Nelsonville Music Festival review and Podcast Recap


t’s 2023 and the world has sped back up.

Life moves fast. Everyone is perpetually busy. We don’t always have time for friends, family, community. Sometimes you just need to slow down the world around you, and for 3 beautiful days in July, Nelsonville Music Festival gave the perfect opportunity to connect, unplug, and relax with friends, family, and a community of people drawn to interesting music that is not always represented in today’s music festivals – a lineup of Americana, Indie, and World Music in a bucolic setting that fit the music highlighted.

Fans enjoying the shade and music at the Creekside Stage - Photo: Brian Bruemmer,

Only the second year at its new home at Snow Fork Event Center in South-Eastern Ohio, improvements and changes to the grounds of the venue were already evident; less roots, rocks, and ruts to look out for when walking, better lighting for after when the sun went down, more open spaces to move around in, the elimination of the Pond Stage (a needed change to reduce the amount of sound bleed directed at the Creekside Stage) which allowed for a superior Artisan & Vendor area, and an expanded children activity zone placed central to the two main stages allowing for children and parents to occupy the same space while enjoying different aspects of the festival. 

One of the things that makes Nelsonville Music Festival unique is the multi-generational appeal of the event; children, teenagers, college students, young parents, empty nesters, and seniors all find something to appeal to them at NMF, and often find common ground while doing so. Being exposed to new music is one of the joys of – and reasons for – attending music festivals. If you only watch the bands you knew ahead of time, you are missing the point. All things said though, this year’s music lineup felt different. While different genres of music were still represented, the festival seemed to have leaned more heavily into its country and folk roots than in past years, and if there was a buzzword for NMF23, it was introspective.

Children, teenagers, college students, young parents, empty nesters, and seniors all find something to appeal to them at NMF, and often find common ground while doing so.

This may be the defining characteristic of the current musical age – too many tours canceled during the pandemic, so much isolation and time spent at home, resulting in music that is more reflective and thoughtful than seen in recent years. While I did not see a bad, or even subpar, performance the entire weekend, the booking did not have the aural texture of previous years, and felt a little subdued at times, but this contributed to the overall relaxing vibe of the weekend, so maybe it was by design.

NMF on The Hot Mic Podcast

Set of The Fest

Margo Price on the Snow Fork Stage - Photo: Brian Bruemmer,

If you have not listened to Margo Price in a while, you might be in for a surprise. The artist who first became known for her traditional country sound has spent the last couple of years leaning into other influences, exposing herself to musicians from other genres, and has landed on a sound somewhere between alt-country and 70s and 80s heartland rock. Her new album “Strays” has been on my list of best of the year since it arrived in January, and by the time she took stage early Saturday evening, her energy was a welcome punch in the mouth at the festival. Mixing together new songs and her older catalog, she played to the crowd and showed that she is just as introspective as the other artists on the bill, but can do so with a visceral intensity that made her a stand out for the weekend.


Kurt Vile & The Violators on the Snow Fork Stage - Photo: Brian Bruemmer,

I used to drive country backroads on my days off, blaring Friday night headliner Kurt Vile’s “Smoke Ring for My Halo” and “Walking on a Pretty Daze”, his dreamy psych-rock and crunchy guitar, the soundtrack for trying to forget my troubles and obligations. Touring in support of his new album “(Watch My Moves)”, the same lo-fi noodly and wistful style fit the mood of NMF23 well. Vile seemed to be enjoying himself on stage, one of the only times I’ve seen him that I could clearly see his face instead of his hair draped over it broodingly. The highlight for me was a particularly sprawling rendition of “Pretty Pimpin’”.

Alex G on the Snow Fork Stage - Photo: Brian Bruemmer,

Saturday night featured a different lo-fi Philadelphia-based artist, who I must admit I was not very familiar with prior to the festival. But Alex G seemed familiar having taken influences from Built to Spill and Elliott Smith, both of who were in turn influenced by Pavement and other lo-fi bands that I grew up discovering with my friends (although the second song of his set, “Runner”, oddly reminds me of Soul Asylum’s “Runaway Train”). The music was slow and melodic, and like Kurt Vile helped build the overall vibe of the festival. The crowd seemed younger by this point in the day, perhaps some of the older attendees that came for Lucinda Williams and stayed for Margo Price started to depart as the sun set on the festival, but those who stayed were in for a treat, and I added another artist to my list to explore.

Adrianne Lenker of Big Thief on the Snow Fork Stage - Photo: Brian Bruemmer,

The festival ended Sunday (except for a DJ set in the camping area) with the thoughtful and poignant Big Thief, a perfect close to NMF23. 2022’s “Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You” was nominated for Best Alternative Music Album at this year’s Grammy Awards, and they showed why they had earned that nomination during their live performance – their musical virtuosity and reflective lyrics fully displayed and a punctuating long sigh on the weekend.


Lucinda Williams on The Snow Fork Stage - Photo: Brian Bruemmer,

After having to cancel for NMF due to Covid last year, and having had some health issues prior to that, it was a relief and a joy to see the legendary Lucinda Williams take the stage, although there was a scary moment during her first song when she had to stop because of a cough, but after a brief pause, and an unnecessary apology to the large crowd circled to see her, she was able to restart the set. Minus that moment, Lucinda sounded incredible, her voice strong and expansive, making her fans happy, and making fans of the others happy enough to see her for the first time. She closed the set being joined by Margo Price for two songs, “Let’s Get the Band Back Together” a song off of her new album, and a cover of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World”. Lucinda is a treasure still deserving of her place on stage.

Michael Hurley on the Creekside Stage - Photo: Brian Bruemmer,

Another legendary performer, and one that has become synonymous with Nelsonville Music Festival, American folk singer Michael Hurley made two appearances at the fest, one on Friday at the Porch Stage and one on Sunday at the Creekside Stage. An important member of the Greenwich Village folk scene of the 60s and 70s, his career has influenced a multitude of artists both directly and indirectly. At 81 his continued vitality is impressive, and each appearance feels like a gift. He has only missed one NMF since first appearing in 2008.


Wednesday on the Porch Stage - Photo: Brian Bruemmer,

The two most buzzworthy acts leading up to Nelsonville Music Festival, and the ones I most looked forward to seeing live, were Wednesday and Wednesday member MJ Lenderman’s solo act. While basically the same band played twice, each set focused on the artist at the helm, obviously the song writing of Lenderman during his set, and then the music of Karly Hartzman during the Wednesday proper set. Neither disappointed – both provided a healthy dose of fuzzy guitar and lo-fi sensibility, but while the latter stays focused on indie shoegaze with a rock focus that is sometimes straight grungy metal, the former uses those same tools to play with the tenets of what alt-country can be.

Alvvays on the Snow Fork Stage - Photo: Brian Bruemmer,

While already an established act, there was also a lot of hype around indie band Alvvays playing in support of last October’s album “Blue Rev”, one of the Hot Mic’s favorite albums of 2022. If you are only familiar with their hit song “Archie, Marry Me” or their older albums then you may have been surprised to hear them digress from their jangle pop sound in favor of a more raucous, indie rock shoegaze one. It was unfortunate that they overlapped with Wednesday and I had to split time between both stages as I would have liked to have caught both full sets.

Big World Energy

After Margo Price, the world music artists of NMF23 provided the most vigor on the stage. These sets also had the most vigor in the crowd, with the most dancing and audience participation of the weekend. Don’t expect anything too traditional here though – fusion is the secret ingredient.

Lido Pimienta on the Porch Stage - Photo: Brian Bruemmer,

Colombian born Canadian Lido Pimientos mixes electronic and synth music with Afro-Colombian sounds to create her own unique sound.

Jupiter & Okwess on the Snow Fork Stage - Photo: Brian Bruemmer,

Congolese band Jupiter & Okwess meld together the indigenous music of the Democratic Republic of the Congo with rock and jazz. Group leader Jupiter Bokondji cut an imposing figure onstage, tall and lean like a frenetic giant (one online source listed him as 6’ 10”). This set was music and a show.

Altın Gün hails from Amsterdam but has strong Turkish elements with psychedelic rock guitar and funky baselines.

Who I'm Keeping an Eye On

Jay Skaggs on the Creekside Stage - Photo: Brian Bruemmer,

I always go to festivals looking for new to me music that I can take with me afterwards. This year I found a few that I will be looking for more music from. First on the list was Jay Skaggs, a Kentucky native who’s booming voice brings to mind Waylon Jennings or Johnny Cash. Not much available online about him now, but I suspect that will change as he receives more exposure.

Wild Pink on the Porch Stage - Photo: Brian Bruemmer,

Filed under the category of “How Did I Miss This Band”, Wild Pink formed in 2015 with their first album released in 2017. Now on their fourth studio and first live album, they performed as a polished Brooklyn indie rock unit whose catalog I look forward to digging into.

Rose City Band on the Porch Stage - Photo: Brian Bruemmer,

Already a fan of Wooden Shjips, I was looking forward to seeing Ripley Johnson’s side project Rose City Band. While still experimental and psychedelic, this time the genre is country jam band instead of alternative rock & roll.

The Laughing Chimes on the Porch Stage - Photo: Brian Bruemmer,

Two Stuart’s After School Music Programs Alums made my list; The Laughing Chimes were incredibly good, especially since they are still teenagers, sounding like a cross between the Replacements and Sebadoh, and coralilly demonstrated a big voice ready for important things to say. It’s great to see these artists continue to develop.

Unexpected Genre of the Weekend - Honky Tonk Bar Band

Jesse Daniel on the Snow Fork Stage - Photo: Brian Bruemmer,

Both Jesse Daniel and Hearts Gone South sound like bands that could be playing in a 1970s Clint Eastwood or Burt Reynolds movie, not as part of the soundtrack but as one of the groups performing on stage prior to the inevitable bar fight, hopefully protected from flying furniture and beer bottles by chicken wire.

Nick Shoulders on the Snow Fork Stage - Photo: Brian Bruemmer,

Similar but different, Nick Shoulders played Country-Western music with the emphasis on Western. Shoulder’s crooning vocals and penchant for whistling reminded me of watching old western movies featuring singing cowboys like Gene Autry, Tex Ritter, or Roy Rogers.

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Editorial Director at The Hot Mic / Website / + posts

Musician, concert photographer, writer, podcast host and founder of The Hot Mic Music Magazine.

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