Our thanks to ENS friend and contributor Meredith Melragon for providing this recap of the Nelsonville Music Festival.
There are big festivals and concerts that deliver exactly what you expect, enormous crowds battling the weather to watch the video projection of the action on stage. Smart festival folks are catching on that the “undercard” is where the gems are found that reward both the performers and the audience and Nelsonville adds a wide range of acts and a not so big feel to add up to a wonderful weekend in the hills.
Reviewing this year’s line up, you find master songwriter, John Prine, who one musician remarked “After John Prine’s songs why bother …” Many conversations followed that pattern with listeners of all kinds remarking how wonderful one performance or another had been or how Cotton Jones reminded one musician of Mickey Newbury.
Friday I spent some time on the porch of the NoFi Cabin joining a rapt audience for Anais Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer. The schedule allowed a number of performers to appear on one of the larger stages and this most intimate of settings.
On my list of not to miss was William Tyler. One man on the Porch Stage with a couple of guitars was entirely captivating. See for yourself in this Line of Best Fit clip.
The rain arrived just before Lee Fields & The Expressions were set to take the stage delaying Cat Power’s scheduled start and making the evening a long one. Their sound emerging from the rain and darkness fit the mood. Cat Power did take the stage as did the rest of the schedule after a delay. Roaming from stage to stage I stumbled on three lads who had flown across the pond to catch Reigning Sounds’ triumphant set that bridged Thursday into Friday morning.
Saturday morning began with a friend’s recommendation to catch Olentangy John. Three seated performers gathered around one mic and offered a perfect match to the setting with acoustic instruments and shared vocals. John shared that the banjo he played was purchased by the festival’s director.
The Flying Clouds of South Carolina took that stage in the midday sun ready to draw the crowd closer and bring the gospel to the day. I watched as one singer “warmed” up during the first song and then took center stage to encourage folks further into the sun to soak up the music. The mix of acts offers listeners the chance to enjoy a smorgasbord of music.
Jonathan Richman began the run of great sets on the main stage as a duo that attracted long time fans and others who wondered if he would play the There’s Something about Mary song. Sharon Van Etten commented that she couldn’t believe she was playing after Jonathan Richman. Her set was filled with tracks from her last record as well as a few older tunes and one new one. Fans hung on every word and sang every word.
Dark clouds cut Mavis Staples set short and folks ran for cover as rain delayed Wilco’s set. The band delivered a reliably strong set with room for extended jams and ended with what some dubbed Wilexico as the horns from Calexico joined for the last two tunes.
Sunday’s highlight for me was Field Report on the porch stage. From the moment the singer walked to the mic, I was sold. As they transitioned from soundcheck to songs the banter about a guitar playing drummer was good for a laugh. The group offered thoughtful interplay with lyrics worth leaning in and listening carefully.
Sunday’s forecast for rain held off for Tift Merritt and John Prine. The sky was beautiful and so were their voices and songs. Tift Merritt’s band features the poetry of Eric Haywood and smartly back’s her timeless tales. Standing around me were plenty of folks crying as Prine stalked the stage with a well worn in guitar and loved every minute of his set. Remember folks, it’s all about the songs that stick with you.
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