“You’re down in Appalachia, everyone here is a weirdo.”
Those were the first words I heard as I came to a stop at the Boxcar Stage at Nelsonville Music Festival and knew I was home.
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.