The fest for the rest

Nelsonville Music Festival returns to Hocking College

By Rusty Pate

Photo: Celia, Elizabeth and Leslie Rasmussen of Dayton’s Good English will perform at the Nelsonville Music Festival May 28-31

As the winds of winter slowly fade, the spring thaw means many different things.

The longer days bring chirping birds and joggers back to suburban streets. Children weary from a long school year, begin to yearn for the freedom of summer. The crack of baseball bats can be heard from little league diamonds and major league parks.

However, for the music lovers it means only one thing – festival season has arrived.

The multi-day music festival has become a staple of the American summer. While the roots of such events stretch back decades in Europe, the stateside versions really began to gain steam with the inaugural Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in 1999. Over the years, all manner of similar festivals have sprung up. Some focus on specific genres of music, some celebrate certain cities and some are too diverse to fall under any one cultural umbrella.

However, a somewhat universal format has emerged.

Many will feature multiple stages and on-site camping. The festival grounds turn into de facto cities, with vibrant marketplaces offering everything from food and beverages to hot showers and homemade art.

The impact on local economies can be huge.

In a 2012 study by Greyhill Advisors, Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival generated more than $50 million for the Manchester, Tennessee region that hosts the annual gathering. While that is the largest U.S. event of this nature, it is easy to see why communities all over the country welcome promoters of events like this with open arms.

The Nelsonville Music Festival first took place in 2005. Over the years, acts such as Wilco, Willie Nelson, The Avett Brothers and Andrew Bird have appeared.

The event is put on by Stuart’s Opera House, a historic non-profit theatre/performing arts center in Nelsonville. Originally conceived as a one-day show, by the fourth year it had expanded to three days and it has since grown organically. Last year they welcomed attendees from nearly every state in the union as well as drawing an international audience.

It was a process of natural evolution, according to the festival’s marketing director Brian Koscho.

“We’ve built up an audience of people, both in our immediate vicinity and around the region over the years,” Koscho says. “We’ve been able to really galvanize an audience. It creates a more personal sort of setting than a bigger festival. It’s much more laid back and community-minded.”

Proceeds benefit Stuart’s Opera House and the festival has worked with Rural Action’s Zero Waste program to keep the event as green as possible.

The Dayton connection

While Hocking Hills is not quite local to the Gem City, Dayton will be well represented.

Local power trio Good English have known about Nelsonville, due to its close proximity and having friends play there.

Guitarist/vocalist Elizabeth Rasmussen thinks it will be a great opportunity to play in front of people the band might not get to otherwise.

“It will be really cool to play in front of a different audience,” Rasmussen says. “They have so many different musicians who play the festival, and all different genres. I think it’s going to be a really nice mix of people who are attending.”

The trio of sisters began playing music together around middle school. Elizabeth decided she wanted to try something different after years of piano lessons and picked up the guitar. Leslie did the same with drums, and Celia – much like the character Katie from the film “School of Rock” – traded in her cello for a bass.

Their parents bought the girls their respective instruments one Christmas and they proceeded to spend the day leaning Green Day’s “Warning.”

Those early days were tough, because everyone was going through the growing pains not only learning to play as a unit, but also learning their individual instruments. Eventually, they found their sound – a swaggering and heady mix, equal parts Liz Phair sultry and Black Sabbath pile-driving chunky rock.

“We’re just constantly trying to get better, brand ourselves and trying to discover what we want to be,” Rasmussen says.

Being an all-girl group comes with its own set of hurdles.

Earning respect in the male-dominated world of the working rock band can be an arduous task. Listeners come in with preconceived notions about what the band is before the first note is played. Also, the all-sister dynamic opens the group up to a whole other set of criticism.

It would be easy to fall into those traps. Sure, Good English could get on stage wearing the same outfits and pump out sugary pop fluff. They could rely on the gimmicks of being an all-female or a family band.

Rasmussen says they chose a different approach – one that focuses first on the songs and sound rather than the trivial and dismissive tags that follow many female musicians.

She also sees the silver lining of their situation.

“Honestly, it’s been beneficial because there is that intrigue and a curiosity of what and who we are,” Rasmussen says. “I think when we were younger and not as established, people probably just pushed us aside. We’ve made sure the way we’ve developed and the way we grow is in a way that’s attractive to all sorts of people. We’ve been making sure the music is what will capture people’s attention, as opposed to just three girls on stage.”

While the group’s festival-playing experience is limited to the Downtown Dayton Revival, they have attended events like Lollapalooza and Bunbury.

Elizabeth said that finally getting up on stage at an event like this is a dream come true.

“I know personally, every time I go to a show, I get antsy because I want to be the one up there,” Rasmussen says. “It’s especially true at festivals because you see so many different bands and so many talent levels.”

The band recently finished a tour, and Rasmussen says that experience made Nelsonville a much less intimidating affair. Playing to different crowds every night, many of which have never heard your music before, showed them what it takes to win a room.

It also doesn’t hurt to hail from a city like Dayton that takes music so seriously.

“It does have a very unique music scene, because people are extremely critical,” Rasmussen says. “If you’re a bad band and you come through Dayton, you’re probably going to have a terrible time. But they’re also extremely supportive of bands they do like. It’s really cool to be the Dayton representative at Nelsonville. A lot of people don’t know much about Dayton. It’s cool to describe to people what Dayton’s like through the music scene and we’re extremely flattered we get to play this.”

Festival survival 101

For those who have never attended a multi-day camping festival, understand the quest that lies ahead. This is a whole different monster from heading down to the local club or theater.

It is easy to just look at a lineup, get excited and buy a ticket, but properly enjoying four days of music requires planning and preparation.

Hydration is rule number one. Bring and drink lots of water. Even in the days leading up to the event, partake in as much H2O as possible. Being outside for 100 hours will affect your body. The festival grounds will have water, but it’s always good to have it at the campsite. Freeze a case of water bottles to keep food and beer cold. When that ice melts, it magically transforms into ice-cold drinking water.

Bring sunscreen and a hat. Shade is always in short supply at events like this. Never assume it will be available. A bandana helps to keep sweat from your eyes and a blanket to sit on allows you to establish a “home base” in the stage area.

Make eating easy. There will be food vendors; plan on using them for at least one meal. A camping grill is a great idea, as hot food can really lift the spirits, but always have snacks at the ready for when hunger strikes.

Bring toilet paper. Nothing causes a bad night quite like hitting a port-a-john only to find an empty roll of TP.

Set up your camping gear at home ahead of leaving. This is especially true if the gear is new. Learning how to assemble everything can really save some headaches later. It also allows the opportunity to see what your campsite might be missing. Make sure to throw away all extra packaging like cardboard inserts to avoid unnecessary waste on the grounds.

Bring extra shoes and prepare for all types of weather. Even in the summer, nights can get a bit chilly. Heavy rain can make things a muddy mess, but a good pair of rain boots can save a weekend.

Keep the glass at home. Make sure when buying food and beverages to get all plastic or canned. Searches are conducted and anything in glass will be confiscated. Almost nothing is more dangerous in a dark campground/walkway than broken glass.

Don’t forget a good pillow. It is an easy oversight and one that makes sleeping much more uncomfortable.

Finally, bring a pad, pen and camera. If you meet new friends, jot down their information. Keep track of set lists or highlights of the day. With so much going on, senses become overloaded and it’s easy to forget everything that is experienced. Make it a point to try new things. Try different foods. Say hello to neighbors and the folks nearby at the shows.

Above all else, go see bands you’ve never heard of. The best part of festivals like this is stumbling upon something you never knew existed and beginning a life-long love affair with an artist you never would have heard about.

The festival lineup is subject to change. This year will include: The Flaming Lips, Merle Haggard, St. Vincent, Brandi Carlile, Trampled By Turtles, Built To Spill, Mavis Staples, Black Lips, Lucero, The Budos Band, Hurray For The Riff Raff, Elephant Revival, Oblivians, Greg Brown, Mandolin Orange, Moon Hooch, San Fermin, Michael Hurley, Natalie Prass, Natural Child, Ezra Furman, My Bubba, Ryley Walker, Howard, Sarah Neufeld, Tim Easton, Wooden Indian Burial Ground, Samantha Crain, Bassholes, Todd Burge, Connections, Good English, Adam Torres, Soddy Daisy, Bummers, The D-Rays, Speaking Suns, Weird Science, Dead Hand Of Man, The Summoners, Chris Biester, Ryan Jewell, Scott Hedrick, Darrin Haquard, Ben Stalets, Weedghost, Ethan Bartman, Stuarts Afterschool Bands, Heatwave Dance Party, DJ Barticus and John E. Clift, Square Dance with T. Claw and Honey For The Heart.

Nelsonville Music Festival will take place from May 28-31 at Robbins Crossing historic village on the campus of Hocking College. Tickets are available in single-day passes or weekend passes, with VIP versions of each. Weekend passes are $130 for general admission, $325 for VIP and $65 for teen (13-17). Children 12 and under are free. For more information, please visit

Reach DCP freelance writer Rusty Pate at

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Rusty Pate
Reach DCP freelance writer Rusty Pate at

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