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The Other Paper - Annual fest is worth a trip down Route 33


Annual fest is worth a trip down Route 33

By Joel Oliphint

Nelsonville is about an hour southeast of Columbus, which I guess is why I hadn’t attended the Nelsonville Music Festival at Hocking College until this past weekend, its sixth incarnation.

Well, folks, it was well worth the drive, and I’ll be marking this weekend on my calendar for years to come.

The festival is a loose, casual affair devoid of pretense, probably because it started out as a small community festival in downtown Nelsonville. Even so, the headliners and supporting acts have gotten bigger and bigger each year—the Avett Brothers in 2008; Willie Nelson, Jolie Holland and Mudhoney last year.

This year, the big names were Loretta Lynn, the Swell Season and Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings. As you might guess, that made for a mixed crowd. Mustaches and overalls were everywhere—some worn ironically, some just worn.

We’ll start with the top headliner. I’m confident I do not fully grasp the extent of Loretta Lynn’s country-music legacy, so her set made for a bizarre experience. She’s been on younger music fans’ radar since Jack White produced her 2004 album Van Lear Rose, but it’s safe to say it was the 50-plus crowd that was most excited to see the Coal Miner’s Daughter.

Lynn’s apparently drunk and slurring son Ernie played a forgettable tune first, followed by a butchered cover from Lynn’s daughter. Finally, Ms. Lynn graced the stage in a pink sequined dress. She played a few classics, then complained of a hoarse voice, so her guitarist and the backup singers carried a few more tunes until they ended with “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”

I’m glad I got to see a legend like Loretta Lynn, especially after the health problems she had last winter. But it was far from my favorite show of the weekend.

As country legends go, Billy Joe Shaver was more fun, coming off like a grizzled, horny, happy old codger with a soft side that came through in an a cappella song for his deceased son, Eddy. A former labelmate of Kris Kristofferson and my man Larry Jon Wilson, Shaver is a true showman, and the man can still sing.

Sharon Jones lived up to all the hype I’d heard regarding her live show. She’s a dynamo—James Brown and Tina Turner in one. Who knows what her retro-soul demographic is, but she worked the mostly younger, late-night crowd into a frenzy, and even gave Shaver’s 15-year-old guitarist (no joke) some hands-on instruction in the art of seduction.

The Swell Season, featuring Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova from the movie Once, played a set similar to their 2008 show at the Palace Theatre, and that was fine with me. The former couple’s newest album, Strict Joy, doesn’t capture Hansard’s big, affable personality. The man was made for the stage, and Irglova is a fitting, understated counterpart. “Say It to Me Now” was chill-inducing as always.

One complaint about the main-stage acts: way too many lawn chairs. A divider apparently was supposed to separate the lawn chairs and blankets from the standing crowd, but it didn’t really work, and all that makeshift seating made it hard for the standers. Next year, I’d rope off a front section just for standing.

The more intimate porch stage played host to a lot of great acts, too, including the crazed and country-fried Those Darlins, who missed their Saturday main-stage slot because one of the girls broke an arm. Also on hand was Givers, coming off like Rusted Root covering Dirty Projectors, which was more fun than it sounds.

Then there was the super-intimate “No-Fi Cabin,” which was one of my favorite parts of the festival. The one-room cabin had no electricity, no stage, no nothing. Still, crusty troubadour Michael Hurley played a barely audible but still awesome set there, and Samantha Crain’s acoustic set blew me away. She was good with a full band, too, but in that room, with just an acoustic guitar and her powerful voice, it was incredible.

Columbus bands did the city proud, too. The Spikedrivers played a fiery set on Saturday night, and Lydia Loveless showcased her ridiculous pipes on the main stage earlier that day. I was bummed to miss the Alwood Sisters and Bird & Flower, but Moon High was nice and woozy.

Other Ohio acts: Athens’ Southeast Engine rocked the main stage. It’s a credit to the sound guys that Adam Remnant’s voice filled all that open space with the same cracked gusto it brings to a place like the Treehouse. Oh, and I could have listened to Cincinnati’s Buffalo Killers all night Friday.

Next year—whether you camp, commute or go the Motel 6 route—don’t miss this festival.

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  • Posted on June 1