NELSONVILLE — The staff and volunteers of Stuart’s Opera House have again outdone themselves with a lineup for the 9th annual Nelsonville Music Festival to suit the most discerning tastes. Have a reverence for traditional folk storytelling? The one and only John Prine will not disappoint. Looking for something with an edge that just will not let you stand still? Gogol Bordello is not just a show — it’s a gypsy punk experience. Looking for the neverending groove? Wilco has got you covered. Does your soul long for the sultry and soulful? Look no further than Cat Power. … and on and on for miles.
From Thursday, May 30 -Sunday, June 2, 2013, at Robbins Crossing on the campus of Hocking College in Nelsonville, Ohio, the Nelsonville Music Festival will feature more than 50 bands on multiple stages all weekend long along with camping, kids activities, local artisan vendors, food, a beer garden and much more. This year’s lineup will feature: Wilco, Cat Power, John Prine. Gogol Bordello, Mavis Staples, Sharon Van Etten, Calexico, Jonathan Richman, Tift Merritt, The Coup, Reigning Sound, Wild Belle, He’s My Brother She’s My Sister, Lee Fields & The Expressions, Screaming Females, Brown Bird, David Wax Museum, Joe Pug, Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, Flying Clouds of South Carolina, Los Hacheros, Field Report, Shilpa Ray, Anais Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer, Endless Boogie, The Honeycutters, Michael Hurley, Lucius, Cotton Jones, William Tyler, Catherine MacLellan, Wooden Indian Burial Ground, Old Light, Wussy, You Black Kettle, The Sundresses, Nick Tolford & Company, Wheels On Fire, The D-Rays, County Pharaohs, J.D. Hutchison, Hex Net, Jerry David DeCicca, Olentangy John, Todd Burge, Rattletrap Stringband, Unmonumental, Leah Nairn, J.J. Reed and Weedghost.
Organizers have also added Athens locals Hex Net, Rattletrap Stringband and Leah Nairn.
The Sunday Times-Sentinel caught up with organizer Brian Kosch, marketing director for the Nelsonville Music Festival, and asked a few questions about the ever-expanding, ever-improving festival that’s got a whole region talking.
Q. The Nelsonville Music Festival, to me, is an outward expression of a strong internal shift for Nelsonville over the past few years. Faced with a major change in infrastructure with the construction of the Nelsonville Bypass, city, business and community leaders moved forward with a major effort to revitalize the historic square as a tourist destination. Tell me a little about that effort and how it has impacted the region from an artistic/musical perspective … specifically in regard to Stuart’s Opera House.
A. Well, Stuart’s Opera House has been a fixture on the Historic Square when it opened in 1879, and of course the Opera House continues to be a cornerstone of the Square since it re-opened in 1997. Stuart’s feels its an important part of what we do to not only offer quality arts entertainment but also to have a positive economic impact on Nelsonville and Athens County in the process. When Stuart’s first opened again in 1997 (which was well before my time there), it was largely the beginning of that idea that the arts could play a vital role in bringing people into Nelsonville and having a positive impact in tourism and of course, in a larger way, that the arts benefit a community. Since these efforts began in the late 1990s, Nelsonville’s Public Square has seen the number of art galleries and independent businesses grow on the square and continue to bring in visitors to the town, in addition places like Rocky Boots and the Hocking Valley Scenic Railway have also helped in that effort. The Nelsonville Music Festival is just a continuation of that idea; in fact when it began in 2005, in its first year it took place right on the square outside of Stuart’s. The growth of the festival in recent years has continued that trend, bringing even more people into Nelsonville and Athens County from all across the region, the whole country and the world. These folks come down for the festival and hopefully fall in love with this area in the same way we have, and continue to visit again in the future.
Q. The festival has been successful with growth each year. Do you plan to try to contain the festival to a certain size? Or is bigger better?
A. That is part of the process that is always important for us to consider; we want the event to grow and be successful but do not want it to lose the things that make it special. So far we have been happy with the growth of the event and feel that we haven’t lost the intimate feeling that makes the Nelsonville Music Festival so successful. Tim [Peacock, Executive Director of Stuart’s and the Festival] always says that we would not sell more than 6,000 tickets, and we haven’t gotten to that many sold tickets yet, so there is some room to grow. We do have between 5,000 and 6,000 people over the weekend between attendees and of course all of the volunteers and people that make this event happen. We like to keep the focus on the person attending and the music and go from there. I think sometimes at larger festivals that interaction and focus can get lost and swallowed up in the size of the event. This festival is a personal experience, and we like it that way. Even at Nelsonville, you can go from watching a band on the main stage with a larger crowd to watching an artist play in the No-Fi Cabin [an old schoolhouse on the grounds of the festival that is part of the Robbins Crossing historic village] totally acoustic with no electricity and about 40 people.
Q. How do you go about booking bands? You have such a fantastic diversity.
A. Tim [Peacock] handles the booking, and of course we give him some input, but he crafts the lineup each year, and in my opinion, does a great job especially when it comes to diversity. I think that diversity is another reason this festival is unique. It’s not just one type of music and it isn’t the same bands who play all of the summer festivals each year. We always say the lineup is full of music that music-lovers would enjoy no matter what genre that may be, so there is a always a mix of living legends [John Prine, Mavis Staples, Jonathan Richman], larger current acts [Wilco, Cat Power, Gogol Bordello], up-and-coming bands [Lucius, Wild Belle], independent music staples [Sharon Van Etten, Calexico], and lots of great Ohio music, too. This year, there are close to two dozen acts from Ohio. I always hear from people that they come to Nelsonville Music Festival to see certain bands or just because they love the event and then end up leaving at the end of the weekend with several new favorite bands they didn’t know about before they came. That’s always a great thing to hear.
Q. The festival is clearly about great music, but there are vendors and artists and even children’s events. Is this a family-oriented event?
A. Of course! We have an unbelievable Kids Area with all sorts of activities throughout the weekend including painting our annual mural [the previous years is used as a backdrop by our second stage], making art, drama activities, workshops, puppets — and anything else you can think of. There is also a huge parade on Saturday evening that is led by kids and the amazing volunteers in our Kids Area involving some huge puppets and more that are made throughout the weekend at the festival. There are also some kids sets by musicians in the No-Fi Cabin on Saturday and more. Its a great event for kids, and all kids 12 and under are free. There are kids activities all weekend long. Plus, there are about 40 artisan vendors selling their work and even a family camping area in the campground.
Q. What are you, personally, most excited about this year?
A. I’m excited for all of it! After you spend so much time working on something, it’s always just great to see it happen. Of course I’m excited for the headliners, Wilco is always great, and I can’t wait to see John Prine who I have not seen live before. But my favorites are usually the bands playing on the Porch stage, I’m very excited to see William Tyler, Endless Boogie, Wooden Indian Burial Ground, Reigning Sound, and of course all the great local music, too.
Q. Ticket information?
A. Tickets are on sale now at nelsonvillefest.org or by calling (740) 753-1924. You can purchase tickets in advance and save some money, prices will be higher at the gate. Camping passes are also on sale.
Q. Anything else you want to add?
A The campground opens at noon on Thursday, May 30 and gates to the festival open at 5 p.m. that night. Gates open at 9 a.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and music starts around 10:30 a.m. each day and goes until late at night. We think you should all come out and check out the Nelsonville Music Festival, with 57 acts on multiple stages over four days its the perfect event if you are a music lover. See the full lineup, purchase tickets, and get more information at nelsonvillefest.org.
The Nelsonville Music Festival is a production of Stuart’s Opera House, a historic, non-profit theater located in Nelsonville that features over 75 events a year including live music, theater, films, educational programming and more. You can find out more about Stuart’s by visiting stuartsoperahouse.org.