Nestled on the edge of the Hocking Hills in Athens County, one would not expect to find a music festival AV Club calls “Best Music Festival in Ohio” in a little town of just over 5,000 like Nelsonville, Ohio. But if you’ve never attended Nelsonville Music Festival, this should be the year you find out why it gets such high praises.
Presented by Stuart’s Opera House, a non-profit historic theater and performing arts center in Nelsonville, Ohio, and in it’s 14th year, NMF is a pleasantly compact yet hard-hitting multi-genre music festival featuring over 60 music acts on the grounds of Hocking College. Nelsonville Music Festival offers surprisingly delicious and affordable food offerings, beer garden featuring local and regional craft brews, local art and craft vendors, plenty of games and activities for the kids, and breathtaking sunsets over the campgrounds. Intimate, laid back, affordable, yet very cool.
In addition to the mind-blowing headliners on deck this year like George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, The Decemberists, and Ani DiFranco, the 2018 Nelsonville Music Festival also features performances by Alvvays, The Black Angels, Deer Tick, Nick Waterhouse, Kevin Morby, The Middle Kids, Ohio-native underground hip-hop artist Blueprint, The Gories, Antibalas, Colter Wall, San Diego psych rockers Earthless, Wooden Shjips, Counterfeit Madison, featuring Cincinnati native and local sweetheart Sharon Udoh, and dozens more. For the full lineup, including bands yet to be announced, check out the artists page.
As a regular attendee of this festival, I have always been impressed by the lineup, and have found some of my favorite bands and favorite live performances along the way here. This festival also at times provides opportunities to get up close and personal with some of the best names in modern music. Dancing to Bomba Estereo and Flaming Lips in the rain? Watching from arm’s length as the Cactus Blossoms play a cover of “Who Will Be The Next In Line” by the Kinks on a tiny porch? Getting to tell one of the Johns from They Might Be Giants a story as he signed my festival bracelet? Getting a hug from Charles Bradley after he complimented my wellies? Angel Olsen accidentally kicking over my espresso lemonade when she was sitting behind me in the grass and stretched out her legs?
Yup, all of these experiences are things that have happened to me at NMF.
There are five stages in which to catch these amazing acts this year: the main stage, the Porch Stage, the super cozy Gladden House stage in one of the old cabins, and the No-Fi Cabin, where performers unplug and get down inside of another tiny cabin. There’s also a muralized train-car-turned-stage where you can attend free shows without a festival pass.
NMF prides itself on being a Zero Waste event, diverting over 92% of the waste created at the festival from landfills in 2017 with recycling and composting. This is one of the most accessible festivals I’ve ever attended: complete with a partitioned off area close to the main stage for festival goers and their companions who are wheelchair-users or have other ambulation issues so they don’t miss a thing. NMF is also one of the most family-friendly festivals I’ve attended, so you can feel OK about bringing your kiddos along to give them the gift of live music in a safe and friendly environment. There’s even a children’s parade every year, it’s pretty much the cutest!
Don’t worry about where to stay, because there are plenty of lodging choices when you go. College dorms on the campus are available for rent. You could also go with a fancy glamping experience featuring a Tuft and Needle mattress, boho seating area with a fire pit, hammock hangout, and a ping pong table! There are inexpensive ($40 for the weekend!) on-site campgrounds for #dirtyhairdontcare Instagram selfies and after-hours dance parties in the field with your crew. If late night ragers aren’t your thing or your family is in tow, there are also family camping areas. Outside of the fest, you can choose from a few modest hotels, one of many Airbnb places, or you can even rent a cabin in Hocking Hills, where you could maybe land a hot tub in the woods and have an easy drive into the festival.
For $150 and two and a half hours in a car from Cincinnati, Nelsonville Music Festival is truly a vital stop on the summer festival circuit. Nelsonville Music Festival is run by a lovely bunch of people with excellent taste in music who are doing this for all the right reasons, and they do it so well. With 60 music acts of all genres, the ability to attend at any age or capacity, and a low-key vibe, this festival is a perfect way to take a nice early summer weekend to catch some great national acts and connect with up-and-coming bands from the Tri-State who are making waves. Look for some of us from INHAILER at NMF, because we certainly aren’t missing this one.
When: May 31 through June 3
Where: Robbins Crossing at Hocking College, Athens, OH
How much: $75 for locals and teens, $150 weekend, $350 VIP
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