Every year I find myself in the same situation with Nelsonville Music Festival: The event that continues to change my life yearly, somehow in the weeks leading up, I start to wonder if it’ll be worth the risk.
By that, I mean “Will it be worth my time?” “Will it be worth being away from my home, my family, for 4 days, camping in the heat, in my car, with a bunch of people I really don’t know?” I don’t really like the heat. And contrary to popular belief, I don’t really feel like I like people.
I do love music, though. Live music has always been the purest, most honest way to my heart. And as per every year, I knew there were a bunch of great local artists being celebrated (many I already loved, and many who I had yet to hear before), which I love more than most things (local artists plus live performance is my everything). So here I found myself, packing up my car to live inside for over half a week, shooting a sometimes manic (and usually at least constant) list of artists, all within feet of one another, while rolling out of my car each morning, only to instantly be covered in a morning sweat, once again.Even after writing last year that I will always go to Nelsonville Music Festival because it’s consistently amazing, I was starting to make excuses this go-around. We were buying a house and selling a house, moving, and it was way more work than I ever remember it being. I was overwhelmed, and it seemed like the last thing I needed was to take time off of work and house stuff for an extended weekend.
And then it began. Like a good book’s pages, each step I took, further into the festival, brought me closer to my family. The group of photographers that gathers religiously for this event bring so much talent and heart-and such great senses of humor-that we rarely stop talking in between musical sets. You’d think we’d run out of things to say, but we never do.
One photographer in particular shared a conversation with me about body odor, after I awkwardly managed to make him think I thought he stunk because he wasn’t wearing deodorant. Needless to say, he shared that he loved the natural scent of people because it “smelled like themselves.” I’d never thought about it that way, had no desire to stop wearing deodorant, and all the while, loved this description so much. My new friend also carried a typewriter to write his interviews and reviews, wore dresses and almost accidentally shut down the whole fest, but I’ll let him explain that on his own time.So basically, I show up, right? And then I get sucked in. There’s a sense of honest quirkiness to NMF that no other event has ever been able to master in quite the same way. I’d like to pinpoint exactly what that is, but I have yet to fully do so. So I keep going.
And I’m at Nelsonville, for the several-ith year in a row this year, when I should be at home, I don’t know a lot of the artists performing, and I have so many other things I should be doing. And then the music begins. There’s the raw honesty of our local treasure Megan Bee, the gorgeous words and happiness of Blueprint and the haunted-ness of Shannon Lay on day one that blew me away…One artist I’m always thrilled to see over and over and over again (that I first discovered at Nelsonville last year) is Counterfeit Madison. From Columbus, they are truly life changing with their freedom, happiness and gospel-punk performances. I saw them all three times they played sets this weekend, and even got to climb on stage to photograph their powerful performances while Sharon dedicated a song to me and called me “bitch.” The best.Caroline Rose and Ron Gallo and Wooden Shjips and the awesomeness that is the After School Music Program through Stuart’s…
And the perfect addition of the new NMF half pipe with The D-Rays playing atop it.And finally getting to support Smizmar for a live show…And you guys…the glory that is Tank and the Bangas…And getting to lose myself in the ridiculous performance of George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic Family (part of which is from Ohio)…I rarely dance in public, and I could. Not. Stop.
And the dance party that ensued with once-strangers during the Tune-Yards…and how so many bands were a fan of each other, and just walked around the grounds, and everyone was just a fan of everyone else…I got back into a groove with my photographer friends at camp, joking and sharing food, and looking out for one another, I remembered the next layer of what Nelsonville means to me: I go for the Nelsonville family.
How does a fest that continues to grow, manage to keep the same level of intimacy, year after year? I think it’s definitely multi-facted. But I think two huge facets to that gem are the rich talent and the warm hearts. By the end of the second day, I was fully in again. It was like there was a moment that day, in between layers of sweat and rain and dancing and hugging that I realized the fest-goers were a part of the family, just like the artists were. We were all accessible, we were all there for one another, and we all left the weekend, with new music in our skin, smelling like each other, smelling like ourselves.