By: John Price
Friday night at Nelsonville Music Festival proved to be muddy, unique, and fun as hell. White whales, mud pits, intoxicated attendees, psychedelic bands, and a bit of rain helped to make the second day of Nelsonville’s 14th Music Festival a memorable one.
“Nelsonville Music Festival is a gem!” said Ann Ripple, a local. “I live 30 minutes away, and I only just heard about it 3 years ago.” This is Ripple’s fourth year in a row attending. She’s not coming to see any band in particular, but rather the festival as a whole. “Nobody knows about it! It’s great!”
Earlier in the day a deluge of heavy rain had fallen. This resulted in mud pits forming in some of the well-trafficked areas. However, the elements did little to dissuade the Nelsonville attendees from enjoying the day’s festivities.
After the rain had passed Deer Tick took the main stage in front of a very full crowd eager to enjoy its alternative bluesy jam-rock. Singer/guitarist John McCauley had the crowd in the palm of his hand, as he effortlessly strummed away on his Fender Stratocaster and, using no hands, grabbed a bottle of beer that had perched on his mic stand, tilted his head back and chugged most of its contents before placing it back in its cup-holder, without losing a beat. The crowd was impressed and appreciative, stirring and cheering throughout the set.
Meanwhile, the West Coast group Wooden Shjips provided an intense and psychedelic performance at the Porch Stage. As the sun rapidly set, the band’s lighting effects kicked into full gear, providing deep blue and purple hues as the graying quartet, originally from San Francisco, showed a mostly younger audience how to produce enormous sound with limited amplification and a few effects pedals.
Friday’s headliner, The Decemberists, a folk-rock band from Portland, Oregon, began with lead singer/songwriter Colin Meloy admitting to the crowd that his voice was shot, and that he felt bad having to subject the audience to his raspy attempts at hitting clean high notes usually demanded by its set. While the crowd clearly didn’t mind his raspy delivery, after playing for about half an hour several of the band’s members had to huddle up with Colin and decide on a course of action, while the keyboardist and bassist spoke to the crowd to cover.
“I think my favorite performer today was Caroline Rose” said Jenny Conlee, “She was amazing.” The rest of the band agreed, and then bassist Nate Query piped in “Oh yeah, and I really liked that band…what was it…something Madison? Irrevocably Madison?” The crowd was quick to correct him. Columbus’s Counterfeit Madison and Caroline Rose had obviously made an impression on the Portland natives.
The next song proved taxing on Colin Meloy’s voice, even though he only had a few seconds of vocal duties to perform. One of the band’s backing vocalists, Kelly Hogan, took over and was literally making prayer-hands whenever Meloy attempted to sing. Meanwhile the crowd was eating it all up. The drama of watching a headlining performer’s voice barely hanging on by a thread, and the crowd cheering on the band and encouraging their lead singer to push through and carry on added a palpable level of drama and energy to the show.
By its closing number, Meloy’s voice was in tatters. He knew it. The crowd knew it. So, what to do? “Who knows all of the lyrics to The Mariner’s Revenge?” he asked the crowd. Enter: Dan. An early twenties sleeveless bespectacled dark-haired scarf-touting fan. He, as it turned out, would be tinder to a roaring closing number. The crowd was immediately on board and started cheering his name.
He delivered. The Decemberists often write lyrics that recall 19th century sea shanties. Instead of repetitious song structures, it tends to tell stories. This song was no exception. Dan, with occasional prompting from Meloy, managed to sing the entire song, and just as its crescendo drew near an enormous inflatable white whale emerged from behind the band and made its way into the crowd, a la the pig from Pink Floyd’s The Wall tour. The crowd cheered. The band smiled. Dan blushed. It was a perfect ending to night two of the Nelsonville Music festival.
At the end of the night’s official festivities on the Nelsonville-proper stages wrapped up, the crowd made its way to the Campground Tent, a makeshift stage where New York-based world music prodigies Combo Chimbita kept a very raucous crowd dancing, cheering, and singing along to its amazing melodies and complex rhythms with the help of lead singer Carolina Oliveros.
Now that the crowd was properly keyed up and wide awake, Columbus-based E.Y.E. had to race to set up and not lose the energy of the crowd. After overcoming some technical difficulties with their synths, they quickly had the crowd’s energy totally engaged in their Floyd-meets-Sabbath synth rock. The crowd erupted in appreciation when E.Y.E. would depart from a jam session and remind the crowd the kind of heavy sonic arsenal it was packing. Instead of losing the crowd to sleep, the band brought even more people under the tent before its set ended. Finally to bed with the crowd. Saturday’s 9:00 a.m. Yoga on the Porch Stage is right around the corner.