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Nelsonville fest revisited

May 30, 2012
By Justin McIntosh , Graffiti

* Justin McIntosh is a former Graffiti editor and current editor of UWeekly in Columbus, Ohio.

Another year gone, another year spent rocking out (as much as one can at a primarily folk and indie musical festival) in Nelsonville. It's becoming a yearly tradition for me. Basically, what I'm trying to say is: I love this festival.

Here are some reasons why:

1.Top of the list, rather easily, was Andrew Bird's Saturday performance. I knew heading into Nelsonville what to expect from Mr. Bird, despite having never seen him live before, but I still wasn't prepared for this. If you're not familiar with this artist and his live shows, let me explain a little:

Bird is a one-man band who starts every song with a single riff, whether it's from his violin being strummed like a guitar or played traditionally or from a whistle (like with your mouth). The riff gets recorded then another riff is added on top, until suddenly you have a wall of sound that rivals the dynamics and textures of any live band I've seen.

Simply put, you walk away feeling like you've just experienced a musical genius at the height of his powers.

2.As seems to happen every year, a Columbus band I was previously unfamiliar with catches me by surprise. In this case, it really shouldn't have. Old Hundred, you see, was recently listed by Paste as one of 10 Ohio bands to keep an eye on. The point is, this is a Columbus band with some acclaim. I had just been unlucky to catch them before. But boy howdy am I glad I did this weekend. Not only did they do the unthinkable of covering a Neutral Milk Hotel song (in addition to a Neil Young song that sounded eerily like Mr. Young himself), but they did so with surprising aplomb.

3.Hope for agoldensummer had, perhaps, the most surprising cover of the weekend though, and it was a good one. This trio comprised of sisters covered Aaliyah's "Are You That Somebody," complete with the Timbaland verse. The song got instant approval from the crowd, most of whom sang along.

4.Shovels & Rope put in the all-around best performances of the weekend. Of course, they were the only band to play three times and on all three stages. For a band that few people had heard of (at least within my circle), this could have been a disaster. I knew better, though. This husband and wife duo opened for Justin Townes Earle at the Rumba earlier this year and put on a rollicking good show. Sometimes bands though can't make that switch from small club to festival (let alone from an all acoustic performance to a medium-sized stage to the main stage within two days). Shovels & Rope, however, demonstrated unquestionable versatility and left many wondering why they weren't more familiar with this band.

5.It seems kind of silly to mention the weather as a highlight, but after last year's monsoon, I'll gladly take temperatures in the mid to high 80s.

Now the lowlights:

1.Drum circles: I'll be the first to admit I'm getting old and crotchety and Hey! Kids! Get off my lawn! And stuff. But seriously. Twenty deep drum circles do not need to go on till six in the morning in the campground. I blame part of this on the festival. Every other festival I've been to has had some form of quiet hour. I would have been completely content with a 2 or 3 a.m. cut-off. I learned my lesson Saturday night though by sleeping in my cramped car. Stiff legs more than made up for the quiet, mostly undisturbed sleep I enjoyed.

2.Every year at Nelsonville there's a musical legend who I'm instantly pumped to see, but who almost instantly leaves me a little dissatisfied. In previous years, it was Loretta Lynn and George Jones, who sang about half their songs while their backing band did the heavy lifting. This year, it was Lee "Scratch" Perry. I didn't catch the entire set, but I wasn't alone. I saw crowds of people leaving after waiting 30 minutes into Perry's scheduled time slot for the man to take the stage. Prior to that it was mostly electronic music with samples of cows and chickens and monkeys overlaid. Simply put, it was awful.



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