Nelsonville Music Festival: Wet. Muddy. Fun.

This past weekend, I attended Days 2 and 3 of the Nelsonville Music Festival in Nelsonville, Ohio, which took place at Robbins Crossing at Hocking College. The festival’s three-day lineup focused primarily on folk artists, but as you’ll see, the 2011 slate was a rather diverse sampling of genres. Compared to other music festivals I’ve attended (Austin City Limits, Pitchfork, etc.), Nelsonville was by far the most relaxed, loose and carefree of them all. Despite the rain and mud that enveloped the two days I was in attendance, there was plenty of excitement and great music to enjoy.

The highlights of Day 2, for me, included:

Cheyenne Marie Mize

Mize has recently gotten buzz at SXSW as well as on NPR for her brand of country-folk. Mize was once a member of Bonnie Prince Billy’s backing band, and the Kentucky native played songs about intoxicating love and jilting loss on the main stage during the last minutes of sunshine the crowds saw all weekend. Mize plays both the fiddle and the guitar, and from what I’ve read she can play many other instruments as well. Her voice is pretty enough to draw you in, and edgy enough to keep you listening, wanting to know everything about how she had her heart broken and put the pieces back together. Here’s “Best” from 2010’s Before Lately.

Adam Remnant of Southeast Engine

Remnant is the lead singer of Athens, Ohio-bred Southeast Engine, who offer a nice slice of Americana folk but also do just fine with rocking out loudly. I saw Remnant in the festival’s “No-Fi Cabin,” a tiny box of a building built for no more than 60 or 70 people crammed tightly. No wires, no amps, nothing but the instrument and the artist. Remnant sang a few songs he’s preparing for the followup to Southeast Engine’s latest release Canary, and his weathered croon — along with some stunningly evocative lyrics — turned out to be one of my favorite things about the weekend. Remnant is a fine storyteller, and something about the tenor and break of his voice makes my earbones tingle. Try “Adeline of the Appalachian Mountains” from Canary.

Yo La Tengo

Veteran indie rock trio Yo La Tengo drenched the stage in reverb and guitar fuzz while everyone in the crowd enjoyed a brief break from the rain. James McNew is hilarious on stage, and people moved and grooved to YLT’s jam-session set. Some of the songs were 10 minutes long or more — typical for the Hoboken band — and all of them reverberated nicely into the chilly night air.

The Flaming Lips

It wasn’t exactly a perfect fit for a folk-focused festival, but man do The Flaming Lips deliver on showmanship and fun. Wayne Coyne is a righteous dude, and anyone who attended Saturday probably saw him moving from spot to spot on the festival grounds to take in different performances and talk to volunteers. On stage, the band uses a combination of gigantic video screens, giant balloons, confetti guns and bullhorns (along with so many other awe-inspiring props that I won’t get into here) to delight the crowd. It was the coolest live show I’ve been witness to besides LCD Soundsystem at Pitchfork in Chicago last year. Highlights for me were “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots,” “She Don’t Use Jelly” and “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song (With All Your Power).” The band’s been around for nearly 30 years, and their live show dazzles like no other.

Highlights of Day 3, for me:

Lost In The Trees

This orchestral folk septet from Chapel Hill crammed its guitars, strings, tuba, drums, accordion and so much more into the no-fi cabin on Day 3 for what might’ve been my highlight of the weekend. I sat about a foot from the band, and seeing the bows move frantically across the cello bridges and lead singer Ari Picker’s nonstop tip-toeing to the music was incredible to see from that close. The band played a set on the main stage Saturday evening as well, but the Sunday afternoon performance in that tiny space was something magical. Picker writes such beautiful lyrics, and they are brought to life so well by the band’s lush instrumentation. Try “Walk Around The Lake” from All Alone In An Empty House. And here’s the thing, dear reader: I was so close that I had to film a song vertically. Trouble is, the video loses some quality when flipped back to horizontal. But you can still check it out here.

Over The Rhine

Over the Rhine’s lead singer Karin Bergquist really belts out the Cincinnati band’s funky, melodic folk tunes in a most impressive fashion. My vantage point wasn’t the greatest for the band’s hour-long set, but Bergquist came in crystal clear and had the crowd swaying, bouncing and tapping toes on a windy, misty, chilly Sunday afternoon. The set was a nice mix of OTR’s extensive catalogue, with plenty from the stellar albums The Trumpet Child and this year’s The Long Surrender. A talented group of musicians fleshed out the songs nicely on stage. Check out “Trouble” from The Trumpet Child, which was my favorite of the set.

Wanda Jackson

It’s not hard to like Jackson; a 70-something rockabilly queen who has been thrust back into the spotlight with the help of the one, the only Jack White. Jackson sang old rockabilly classics as well as tracks from The Party Ain’t Over, her most recent release. She also told some interesting stories about Elvis as well as White, and charmed me with her drawl and her genuine joy for performing.



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