By Zach McCormick
The rainy morning gave way to a cloudy, humid afternoon on the rural plot of land in Nelsonville, Ohio, where the Nelsonville Music Festival was being held over last weekend.
This was the first year for the fest to be held at this location, and, as such, it had a significantly different feel. Heat, rain, mud, and a noticeable lack of cellphone reception took everyone back to the heyday of classic music festivals, lending an “all in this together” sensibility to the vendors and artists in attendance who nonetheless seemed to be in great spirits as they helped each other out through the experience.
The crowd, meanwhile, was a fun-loving mix hippies, artsy folks, retirees, and families. As the fragrant smells of food and smoke filled the air, I approached the festival from quite a distance (parking was tough), but my vantage point allowed a full view of the stage. Depending on placement, performance photographers often don’t get to see much more than a brief close-up view of the artists from the very front during the first few songs of a set, so it was nice to get a full perspective of the stage and the powerful sound system as I anticipated sets from Neko Case and Angel Olsen.
Olsen closed out the three-day weekend at Nelsonville, and her energy was simultaneously vibrant and incredibly relaxed. Like a shimmering pastel beacon of light, the opening song, “Dream Thing,” set the tone for the rest of the night. She joked with us about “being stuck in Nelsonville” during a string of tunes from her latest, vintage country infused album, Big Time, including the title track, “Ghost On,” and “Right Now.”
She followed with a handful of songs from her back catalog, showing off her uncanny abilities as a songwriter capable of applying their skills to a wide range of musical styles. The swirling, grandiose “Lark,” sharply contrasted with the more stripped-down feel of “Shut Up and Kiss Me,” underscoring her versatility.
Nothing seemed to ruffle Olsen, who has become quite the seasoned performer and made good humor out of a mid-song tuning mishap. Alternating between her white Fender Jaguar for electric songs, and her Gibson Hummingbird for acoustic ones, her impressively skilled band moved between reverb soaked twang and orchestrated daydreams, creating a set that—once compiled—sounded quite unlike anyone else.
By the time they ended with the hypnotic “All The Good Times,” the attending crowd had begun saying goodbye to their weekend in the Ohio hills, doing some preliminary packing and, perhaps, saying goodbye to summer.
Olsen sounded like a surreal dream one might have about Julee Cruise singing at The Twin Peaks Roadhouse, and she maintained a level intimacy throughout the set that transcended even the largest arrangements—something other performers would likely struggle to muster. From the quiet, haunting feel of tunes from Big Time to the busier material from All Mirrors and the indie edge of that which came before, the band, all dressed in various shades of vintage pastel, employed violin and cello as needed while keyboards helped create the appropriate sonic backdrop. The moonlit, foggy night provided the icing on Olsen’s dreamy cake, but as the crowd sang and swayed back and forth one thing was crystal clear: this was an experience I’d never forget.