Updated Sun, May 25, 2014 11:05 am
On Thursday the Nelsonville Music Festival will embark on its 10th year of bringing national and local music acts together to entertain the masses.
But the four-day family friendly music extravaganza held at Robbins Crossing on the Hocking College campus had more humble beginnings.
Tim Peacock, executive director of Stuart’s Opera House, said the festival started out as a one-day event held on the Nelsonville Public Square. He said the idea behind the festival was to do something larger than what the opera house could handle inside, while also raising funds for Stuart’s. The opera house is a nonprofit organization.
Peacock said the first event featured five or six bands with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band as the headliner. He estimated that between 400 and 500 people attended the festival.
For the next three years, the Nelsonville Music Festival was held in the field behind the Hocking Valley Scenic Railway Depot on Canal Street. Peacock said that area is now a paved parking lot.
In 2008, the Nelsonville Music Festival was moved to its current location at Hocking College. He said that The Avett Brothers — this year’s headliners — played the festival that year. That year also marked the first time the festival was expanded to three days.
Two years ago, the festival showcased local bands for free on the Thursday of the event, marking the first time the event spanned four days. Last year, Gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello headlined on Thursday evening, cementing the Nelsonville Music Festival as a four-day music experience.
While the festival still has a twofold mission — providing great music performances and raising money for the opera house — Peacock said that making money isn’t a sure thing. He said the event actually lost money last year.
However, Peacock said Stuart’s is still committed to providing the music festival experience to Nelsonville.
“We still hope for it to be a money-maker,” Peacock said. “If there are any proceeds, they go back to Stuart’s and the festival.”
Peacock said that despite the festival not generating money last year, the event is an overall economic generator for Nelsonville and Athens County. He said that people travel from other parts of the U.S. and even other countries to attend the summer bash.
He said that festival attendees are staying in hotels, eating at local restaurants, purchasing fuel and more. Food vendors at the festival alone sold more than $59,000 in food last year. Additionally, regional arts and crafts vendors at the event sold between $15,000 and $20,000 in merchandise in 2013. Stuart’s also receives a percentage of those vendor sales. Peacock pointed out that many of the vendors are from Athens or surrounding counties.
“It’s an income generator for lots of people, which is often overlooked,” Peacock said.
In addition to the vendors and ticket sales, Stuart’s also makes money by selling beer and sponsorships.
Guests also pay a separate fee to camp overnight on the grounds. Peacock said that camping is popular among those who travel from outside of the area and for those who feel camping is a safer option than driving home if they’ve been drinking. He said around 2,000 to 2,500 people camp at the festival each year.
As the festival has grown in popularity over the years and brings a crowd of 3,300-4,000 people, Peacock said that he and his team don’t want to see the festival outgrow its current venue.
“We want to keep the festival a modest size,” he said. “We don’t want it to be super huge.”
The current location allows the festival to offer music on various stages. Robbins Crossing’s restored 1850s-era village provides space for the Porch Stage and the No-Fi Cabin — an indoor acoustic environment.
“Some of the more intimate and awesome moments happen on the Porch Stage and No-Fi Cabin,” Peacock said.
With only five full-time staff members at Stuart’s Opera House, Peacock said the festival relies heavily on volunteers.
“We couldn’t do it without the volunteers,” he said, adding that more than 400 volunteers are needed to make the operation run smoothly.
In exchange for their time, volunteers can get free day or weekend passes to the festival. On Friday, Peacock said he was still looking for volunteers. Those interested should email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Stuart’s at 753-1924.
The festival organizers are also proud of the family-friendly atmosphere.
“We definitely put more and more energy into the kids area every year,” Peacock said. “We want people to be able to bring their kids and enjoy the music.”
This year’s kids’ area will have art instruction provided by Ellen Hadley, who is an art teacher at Federal Hocking. Children’s activities will include crafts, instruments, puppet making and more. Children 12 and under are admitted free to the festival, allowing parents to bring their children to enjoy the activities while listening to the live bands.
The Nelsonville Music Festival is not only a showcase of local talent, but also national acts. Some of this year’s big acts include The Avett Brothers, Dinosaur Jr., Shovels & Rope, The Head and The Heart, Kurt Vile and The Violators, Jason Isbell, and Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls.
Gates for the festival open at 5 p.m. on Thursday. Day passes are available for $50 for Thursday, $70 for Friday, $80 for Saturday and $60 for Sunday. Weekend passes are $110. Prices will be higher at the gate.
For tickets, schedule and information, visit www.nelsonvillefest.org or call 753-1924.
Photo credit: Joan Butcher/WOUB