By: John Price
It is undeniable that the Nelsonville Music Festival’s Saturday headliner, George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic, had the most skill and genre-defining notoriety out of the entire four-day festival nestled in Southeast Ohio’s Hocking College campus. The headliner lived up to its cache, but Saturday’s entire lineup was impressive and well-attended.
The independent artists, local bands, regional vendors and plethora of sights and sounds that help define this little festival were all on full display on Saturday. The rains from Friday were no longer a threat, and instead, the sun reigned in a slightly-clouded beautiful sky. The festival’s four stages—Main, Porch, Boxcar and the No-Fi Cabin—were constantly humming along. Recording sessions also took place in the back of the Gladden House, a small, isolated log cabin in which microphones had been placed to record live sessions from some of the artists before or after their sets.
During the day, performers like Bedouine, Kevin Morby, Haley Heynderickx and locals Counterfeit Madison and J.D. Hutchison all had enthusiastic crowds attend their respective sets. In the No-Fi Cabin, where more intimate acoustic performances were played in a wooden log cabin with a literal stove in the corner, artists like Twain and Michael Hurley performed to mostly younger audiences. Seeing pairs of millennials putting their phones away and sitting cross-legged in pairs on the wooden floor around the performer as if it was 1898 was an anachronistic experience.
Outside the cabin were more little houses all decorated in bright neon colors, making their older architecture seem vibrant and new. Plaster sculptures, streamers, colorful balls of glitter and the assorted street-art-inspired displays were prevalent throughout the grounds.
The sense of community that has developed over the past 14 years of Nelsonville Music Festival’s existence has not been lost on its vendors.
“It’s gotten better every single year,” said Brandon Ault, the owner/operator of Old Salts Leatherworks and vendor from Columbus who has been coming to Nelsonville every year since 2015. “The first year I [came here] I don’t even think I even made any money. But you know, I had so much fun that I didn’t even care. I was like ‘I’ll see you guys next year!’”
The Porch Stage came to life at 6 p.m. with a performance by Cincinnati band Lung. The electric cello and soaring operatic, emotive vocals of Kate Wakefield and scorching drums of Daisy Caplan made many in the area stop and take notice.
Meanwhile on the Main Stage, Canadian indie-pop band Alvvays had the younger members of its audience singing and clapping along. Their curious parents also seemed to acknowledge that these Toronto natives have some pretty catchy material.
Being Canadian, they were also very polite, humble and self effacing. “This is a small place, right?” asked lead singer Molly Rankin. “[Two of us] are from Nova Scotia, which is also a very small place. We want to know what the local gossip is. Are you all going to be watching LeBron tomorrow? We’ve been watching LeBron for five years. Toronto gets it bad,” she said, mentioning the Raptors recent defeat. By the end of its set, Alvvays had made some new fans with its guitar/synth melodic pop-rock. If only all international diplomacy were this easy.
In total, there were four stages and one tent booked throughout the weekend with live music. However, Athens natives The D-Rays, did not mind playing on a small skateboarding half-pipe. The band describes its music as “Appalachian surf-rock,” and despite not having an ocean in the immediate vicinity, more than a few onlookers stopped to watch as skateboarders grind along to the D-Rays while trying not to wipe out into their instruments and/or equipment.
Surf-rock and skateboarders to bluegrass and square-dancing. At 4 p.m. the Boxcar Stage had a brilliant performance by a cadre of musicians providing a square-dance. Instructions were given to parents, children, grandparents and young lovers. Things got a bit disorganized, as not everyone was as fluid and familiar with the Appalachian tradition. However, Nelsonville Music Festival made sure to include this unique part of its history and culture.
“I’m going to be making gendered calls on this one,” said one of the band members. “But like a friend of mine says, ‘It’s not the parts you have, but the part you play.’”
Tradition balanced with inclusion, everyone was welcome to dance.
Saturday night’s headliner included pussycat singers, acrobatic male strippers, moomoos, an orange and green ballooned octopus and a 76-year-old genre-defining funk god on what might be his very last tour.
George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic took the stage before the largest turnout for any of the performers thus far at NMF. The band was ready to lead the attendees onto the Parliament mothership and start the party. The crowd was ready as well.
Despite his age, the creator of such classics as “Flashlight,” “Atomic Dog” and “We Got the Funk” rolled onto the Main Stage with an army of P-Funk support. He donned a relatively subdued angel-white costume replete with padding and designs, along with a clashing Parliament ball cap. Clinton cued the crowd by waving his arms, jumping and doing other assorted hand/arm gestures to correspond with the music. The Parliament mothership was in full swing in no time with the customary eccentricity that have made the band’s live performances so noteworthy and entertaining.
One of Clinton’s three backing vocalists was clad in skin-tight spandex with cat ears. Another P-Funk performer, known as The Nose, climbed the speakers and began an acrobatic display while suspending his feet above his head. Meanwhile the funk music transfixed the audience. Clinton had at least four hype men cycling in and out, egging the crowd on through his hit songs.
During lengthy brass and guitar solos, Clinton had to sit down. He had put a chair right in front of the drums, where he would rest for periods and let Parliament carry the load, occasionally directing traffic and giving cues to his bandmates. It became obvious that Clinton was doing all he could to keep up and entertain the crowd. His moments on the mic were relatively few and were mostly done in tandem with other P-Funk bandmates. Clinton was the only member onstage without any shoes. He would periodically wave to the audience with a large grin, the way a grandfather might wave at his children’s kids as they’re leaving to go home.
Approximately halfway through the set, a gigantic orange and green balloon octopus emerged from the back of the crowd. Clinton smiled and pointed at it, along with the rest of the band, not entirely sure what to make of it. By this point, Clinton had taken off the white layer of his costume to reveal a purple and white moomoo—his only costume change for the evening. P-Funk ended the set by letting an enormous group of appreciative onlookers onstage. It was chaotic, fun and fueled with energy from grateful fans.
After the finale, one of the P-Funk members took the mic and reminded the audience, “This might be the last time you see George Clinton on this stage.” It was a somber, empathic reminder not to take anything for granted, and a beautiful way to end Saturday night.