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Review: Nelsonville Music Festival Day 2

Cassandra Zahran Cassandra Zahran Review: Nelsonville Music Festival Day 2Photos by Cassandra Zahran.
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Andrew Bird shared that Nelsonville Music Festival is “the perfect size festival. Any bigger, and it would lose something.” After attending my first Nelsonville Music Festival, I finally experienced the beauty of a quaint, small music festival.

An hour away from the capital city, Nelsonville sneaks up amongst the lush green hills, lacing through the Hocking College Campus. The Festival takes place in Southeast Ohio, drawing many Ohio natives to the area. The festival features one main stage and three cabins/stages spread throughout the grounds. Hay stacks, wooden barrels and broken fences — looking like a combination of a John Wayne Western and the set of “Dazed and Confused” — casually exist amongst the thousands of visitors.

Food trucks decorated the main lot entrance, featuring Mikey’s Late Night Slice, where we saw Kurt Vile demolish a slice of pizza, and the decadent Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream. Local favorites CD102.5FM stayed all weekend, hosting a photobooth with coconut bras and chalkboard art. The festival practices a “No-Waste” policy, having volunteers guide visitors in “recycling, composting or trashing,” their items; extremely eco-friendly, and passionately executing the purpose of keeping the festival sustainable.

It was comfortable, cozy and far from overwhelming. The festival was as intimate as you wished it to be.

Steve Gunn – Gladden House Session – 3:30 p.m.

The first afternoon set of the day was held at a deteriorating, wooden cabin in a subtle, green nook, The Gladden House. Steve Gunn, currently touring with Kurt Vile, played an acoustic, one-man, set for an audience of thirty. His second track, “Old Strange,” from album Old Time Off, embodied a medieval-blues folk, light melodies with subtle vocals, filling the space and bodies on the green lawn. After restarting the track twice, in order to tune his guitar, Gunn continued his half hour stripped set. His vocals, naked and elegantly vulnerable, did not force his voice to be heard, the tunes naturally carried across the crowd.

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The harmony between his guitar and vocals was comparable to Samuel Beam of Iron & Wine — the guitar peacefully singing along with Gunn’s articulate lyrics. His writing, intriguing and relatable, reflected the writings of a narrative, making the performance feel that more personal. Experiencing an intimate set like Steve Gunn’s is unique, not a performance you could intentionally seek out at a larger festival. The opportunity for discovery at Nelsonville was endless, and Gunn’s performance was my most appreciated spontaneous encounter.

Kurt Vile & the Violators – Main Stage – 9:00 p.m.

Opening his set with the title track on his 2013 album, Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze, Kurt Vile & the Violators warmly welcomed the Nelsonville attendees with the beginning riff, immediately relaxing the crowd. The first track set the precedent for the entire show, gaining new listeners, as well creating an intensified experience for devoted fans. 

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My image of shy, reserved Kurt Vile, was reverted entirely after he took the stage (and after I saw him scarf down a piece of pizza…). With his hair draped over his face like a curtain, Vile effortlessly communicates unblemished spacious, stoner-americana rock, his voice lightly glazing over the instrumentals.

Halfway through “Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze,” Vile on guitar was remarkably not the same as Vile on the record — each riff reaching a new height — something not exposed on the 2013 album. The second half of the nearly 10-min track cut Vile and his Violators loose, comfortably extending the track in each facet they wished to magnify. The smaller rhythms were amplified, shining light to capabilities of the band I had failed to notice before. Being coined as americana/indie rock, Vile’s lyrics casually tend to drive his connection with an audience, although this was not the case for the band’s live performance. The painfully 90s-sound paired with contemporary psychedelic rock, allowing Vile to oscillate between these sounds in a cohesive manner. Vile’s last two tracks of the set embellished the bands familiar sounds with grungy, dilapidated rock. Vile’s screaming vocals and boisterous percussion closed out the set, Vile placing his guitar face-first on the ground, letting the reverb wrap up the evening.

I had anticipated a serene set, Vile replicating the sounds of Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze, going through the motions of the vocals and guitar. The set was far from laid-back, highly interactive and energetic. Vile’s stage presence was demanding, commanding vocal attention in a modest way, further communicating what he couldn’t say through the whines of his guitar. My favorite performance I have seen in quite a bit, Kurt Vile & the Violators displayed much versatility in their set, creating a unique, live experience.

Dinosaur Jr – Main Stage – 10:30 p.m.

Loud. The loudest show I have and will ever see.

Dinosaur Jr. closed out Friday evening on the main stage, attracting the largest crowd Nelsonville saw that weekend. With a wall of amps behind each band member, there was no escaping the sound. Dinosaur Jr. was headlining Nelsonville, and everyone in a twenty-mile radius could hear the ripping guitar rock. Bassist, Lou Barlow, shredded his bass as if it were an electric guitar, aggressively throwing his head back and forth with each strum, one leg on propped on the drum kit. The three-piece positioned themselves in linear fashion, developing an indestructible wall of sound, traveling to every corner of the festival grounds. Each opportunity Barlow had on the microphone was approached without hesitance, the screaming vocals managed to pierce through the already enormous sound — making the set that much more rock ‘n’ roll.

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Dinosaur Jr. played each track like it was a gig at CBGB twenty years ago. These fifty year-old men abused their instruments, electrocuting the crowd with each piece, the drums, bass and guitar working together to slam each and every pair of ears. This highly-influential and wildly talented band brought what no other band could’ve brought to the festival. The performance was nostalgic, uncensored and entirely in the hands of Mascis, Murph, and Barlow — all of us listeners along for the bumpy ride. The phrase “a blast from the past” is non-existent for Dinosaur Jr, their past merely traveling with each present performance.

For more information, visit www.nelsonvillefest.org.

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