It’s been 12 years since the First Annual Nelsonville Music Festival was held in a small town, seemingly near nowhere, in 2005. Since then, while the Nelsonville Music Festival (or NMF) has grown to showcase many well-known musical acts, there is still a consistently intimate atmosphere that attendees love, and keeps them coming back.
In the middle of the small town hills of Ohio, roughly one hour southeast of Columbus, and less than a half hour northeast of Athens, Nelsonville is a gem between two college towns, both of which are bursting with music fans and talent.
NMF is an eclectic fest known for its laid-back atmosphere and variety of performing acts, which draws a crowd from all over the state – as well as the country – to experience a festival like few others. Well known Chicago-based pop culture blog “The A.V. Club” named NMF the official festival you shouldn’t miss in Ohio, in their state-by-state guide (only one festival was named per state, you can view the full list here.)
Besides the wide variety of music (which has included artists such as Wilco, The Avett Brothers, The Flaming Lips, All Them Witches, Lucius, and Courtney Barnett, just to name a limited few), and the low-key atmospheric appeal of the festival itself, there are several other reasons to check out and support NMF.
For instance, did you know about their commitment to sustainability? Festival waste can quickly get out of hand, and the crew at Nelsonville are committed to making sure the festival’s footprint is a small one. Yearly, there are volunteers on site who sort through all of the festival trash. On average, the yearly diversion rate (trash that is recyclable, and is diverted from the landfills thanks to dedicated workers) for NMF is around 95%! Last year alone nearly 6,500 lbs of waste was sorted from the 4-day festival. Amazing!
Also, Stuart’s Opera House, the official presenter of NMF, uses proceeds from the festival to offer free arts education programming, including the After School Music Program (a free weekly class that teacher youth how to make music, as well as offer homework help) as well as artist workshops in area schools, free music concerts for local children, summer theater camp, and free admission to children under 12 to the Nelsonville Music Festival.
This year, the weather was more friend than foe. Saturday started off with a lot of rain, but no amount of it could keep the the festival goers away from the music. Rain eased up by the time Joan Shelley took to the main stage, the sun popped out and music could be heard at every corner of the park. Clear skies lasted until just after Lake Street Dive left the stage, but then it began to pour. Many ran for cover under vendor tents and the awning of cabins, but soon people were dancing and splashing in the puddles all around. People pulled out their ponchos to journey to the beer garden where you were greeted by more than a few revelers standing at the entrance shouting hello to everyone who walked in.
The second day was much dryer, opening with an often comedic performance of the goofy Steve Poltz on the main stage. In early evening Nightstalker brought unbridled energy to their set on the Porch stage, and Adam Torres jumped on the new Boxcar stage for the second time of the weekend. Later, a little before Randy Newman, many in the park made their way to the Porch stage to see the David Bowie tribute Kiss the Viper’s Fang. Many danced, and a few cried, as this group of musicians came together to play the homage to the greatly missed super star. Finally Randy Newman took to the stage to finish of the weekend.
For the Nelsonville Music festival, it’s more than about the music; It’s about community. The addition of the boxcar stage was helped by an indiegogo campaign to create an ongoing tradition for the festival. People shared umbrellas, and gave out extra ponchos. Sure, I’ve seen strangers dance at other festivals, but I’ve never seen something like the dedication that it takes to recycle and compost the vast majority of waste created over a four day music festival. It’s safe and friendly, and the embodiment of Newman’s “You got a friend in me.”
I know of few other festivals that do so much good for their community, have a real vibe of go-with-the-flow cool, while wandering around amongst some of your favorite music as the environment NMF provides. If you’ve never been to the Nelsonville Music Fest before, I highly suggest checking it out next June. For more information, visit their website or facebook page.
Michelle Waters grew up in Akron, Ohio, but now hugs the border of Ohio and West Virginia, working in Marietta, Ohio for REsolve (Art) Studios, while living in Parkersburg, W.Va. She teaches photo transfer processes and offers art mentoring to local students, while also running her own photography business (Michelle Waters Photography). Live music, good food, good laughs and friends and family make her life.
Nate has photographed everything from rugby games and theatre performances to night life on Bourbon Street, Engagements in Ireland, and the oceans and islands of Greece. Through all of this journey he has concentrated on producing creative work that captures the life found all around us.