Why Nelsonville Music Festival is the best summer music festival

Big acts bring big crows to Nelsonville Music Festival in Athens County, Ohio. But the fest goes well beyond the main stage by featuring small local acts and up-and-coming musicians. Here three of our own share their perspective on what makes this fest so great. Photograph by Joel Prince | Courtesy of Stuart's Opera House and the Nelsonville Music Festival

Big acts bring big crowds to Nelsonville Music Festival in Athens County, Ohio. But the fest goes well beyond the main stage by featuring small local acts and up-and-coming musicians. Photograph by Joel Prince, courtesy of Stuart’s Opera House and the Nelsonville Music Festival.


Local performers (left to right) Liz Pahl, DJ Barticus and Aaron Butler take the stage this weekend at NMF. Read on to hear their perspectives on what makes this fest so great.

The Nelsonville Music Festival is what festivals should be: local food trucks, curated rows of artisan vendors, loads of space, family-friendly activities, yoga each morning and a distinct lack of corporate logos. Andrew Bird knew what he was talking about when he said, “It’s the perfect size festival. Any bigger and you’d lose something.”

NMF has grown from and been nurtured in a community of musicians who call Athens County home. Hang around the festival long enough and you’ll meet some of these folks, either performing themselves or among the crowd, supporting other local acts. A love of place permeates the festival and in return, the county’s local musicians love it back. “A lot of local musicians see [playing at NMF] as an honor,” says folk musician Liz Pahl. “I look forward to it every year. It’s like Christmas.”

“Athens is a place where creative people can be themselves,” explains Athens local, DJ Barticus. And it’s this creativity that might account for the whimsy you’ll happen upon at the festival. As Barticus says, “Be prepared to see something unexpected.” Not wanting to miss anything can be reason alone to camp at the festival. However, if you happen to enjoy a soft bed at night and a warm shower in the morning, there are plenty of hotels 15-20 minutes away in the city of Athens.

But it can be difficult to tear yourself away. “[NMF] is one of the crowning jewels of our county,” says Pahl. “Where else can you see so many artists at such an affordable rate . . . and in such a beautiful setting? When you’re there, you’re just looking around at the hills and trees. The setting is definitely a big part of the atmosphere of the festival.”

Local musician Aaron Butler agrees, “It’s an intimate, low-key festival. It’s a very comfortable festival that also happens to have really high-quality performers.” Chances are, it’s going to stay that way. Festival organizers have said in the past they plan to cap ticket sales at around 6,000 or 7,000, despite having grown from an evening performance on the Nelsonville Public Square to a 4-day event covering the grounds of Hocking College’s Robbins Crossing.

NMF is probably the only festival where performers and fest goers alike can take a fishing break before taking the stage or catching a performance. And only in Athens County could such an eclectic and thoughtful mix of people combine to create something so surprising and even unexpected as the festival itself. According to Pahl, there’s only one thing about NMF that can be guaranteed: “People need to know they’re going to leave here with five favorite new bands.”

The festival has already begun, but it’s not too late to come to Athens County and experience the best music fest in the land.