2013 Nelsonville Music Festival

by Thomas Britt

13 June 2013

On the opening night of the 2013 Nelsonville Music Festival, several attendees reported seeing a meteor or fireball in the sky.

Those who failed to witness the event were transfixed by a comparable burst of energy onstage. Gogol Bordello, Thursday night’s headline act, performed with a level of intensity that was exhausting to watch and difficult to imagine sustaining. That the band is booked through September says a lot about its endurance.

There were other reasons to watch the sky during the weekend, as rain and storms threatened and occasionally interrupted the proceedings. But throughout the four days, the bands, fans, organizers and staff once again contributed to an exceptional festival experience. This year’s lineup was particularly well curated. 
Many bands encouraged the crowd to dance. Salsa group Los Hacheros and gospel legends the Flying Clouds of South Carolina each played a couple of sets and provided instructions for moving to the music. He’s My Brother She’s My Sister featured a tap dancing drummer. NMF veterans Nick Tolford & Company, who graduated to the main stage this year, recommended dancing and staying hydrated as they entertained with songs about love, life, and the Cleveland Browns. Jonathan Richman, who is often a quiet presence, was especially animated. In between songs, he observed that “clapping’s fine and a respectful silence is also not necessary”. 

Richman, who sang and told tales of childhood and complicated love, was one of several great singer/songwriters appearing at the festival. Adam Remnant of Southeast Engine and Jerry David DeCicca of The Black Swans both performed new solo material. Additional highlights included Joe Pug’s emotional set on the Porch Stage and Tift Merritt’s set on the Main Stage. In contrast to the folk-influenced sounds were rock bands like Old Light, Wooden Indian Burial Ground, and Wussy, who played at the same time as Wilco but inspired an equally fervent response.

The headliners and other established Main Stage acts represented a variety of styles and inspirations that fit well with the rest of the roster. Calexico played a stellar but short set, maintaining the high standard they’ve created for similar acts such as Los Hacheros and David Wax Museum. Although her performance was cut short because of weather, Mavis Staples was the perfect choice for a weekend that featured excellent soul and gospel music by Lee Fields & The Expressions and the Flying Clouds of South Carolina. As Jeff Tweedy of Wilco said from the stage, even five songs from Staples are worth twenty from another band. Wilco’s own career-spanning performance on Saturday night justified media claims that it is the greatest modern American rock band. Finally, in his closing set on Sunday, John Prine provided a model for how to sustain one’s talent and relevance as a singer/songwriter.

Gogol Bordello

Old Light

Nick Tolford & Company

Los Hacheros

Wooden Indian Burial Ground

He’s My Brother She’s My Sister

Lee Fields & The Expressions

Flying Clouds of South Carolina

Joe Pug


Jonathan Richman

Sharon Van Etten


Mavis Staples


Jerry David DeCicca

David Wax Museum

Tift Merritt

John Prine

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