I’ve been a resident of Columbus and a supporter of the music scene for more than six years, so it’s truly a wonder I never made the 54-minute voyage to Hocking College, the home of NMF. I guess it’s only right that my time came on its crystal (15th) anniversary.
I had a lot of incredible experiences at Nelsonville—free and easy parking, little to no lines, reasonably priced food and beer—but the atmosphere and camaraderie championed my experience. Every person I came into contact with was so full of gratitude towards the music and art, uninhibited by their outfit choice of the day (mostly t-shirts, cargo pants, overalls, and bare feet), and full of genuine joy. I think even the infant attendees were under the magnificently happy spell of Nelsonville. Though I knew people there, I spent most of my time there by myself and never felt lonely.
It as like being back in my home village of Arcadia, Ohio where everyone knows your name and asks how you’re doing because they genuinely want to know the state of your well-being. No one gave a damn if their armpits turned ripe in the June sun, or if their kid was knee-deep in mud by the water bottle-filling area. Some folks sat in lawn chairs all day in front of the Main Stage, others kept in close proximity to the beer tent, and others yet supported lesser-known musicians on the Porch Stage with all the gusto their not-ready-for-the-Arnold-Classic bodies could muster. Everyone marched to the beat of their own drum, yet fully embraced the fact that we were all sharing in this beautiful experience with the same soundtrack and respected it. No hate, no judgement, no problem.
And the music—oh the music! If I was a musician, Nelsonville is the only place I’d want to play. Twice my eyes welled up with tears: first during Julia Jacklin’s song about befriending your mother, and second during Mandolin Orange’s set because my grandma would’ve loved it. I didn’t feel bashful getting emotional either, because I knew my company would get it. And Death Cab for Cutie was a dream. With 7,000 of my new best friends, I sang and danced to a band that had been on my bucket list since junior high when I first heard “I Will Follow You Into The Dark.”
I’m not sure if it’s because of the beautifully untouched landscape, sense of community fostered over many years of festing together, the mindless escape from reality that only music can provide, or a combination of the three, but Nelsonville Music Fest is a sanctuary away from all the selfie-taking, drama, and manufactured “good times” that other music festivals often include. NMF is organic, playful, and officially added to my list of yearly traditions.
In the world of fast-moving trends, it seems music festivals have taken a turn for the rich and famous. What used to be a chance for music fans to enjoy a handful of their favorite artists in the same place has turned into an exclusive party for celebrities, or anyone rich enough to foot the bill for a ticket. While festivals like Coachella in California and Lollapalooza in Chicago feature some of the biggest names in the music industry, that doesn’t mean the Midwest can’t get in on the action. In fact, creators and founders of Prime Social Group and Breakaway Music Festival are here to alleviate this problem by bringing the action to us.
Meet Adam Lynn and Zach Ruben, founders and creators of Prime Social who host a plethora of concerts and music festivals like Breakaway Music Festival. Now in its fifth year, the two have worked together to bring rap icons like Kendrick Lamar, EDM favorites like Dillon Francis, and even Columbus’ very own Twenty One Pilots to Mapfre Stadium. However, it hasn’t always been this way for the two entrepreneurs.
Before the days of PSG, Lynn and Ruben didn’t start working together until they collaborated on a Steve Aoki tour.
“We just took [Steve Aoki] all over the Midwest,” Lynn recalled. “It was just the craziest two weeks of my life. We went from Ann Arbor to Bloomington to Columbus, basically just traveling the country. But Zach and I had really been competitors until that tour.”
The final stop on the tour was Columbus where Ruben is originally from. Lynn, a New York native, said he had never been to Columbus before, but it only took one time to fall in love.
“I really like the whole ‘Ohio versus The World,’ ” Lynn said. “No one really says that about New York.”
In 2011, PSG hired its first employee. Eight years later, the company has locations in Columbus and Nashville while dipping its toes into other mid-size markets like Detroit and Milwaukee. And the world is starting to take notice. Just recently, Billboard named both Lynn and Ruben to its 2019 Dance Power Players list as live leaders shaping the genre. Who needs California?
“If you look at sports teams, what are some of the best sports attendances? It’s pretty comparable—they’re selling tickets, I’m selling tickets,” Lynn explained. “Look at Milwaukee for example. That is a market that will have the strongest MLB attendance of the entire league, but their population is a fraction of some of these cities.”
The hype surrounding Breakaway has been taken to a national level, and Lynn said he’s ready to add more fuel to that fire. In 2019, PSG hosted four festivals and that number is expected to double in 2020. Breakaway business is boomin’.
This year’s Breakaway will bring back some familiar faces to the festival. Both Young Thug and Future return for hip-hop fans while Bassnecter will be blowing out speakers with an EDM set. If you’re looking to discover someone new, Kid Quill is someone Lynn said to keep your eyes and ears on. He’s an up-and-coming hip-hop artist from Indiana who takes the stage on Friday.
“I think that we’ve been around the business long enough that people
are beginning to respect us. We’re not just here to come and go and make
a quick buck,” Ruben said.
Lessons are taught even with success, and if Ruben can nail down one lesson he’s learned, it’s keeping the festival to just two days. Last year was the first time Breakaway spanned three days, and while it was successful, Ruben said he feels the markets are just better suited for two days...For now.
Breakaway Music Festival is at Mapfre Stadium on August 23 and 24.
For tickets, visit breakawaymusicfestival.com.
Music for kids tends to get a bad rap for good reason. From
the Wiggles to Barney, inane to annoying, somewhere
along the way, “kids” and “music” became decoupled, as
though children don’t deserve sincere songwriting, and education
and entertainment also became mutually exclusive.
That’s why parents are over the moon for the Shazzbots, the credible Columbus kids band that might just save the universe from one more infernal refrain of “Fruit Salad” or a hyperkinetic purple dinosaur professing his static affection. Founded by
Ian Hummel more than a decade ago, the Shazzbots began a
live show which eventually evolved into an Emmy-winning
television pilot, funded entirely by loyal fans. Their latest album,
LIGHTSPEED!, is their long-awaited third release and an apt
metaphor for their change in trajectory, marked by a growing
“When we first started, it was just songs. But I didn’t want it to just be me. I wanted it to be more, something along the lines of Sesame Street, with characters and a backstory behind the songs,” recalled Hummel, whose nautical alter ego Captain Captain travels the galaxy with an acoustic guitar and an archetypical band of misfits in a heavily-modi ed Winnebago. “We weren’t even sure what form the band would take. For a while, there was no drummer, only percussion. For a hot minute, there was even an accordion.”
Hummel recruited friend and bass player Mike “Navigator Scopes” Heslop to help craft the band’s elaborate backstory, with characters whose talents matched those of their real-life counterparts. Josh Tully, better know to kids as Professor Swiss Vanderburton, moved back to electric guitar when Steve Frye, aka Watts Watson, settled in behind the skins. That initial lineup has remained unchanged, but there have been three female members of the crew. Amber Allen as Debora Nebula, Molly Winters as Aurora Borealis, and Diane Hummel as Luna Stardust, who rounds out percussion and also happens to be married to a certain space captain.
“It’s important to have female role models, and you can see
from the stage how little girls connect with Luna Stardust,” noted
Hummel. “Her costume is still girly, but you can tell she’s a member
of the crew. There’s a team dynamic you see in cartoons like Voltron
and Thundercats I knew I wanted in the Shazzbots.”
Though the age of their audience has stayed the same,
expectations for the entire music industry changed course. Social
media was barely a blip when the band began, and streaming services
were almost nonexistent. Now they’re essential. But this too is where
the Shazzbots shine, a retro band ready for a new frontier.
“After filming the television show and getting it on Amazon, we kind of hit a wall deciding what was next,” he admitted. “So we spent nearly a year creating content for YouTube, something new every week. Kids still listen to songs in the car, but they also watch music videos on their iPads. You have to be available everywhere they are.”
Another giant leap into this new era for the band required rethinking the brand. Matthew Hubbard, one of the filmmakers behind the TV pilot, helped tap into the emerging “kindie” industry, clever slang for independent music catering to kids. Unlike commodity kids bands created to make a quick buck, so-called kindie artists are steeped in the sincere songwriting tradition that predates the digital age. They Might Be Giants and Dan Zanes are more contemporary ambassadors for children’s music with a message, but even Johnny Cash and Woody Guthrie released kids albums every bit as sophisticated as their more famous fare.
“Embracing the kindie label, as well as working through a
distributor and with a PR person who understand that audience, has
really opened doors,” Hubbard explained. “We’re now available on
Sirius XM Kids Place Live and Shazzbots albums are in more than
600 libraries nationwide. There are also all of the major streaming
services, Spotify, Amazon, and Apple as well helping to reach a
The irony of the Shazzbots now broadcasting songs via satellite hasn’t escaped the band. It’s probably impossible to be more on brand. But that doesn’t diminish the analog roots and inspiration behind LIGHTSPEED!, available on CD, digital, and as an actual vinyl record with an intricately illustrated gatefold cover featuring a cross-section of the ship created by artist Joel Jackson, whom many may recognize as the ominous pirate from the television pilot’s cliffhanger ending.
“These new streaming options and the release of the new album have given us more reach and more information than we’ve ever had before,” Hubbard noted. “We know how many people are watching the TV show, which is really starting to take o in the UK. We can see which songs are doing well in Australia, a market that is also growing due to songs getting play on the in flight kids entertainment service on Quantas airlines. We use these insights to decide which song should be next for a music video, or maybe shouldn’t, at least not right now.”
“Having all of this data can be overwhelming, and you can overthink it. It can reinforce your instincts as a musician, but you also have to be careful not to let it affect you too much as an artist,” Hummel explained. “These are great tools to have, but you can’t let them keep you from pushing boundaries by trying to find a formula for success. Sometimes those simple little songs will surprise you.”
Plenty of musicians have been there before, watching an outtake
or alternate track that barely made an album resonate unexpectedly,
despite prevailing opinion. It’s also why live shows remain the best
market research for the Shazzbots, even now that some of their
earliest fans are old enough to be in college. Requests from the
audience, often songs that may not have the obvious hallmarks of a
hit single, still spark something unexpected. It’s evidence that those
obscure deep cuts have sticking power too, feedback a synthetic
studio-only kids band just wouldn’t understand.
“I was playing at Big Fun last weekend, and a dad and his two daughters were there. The youngest daughter was wearing one of our t-shirts she’d gotten as a hand-me-down from her sister who is now a teenager,” Hummel revealed. “The older daughter still knew all of the songs. It’s something they shared. She grew out of the shirt, but not the Shazzbots.”
For more on the Shazzbots, LIGHTSPEED!,
and upcoming live shows, visit theshazzbots.com.
“When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way, implicitly and unquestionably.”
The quote is attributed to Walt Disney, and I
think it’s also something we often forget when
we grow up. But kids? Without the tools or
knowhow to navigate life, believing is all they
can do. Wouldn’t it be something, though, to
combine the wonder of believing with practical
life skills for an experience equally magical for
kids and adults?
Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo, I present to you
Amy’s Princess Parties!
With her esteemed cast of imaginative
employees, Amy Kavelaras spins, twirls,
and curtseys into the lives of young people
with the intent to impress upon them the
qualities of a good person—all while dressed as
“I think it’s so magical,” Kavelaras said of
With over 30 characters to choose from
(including superheroes) parents can hire Amy’s
Princess Parties by the hour to transform their
child’s birthday into a fairy tale-like occasion
they’ll cherish for the rest of their lives.
It begins with a class on “how to be princess”—walk, wave, curtsy, that sort of thing. For superheroes, obstacle courses and other games are on the menu. Once the party goers have the mannerisms down, Kalvelaras and her cartoon-y crew transition into lessons on what really counts: the heart.
“We really use our platform for good, so we use these role model characters and we try to create an atmosphere where we’re in influencing the next generation,” explained Kavelaras. “So we talk about character values of being kind, being loving, and being caring.”
Parents look on—sometimes tearfully,
according to Kavelaras—as their starry-eyed
child hangs on every word of their role model
teaching them the importance of being truthful,
thankful, helpful, and accepting in every
situation from home life to the playground.
“A 3-year-old may not listen to their parents, but a 3-year-old will listen to these characters because they are their personal heroes,” said Kavelaras. “We really want to make a difference.”
And as important as it is to drive these messages home with the kids, Kavelaras puts equal weight on deciding who will do the driving. She has hand-picked each magical member of her
company, not only because they embody the princess or superhero
physically, but also mentally and emotionally. In other words, practice
what you preach (Matthew the Apostle said that, but I’d be willing to bet
that Walt Disney would agree).
“Yes, technically you do need to look like the character from the outside [to be an employee at Amy’s Princess Parties], however the most important thing is the heart and finding someone who encompasses both is really important to us,” Kavelaras explained.
All this may seem like an elaborate dress-up game for the employees, the opportunity offers so much more.
“It truly makes you feel like you’re not yourself...like, ‘I am this
person’s role model, this person looks up to me,’ ” said Kate Glaser, one of
Amy’s princesses. “That’s really special.”
And even after the birthday candles are blown out, the magic
“I had to stop at a friend’s house to grab something after a party and there was a kid outside in a [Little Mermaid] bathing suit who saw me so, I got out and talked with her,” Glaser continued. “Even after the party is over, you have an impact on everyone you see.”
They stop at lemonade stands, make Starbucks runs, go to the grocery
store, pump gas—all while in character—to bring a little magic to everyone
they cross. These interactions, along with being able to make appearances
at charity events with both kids and disabled adults are some of the most
rewarding experiences for the princesses and superheroes.
“As much as we’re changing their lives, they’re changing our lives,”
After all the etiquette lessons and life courses, it’s time for the tiny princesses and superheroes to be coronated. With the flick of a magic wand, some magic dust, and the promise that they are so loved, Amy’s Princess Parties gives the children the fairy tale ending they deserve.
And they all lived happily ever after.
To book a character for your next party go to amysprincessparties.com.