At Nelsonville Music Festival, Big Thief, Alex G, and Kurt Vile Brought Magic to the Ohio Hills: Recap & Photos

Hidden in the hills of Southern Ohio, Nelsonville Music Festival has grown to become one of the Midwest’s most-loved festivals with an enchanting environment of musical celebration. Put on by local non-profit theater and arts center Stuart’s Opera House, the 2023 edition boasted one of its most impressive lineups ever, with indie heavy-hitters Kurt Vile, Alex G, and Big Thief leading the way to a memorable weekend of sunshine, twangy pedal steel, and all around good vibes.

As several artists proclaimed during their performances, the atmosphere on site at Nelsonville Music Festival is tangibly different from big-ticket events like Coachella or Lollapalooza. The setting of Hocking Hills instantly sets it apart from city-based festivals, and its relatively smaller footprint allows it to feel considerably more easy-going than other camping-based festivals like Bonnaroo. A stroll from the campgrounds to the beautiful Creekside Stage, housed in an untouched wooded area, feels like a mini hike through an Appalachian landscape.

The local vendors, as well as the presence of the Athens, Ohio, non-profit art studio Passionworks, only furthered the feeling of community. Grabbing a Jackie O’s Razz Wheat, perusing a variety of handmade goods, and admiring the inviting creativity of Passionworks’ many installations is as much a part of the Nelsonville experience as the music.

But, then, there is the music – and 2023 did not disappoint. Leaning heavy on sweet folk, emerging indie, and international gems, the lineup was full of standout sets from top to bottom. From New York up-and-comers Geese to songwriting legend Michael Hurley, jangle-dream icons Alvvays to country trend-bucker Margo Price, the sole source of stress for attendees was deciding between conflicting sets.

As the weekend went on, two distinct sects of artists emerged as the most talked-about performances: the twang-indie fusionists and the non-western rippers. The former encapsulates artists like Greg Freeman, Wild Pink, and the one-two punch of MJ Lenderman and Wednesday, acts who put a dynamic layer of fuzzy paint over their country and folk-influenced tunes. Lenderman, in particular, stood out, fully embracing the ethos of the festival by inviting underground songwriter Spencer Radcliffe, who hails from the area, to guest on saxophone for their set.

It was the performances from the non-western rippers, however, that brought the festival to peak levels. Unflinchingly led by Turkish Anatolian rockers Altın Gün and the Democratic Republic of Congo-based funk trailblazers Jupiter & Okwess, each set had enough people up on their feet and dancing to power a skyscraper. With Jupiter & Okwess inviting audience members to join them on stage and Altın Gün performing the rare unplanned encore, they were instant favorites for anyone lucky enough to see them play.