Review: 2015 Nelsonville Music Festival
The Nelsonville Music Festival is simply one-of-a-kind. The festival grounds are secluded amongst extraordinary lush greenery, subtly inhabiting amongst archaic cabins and barns, and yet, only a short walk away from Hocking College. Existing since 2005, Nelsonville has eloquently managed to facilitate a family-friendly environment, fostering an effortlessly convenient festival for 10 years. The quaint, low-key energy is the main attraction to the modest-sized festival, the campgrounds littered with unique pop-up booths, record tents and face-painters. Whilst catering unique food, drink and entertainment to the crowd of miscellaneous attendees, Nelsonville simultaneously enforced their “Zero Waste” policy. Compost, Trash and Recycling bins were as far as the eye can see, re-enforcing the unique, dynamic facets of this humble festival. As colored bubbles and balloons gently rested in the air throughout the entire weekend, I witnessed one of Nelsonville’s best line-up’s yet, featuring Built to Spill, St. Vincent, Black Lips and Flaming Lips.
Good English (Dayton) – The Porch Stage
The three-piece, all-female group from Dayton, Ohio crammed the entire Porch Stage lawn within moments of taking the stage. Good English are an assortment of musical influences, embodying the sounds of DIY alternative, gypsy-rock and psychedelic witch-rock. Dominating their small stage Friday afternoon at Nelsonville, the three sisters were dressed head-to-toe in slick black dresses, instantly enthralling the crowd with their dark, earthy instrumental sounds. Having accidentally found myself at the front of The Porch Stage, I remained at the foot of Good English’s performance for the entire set.
Glancing over to the VIP sectioned area of the stage, I see the signature silver, curly locks of Wayne Coyne, throwing his head back-and-forth to the heavy melodies of Good English. Similar to Sleater-Kinney, the three-piece began many tracks with heavy guitar leads, progressively introducing the thumping bass lines and pulsing drum patterns. In the middle of their set, lo and behold, Good English presented the opening riff for Sleater-Kinney’s track, “What’s Mine Is Yours.” Shortly following the opening riff between the flirting bass and guitar, lead vocalist, Liz, impeccably tackles the vocals, leaving the crowd in a hair-pulling, jaw-dropping frenzy. With an eruption of applause, Good English gained quite the fan-base proceeding their Nelsonville performance.
Ben Sollee (Lexington) – The Gladden House
Ben Sollee had once said “A cello is not just an instrument; it’s a cultural tombstone.” If you happened to witness this one man and his instrument at The Gladden House, you would be convinced he has some relation to the renowned Yo Yo Ma. With such effortless ease, Sollee’s bow skated across the strings of his cello, quick patterned strokes manipulating each and every centimeter of his cello.
Born and raised in Kentucky, Sollee prefaced each track without hesitation, educating the audience on the symbolism of each anticipated song. Humbled, yet confident, Sollee is first a story-teller, and second, a musician. Within ten minutes of calmly listening to Sollee’s set, I had felt as if I walked through years of his memories with him. Sharing stories about hardships on the road, his wife, his family, and his Kentucky roots, Sollee allured the crowd to step a little closer during the length of his performance.
Connections (Columbus) – The Porch Stage
The five-piece from Columbus, Ohio took full advantage of their time on Friday evening, immediately inaugurating their set with boundless amounts of energy and focus. Lead vocalist, Kevin, did not hesitate to interact with the crowd, excitedly motioning individuals to come closer to the stage to join the madness. While sporting his splashy Miley Cyrus t-shirt, Kevin bled eccentricity through his pores, energy streaming from every word he yelled into the microphone. The band-to-crowd interaction reached exceptional highs, the energy continuously growing as the set progressed. Similar to the vibration of Twenty One Pilots, Connections interacted with one another, their audience and instruments intensively. A performance that exceeded my expectations, Connections only continue to impress their viewers with each set they play.
Built to Spill (Boise) – Main Stage
A few months ago, Built to Spill regained national attention with their release of Untethered Moon, single “Never Be The Same” encompassing all things we’ve missed from Built to Spill. The hour and a half set was everything Built to Spill fans could’ve asked for. The five-piece played classic favorites, including: “Living Zoo,” “Car,” “I would Hurt a Fly,” “You Were Right,” and “Reasons.” The third track into the set, Built to Spill had warmed up every inch of their bodies, and challenged themselves to the quick tempo change in “Living Zoo.” The Opening guitar melody welcomed the steady percussion, and encouraged the whining guitar and fluttering bass line, only to shortly quicken the tempo as each second passed. The precision and fast-tempo wildly impressed the audience, inaugurating the dedicated moshers into their rowdy, body-slamming pit. The sweet melodic vocals kickstart the dancing audience, singing along to the phrase, “aaaaah that’s alright, doin’ fine / being a human, being an animal too.”
I slowly found myself inching closer to the stage as the crowd began to magnetize towards the five musicians. My mind was wonderfully clouded of classic 90s movie clips and my first High School memories of listening to Built to Spill, witnessing these same thoughts surfing through the minds of the individuals around me. “Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss” proceeded “Living Zoo,” the perfect track to press on the energy and attentiveness from the audience. The winding guitar solo’s contributed to the 90s Alternative Rock energy that was inescapable, an energy so heavily valued by the devoted audience.
The Flaming Lips (Oklahoma City) – The Main Stage
Debatably the best live band to have ever existed, The Flaming Lips never seize to perform a multi-sensory experience, transporting their listeners to an extraterrestrial world. After a grueling stage set-up, fashioned by the seven members themselves, each musician assumed position in their designated areas of the stage- littered with colored lights, silver mylar, and sporting sequined capes and neon wigs. The set immediately opened with the signature track, “The Abandoned Hospital Ship” from renowned record Clouds Taste Metallic, released twenty years ago. Two minutes into the track, the guitar solo ignited the confetti cannons to burst thousands of confetti pieces into the air, all whilst the whimsically bright mushrooms, rainbow and butterfly danced on the stage, joining the seven members with their opening track. The boundless smiles and glowing eyes of the attendees made it clear that we were all witnessing yet another flawless Faming Lips set.
As confetti lingered in the air, and the smoke machines laid a dense cloud upon the stage, The Flaming Lips transitioned into “Fight Test,” where a rather large surprise was revealed. For the first time in Flaming Lips history, a gargantuan balloon creature took the shape of a pink robot, and was guided through the audience for the entirety of the next three tracks, “She Don’t Use Jelly” and “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1.” As the large creature delicately made it’s way to the front of the stage, the audience thrived off the floating creation, guiding the robots direction directly towards Wayne.
Having seen The Flaming Lips in 2010 in Dover, Delaware, it was the first time I’ve heard “She Don’t Use Jelly” in five years. The crowd wailed the lyrics with Wayne, hands reaching towards the sky, and mouths gaping wide with smiles. As “Yoshimi Pt. 1” intro-ed, the curators of the giant pink robot directed the crowd to take down the robot, and destroy every corner of their massive creation. As Wayne sang the chorus, “You won’t let those robots defeat me,” the audience serviced Wayne in the destruction of the “evil” robot. Clearly a success, the audience was ready for more, as The Flaming Lips proceeded with “Feeling Yourself Disintegrate,” “Butterfly, How Long It Takes to Die,” “The W.A.N.D,” “A Spoonful Weighs a Ton” and “Do You Realize.” The sheer complexity and intricacy of The Flaming Lips’ performance left me in awe, as they do-so during every live performance. Tears were shed, and group-hugs with strangers became the norm. The set concluded with the word “LOVE” flashing for several minutes on the illuminated backdrop, leaving the crowd with heavy hearts and happiness pulsing through their veins.
Bummers (Columbus, OH) – The Porch Stage
The sky was overcast, and the air was dense with humidity, yet Bummers managed to convert the murky, hot afternoon into an MTV beach party. Rather than Carson Daily amping up the crowd, lead vocalist Jeff Pearl wore his best swim trunks, and let his hair loose, gearing the audience for the ideal gypsy, desert rock beach party. Mothers and their daughters hoola’d to the up-beat guitar melodies, while young beach groovers were driven by their insanely active drummer. Playing the three-minute crowd pleasing track, “The South,” from their self-titled record, the four piece had complete control over their full audience during their entire set. Never once was there a dull moment as Jeff Pearl cooed his unique vocals into the microphone, bobbing his head and hips with each subtle bass tone. The set finished with Pearl on the floor aggressively strumming his guitar, a microphone knocked over and the crowd screaming for more. Job well done.
St. Vincent (Tulsa) – The Main Stage
St. Vincent is an anomaly in the music industry. She’s an independent woman with a very precise artistic vision, and sure as hell might just be the best female guitarist of all time. The set began with the robotic sounds of Annie Clark speaking to the audience, further continuing to scuttle towards the front of the stage in her robotic movement. The dainty, eloquent creature held her guitar stiffly in her petite arms, as she began the opening lyrics for “Murmur,” off of the 2011 record, Actor. “H-E-L-P” me repeated from Annie Clark’s silky throat, layered with gruff guitar and hazy percussion. Quick transitions between tracks led to a series of songs across Annie’s entire discography, including “Birth in Revers,” “Digital Witness,” “Rattlesnake,” “Actor Out of Work,” “Surgeon” and “Your Lips Are Red.”
Keeping her china-doll, stoic facial expression, St. Vincent charged her guitar with aggression and meticulous skill. St. Vincent is credited for both her artistic capability and dramatic performance art, as Annie Clark so often falls to the ground from exhaustion after her riveting guitar solos. Commonly interacting with fellow keyboardist and guitarist, Toko Yasuda, the two effortlessly breathtaking women matched heads and played identical guitar leads, amplifying the intense guitar-driven track. Without a doubt, St. Vincent closed Saturday night with an impeccable performance, converting even her biggest fans into preaching advocates.
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All photos by Emma Swysgood.