, the Teardrops, Mike Elliot, Bram Riddlebarger, Nathan and Brendan Moore, and Megan Wormz, among others. Former OU student Adam Torres, who used to play uptown Athens venues before moving to Austin, will play several times during the festival.
The Nelsonville Music Festival is an experience that makes Appalachia music mecca for four glorious days. It boils summer down to music, fun and freedom. Blending mega stars with talented acts on the verge of discovery, and local and regional favorites, this year's festival is sure to kick-start your summer in a big way.
Tickets for the event are available online at the official Nelsonville Music Website, www.nelsonvillefest.org, along with accommodation details and performance schedules. A schedule and map are included in this special section, as well.