The hills are alive!

Nelsonville Music Festival returns

By Leo DeLuca
photo: Wilco headlines at Nelsonville Music Festival the weekend of May 30-June 2; photo credit: Austin Nelson

Located a mere two hours from Dayton, Nelsonville Music Festival (NMF) heads into its ninth year with a phenomenal lineup featuring Wilco, Cat Power, John Prine, Mavis Staples, Jonathan Richman and many more. The annual event will be held May 30-June 2 in Nelsonville, Ohio at Hocking College’s Robbins Crossing. NMF is presented by Stuart’s Opera House – an historic theatre (est. 1879) located on the city’s Public Square.

Tucked in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, the old mining town of Nelsonville is very unassuming. Truly, it’s hard to imagine the idyllic city of 5,000 has played host to Willie Nelson, Loretta Lynn, Flaming Lips, Neko Case, Yo La Tengo, George Jones, Andrew Bird and many others. Even so, Nelsonville Music Festival’s modest environment is arguably what makes it one of the greatest in the country.

I had the opportunity to speak with Brian Koscho, Marketing Director for both Stuart’s Opera House and Nelsonville Music Festival

You describe Nelsonville Music Festival as one of the “most unique in the country.” What do you feel sets NMF apart from other music festivals?

We think Nelsonville Music Festival is different in a few ways. First, we keep our focus on the music, artistry and experience for the patrons at the festival. Second, this event is run by a non-profit, historic theatre – Stuart’s Opera House. We put this on because we believe in it and want to have an event that highlights our community and brings people to Nelsonville. Third, we have lots of things that make the event special, like our No-Fi Cabin – an old schoolhouse that’s part of the historic village on the festival site. All weekend, performers play in there with no electricity to a small crowd. Fourth, we are not only one of the cleanest events around, but we try to leave the smallest environmental imprint we can. We have an amazing Zero Waste program – working with local non-profit Rural Action. Last year we diverted 72 percent of our waste from the landfill through compost and recycling. Of course, there are many other things that make NMF special: local artisan vendors, an unbelievable kids area, a great campground, good food and much more. – Brian Koscho

You also mention that NMF is “a production of Stuart’s Opera House.” What is Stuart’s involvement?

Nelsonville Music Festival is part of the budget for Stuart’s Opera House and is one of our annual events. If NMF makes money, that money goes right back into Stuart’s Opera House and next year’s event. It is important to note that all money raised goes back into a great cause. By attending the festival, you are not only supporting NMF, but Stuart’s Opera House. In turn, you are helping to keep the arts alive in Athens County. Stuart’s hosts live music, theater, educational arts programming, visual art, film, dance and more year-round. -BK

Does NMF plan to keep growing or is there a certain size you’d like to reach? I know that Pickathon Music Festival in Happy Valley, Ore., was an ever-growing event and, if it continued on that way, the festival’s ground-level supporters were concerned that it would lose its original ethos. In turn, Pickathon asked festival-goers if they’d like to see the festival continue its upward trajectory and, in turn, keep ticket prices low or, conversely, if they’d like to keep it a smaller-size, but have higher-priced tickets. Are you at this point? If not, do you see this as an issue you’ll have to address in the near future?

I think this is something on our minds each year. One of the most appealing aspects of Nelsonville Music Festival – and Pickathon as well – is that it is comfortable. We want to make sure we don’t lose that feeling by growing too quickly. Tim Peacock [Nelsonville Music Festival Founder] has mentioned that he would never want to sell more than 6,000 tickets. I think that is probably in the realm of how big it would get. -BK

What are some of your fondest Nelsonville Music Festival memories?

It always feels great on Sundays each year, as it is winding down, and I have some time to catch a band and see friends. Meeting Bob Pollard [Guided By Voices] and Wayne Coyne [Flaming Lips] were both pretty amazing as well. There are always certain moments where I stop and watch someone play who’s been a hero of mine for years – Mudhoney, Roky Erickson, Yo La Tengo – … while I am at work in a field … in Nelsonville, Ohio … and I always think, “I am watching __________ here in a field in the middle of Nelsonville, Ohio, and I am doing this for a living. This is surreal.” Honestly, this is a labor of love for me. It’s a ton of work, but there is nothing else I would rather be doing. -BK

Nelsonville Music Festival takes place Thursday, May 30 through Sunday, June 2 at Robbins Crossing on the campus of Hocking College, 3301 Hocking Parkway in Nelsonville, Ohio. Single-day passes are $50-$75, weekend passes are $110. For more information, including lineups, visit nelsonvillefest.org or stuartsoperahouse.org.

Reach DCP freelance writer Leo DeLuca at LeoDeLuca@DaytonCityPaper.com


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