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Nelsonville Music Festival 2011

Unless you are really into boots, Nelsonville, OH is usually just a pit stop between Columbus and Athens.  This past weekend, though, Nelsonville became a destination for an eclectic group of musicians, merchants, fans, and families as the campus of Hocking College played host to the 7th annual Nelsonville Music Festival headlined by The Flaming Lips.  

Aspiring Minesweeper champion Dave Garman and I headed down early on Friday to catch all 6′ 6″ of Justin Townes Earle.  Aptly described by Dave as a country Buddy Holly, Earle displayed how far he has come from his crack dealing days by tearing through a stripped down set.  Highlights included “Mama’s Eyes” and his cover of Lightnin’Hopkins’ “Been Burning That Bad Gasoline” seen below.

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After Justin Townes Earle, Dave and I had some time to kill, so we took in Athens’ own Whale Zombie. At this early point in the festival, there seemed to be some latent energy in the crowd. Whale Zombie was the skeleton key, igniting a quasi-pit that was more bumper cars than demolition derby.  Regardless, it was an excuse to party, which everyone seemed to welcome.

After, Laura and Gloria arrived, we saw Columbus band Mount Carmel for the first time and began to wonder what the hell we’d been doing with our lives.  How had we never seen these dudes play before?  How had we never been doused in this unholy blend of classic influences? If I ever get the opportunity to ride a motorcycle away from an epic explosion in slow motion, I want Mount Carmel to provide the soundtrack.

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Closing out Friday was The Growlers’ self-proclaimed “bent sound” which suited an eager, rain-soaked crowd.  It’s questionable whether or not lead singer Brooks Nielson will remember this show, but if he does, he’ll probably have remember having the best shirt of anyone in attendance.

If there was one criticism to be levied against Nelsonville Music Festival, it was the bathroom situation.  8 potties for 1200 campsites?  That’s criminal!  Needless to say, there were some close calls on Saturday morning for those that didn’t plan on a 20 minute wait (like me).

We missed most of Saturday on account of having to travel back to Columbus for the celebration of Claire Horak’s 1st birthday.  Claire is a big fan of the Refrain, so I need to give her laid back disposition a big shout out.  Hey Claire!  Enjoy those blocks!

That night, Yo La Tengo essentially assumed the role of openers for The Flaming Lips. Bass player and unwitting documentary star James McNew achieved what can only be described as a meditative state during “Pass The Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind” allowing him to lay down his nasty bass funk with robot-like precision while Ira Kaplan freaked his guitar for what must have been nearly fifteen minutes.

And then there were The Flaming Lips, which were probably just like any other band you’ve ever seen.  They came out of the retina of a giant eye being displayed on a massive screen.  Wayne Coyne surfed the crowd in a giant hamster ball.  Groups of fans dressed as the characters from the Wizard of Oz flanked the stage.  Confetti filled balloons filled the air. Wayne sung a song on the shoulders of a black bear and donned massive hulk hands which shot lazers likely visible from space.  He invited two hulahooping volunteers he had seen earlier in the day on stage to display their skills. And a giant blow-up Caterpillar King presided over the entire affair.  So yeah, pretty typical.

In all seriousness, it had been raining all day and the festival grounds were reduced to mud. It had the potential to turn ugly, but Wayne Coyne’s messianic presence united the crowd and sustained their interest.

The Flaming Lips are arguably the most appealing headliner to play the young Nelsonville Music Festival, so hopefully this momentum can be carried over to next year.  It would be great to see the promoters book other great Ohio bands like Patrick Sweany or WHY?  in addition to a marquee headliner.  We shall see.

Next up, Junip!

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