Mavis Staples and the Flaming Lips were among the lineup for the 2015 Nelsonville Music Festival, an annual four-day event produced by Stuart’s Opera House, “a historic, non-profit theater located in Nelsonville [Ohio]”. Both acts returned to the festival after previous appearances in recent years. The Flaming Lips performed a memorable show in 2011, and Staples began to perform in 2013 before her set was interrupted by a thunderstorm. That both artists were interested in another visit to Nelsonville is a testament to the quality of the festival and its growing reputation as a place for music and art enthusiasts to enjoy eclectic programming.
One hallmark of the festival is its celebration of a wide spectrum of artists, not only from different genres, but also from different sorts of careers and/or experiences with music. Local bands play next to internationally renowned acts, and kids just beginning to play publicly for the first time share an audience with performers who have been playing for several decades. A single act might play at up to four different spaces during the weekend. For example, Adam Torres (whose recently reissued 2006 album Nostra Nova was recorded in Athens, Ohio) performed to rapt audiences on every stage of this year’s festival, from the main stage to the “no-fi” cabin.
Headliners St. Vincent and the Flaming Lips lit up the main stage with intense live versions of their songs. St. Vincent’s modest setup produced a massive sound. The size of the touring band for the Flaming Lips has doubled, and the spectacle of the group’s show has also grown in such a way that the lights, costumes, props, and a giant pink robot made from balloons at times threatened to overwhelm the music. Highlights of the Lips’ set included songs from Clouds Taste Metallic, an album now approaching its 20th anniversary since being released.
Other acts that successfully engaged the crowd were the similarly large Budos Band and the Wild Honeybees, whose Sunday morning set included “When The Saints Go Marching In” and a lively show accurately described as “a New Orleans Wake-Up Call”. Although not all performances were conducive to dancing, the positive mood was pervasive. Mavis Staples and St. Vincent’s Annie Clark both talked to the crowd about the importance of not giving up hope. The weekend’s lone rainstorm was followed by a brilliant rainbow, which appeared just before Merle Haggard closed the festival. Perhaps not surprisingly, Haggard delivered the best line of the long weekend: “It’s good to be here. I’m not sure where we’re at, but we’re here.”
Dead Hand of Man
Trampled by Turtles
Built to Spill
The Flaming Lips
Photos: My Bubba to Merle Haggard
The Wild Honeybees
Hurray for the Riff Raff