Review: Hot Times at Nelsonville Rock Fest

NELSONVILLE, Ohio – In a moment of divine intervention while watching Sierra Ferrell perform at the Nelsonville Music Festival, a flock of geese flew overhead in V formation.

It was then that I realized that the band Geese had started its set 15 minutes ago on the other stage. No offense to Sierra, who was great, but I had to hustle to the Geese show.

Tops on my must-see list, Geese was one of several high-water marks at the three-day festival last weekend in southeastern Ohio.

Led by singer Cameron Winter, whose cool arrogance channeled a young Jim Morrison, Geese was the most electrifying act at the festival.

They also provided some rock swagger, which was in short supply at NMF.

Jupiter and his band, Okwess, got the second stage jumping. (Photo by Chris Crowell)

This year’s event, which took place at Snow Fork Resort, was marked by the return of some conquering heroes. These alumni, who hit the heights since their first NMF appearance, included Kurt Vile, Big Thief, Alvvays, Margo Price and Ferrell.

It was actually Vile’s fourth appearance – should have been his fifth – and he was, as he put it, “here to collect.” It showed.

This year’s NMF was also marked by the brutal July heat, which had fans cramming into the shadow that emanated from the main stage.

It was the first time the festival ever took place in mid-July, which is not the best time to be standing in a field all afternoon.

It wasn’t until the approach of sunset that the heat diminished – and being July, that was 8:30 p.m. The pale Canadians in Alvvays were admittedly feeling scorched but managed to deliver an hour of their romantic indie pop.

Margo Price at Nelsonville. (Photo by Chris Crowell)

Here are a few other highlights of the festival:

Shannon and the Clams: A make-good performance after being forced to pull out of the festival last year after the sudden death of lead singer Shannon Shaw’s fiancé, this Bay Area act will hopefully become the next to return as conquering heroes. Their vintage soul-pop sound and Shaw’s powerful voice were slightly irresistible.

Lucinda Williams: This great artist also was forced to cancel her NMF appearance last year after some of her band members tested positive for COVID-19. At age 70, she is a bit fragile and still affected by the stroke she suffered three years ago. But Williams’ voice sounded as great as ever, and the audience was totally in her corner. She was joined by Margo Price for “Let’s Get the Band Back Together” from Williams’ excellent new album, “Stories from a Rock’n’Roll Heart.” Price lent backup vocals to the recorded version of the song as well.

Alex G: Like his fellow Philadelphian Kurt Vile, Alexander Giannascoli is a valedictorian of that city’s impressive rock scene. He’s also a master on the guitar and the piano.

Big Thief: The final act of the festival was also the most revered. When Adrienne Lenker & Co. were on stage, the fans were in attentive silence.

Altin Gün: Talk about world music, this Amsterdam act plays psychedelic dance-y jams with a decidedly Turkish flavor. They provided the coolest and most unexpected set of the weekend. Especially moving was Erdinc Ecevit Yildiz, who played the baglama, an exotic-sounding Turkish stringed instrument, and vocalist Merve Dasdemir, who sang in Turkish. Their set was so mindblowing that the crowd called them back for a genuine, unplanned encore – and that never happens at festivals. It was an “only at Nelsonville” moment.

By the way, the band’s name is pronounced All-Teen Goon (which means “Golden Day” in Turkish). I heard everything from Attlin Gun to Elton John.

Two fun worldbeat acts: Lido Pimienta of Colombia, and Jupiter and Okwess of Congo turned in memorable sets. The former layered her colorful and agile voice over South American percussion, while the latter got the crowd jumping with its Afro-reggae energy.

Pictured at top: Lucinda Williams performs an early evening set at Nelsonville Music Festival. (Photo by Chris Crowell)

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