The Nelsonville Music Festival

By Gabo C. -R.

Every year the sleepy little town of Nelsonville Ohio, with a population just over 5,000 people, awakes to continue the mission of preserving a community treasure by hosting the annual Nelsonville Music Festival. In 2005, Stuart’s Opera House was struggling and the director Tim Peacock had an idea for a fund raiser, a music festival. This year’s festival is taking place on Hocking College’s campus at Robins Crossing. Past attending artists include Randy Newman, Courtney Barnett, The Flaming Lips, Merle Haggard, and The Avett Brothers.

Stuart’s Opera House was the center of the local music scene in the 1880’s when Nelsonville was a bustling coal town. It continued to be a gathering place and performance space, attracting many major acts of the times to the area, until 1924 when it closed and the coal mining industry declined and the popularity of films supplanted live entertainment. In the 1970’s Stuart’s Opera House was bought by the Hocking Valley Museum of Theatrical History which began refurbishing the building until they ran out of funds for the project. In the 1980’s Stuart’s Opera House was severely burned in a fire and a long debate was needed to determine if it should be torn down or rebuilt. After a lot of time and effort, Stuart’s Opera House reopened on March  8, 1997. In 2002 Tim Peacock , who later conceived the Nelsonville Music Festival, was hired as director of Stuart’s Opera House.

The first Nelsonville Music Festival took place on July 23, 2005 in the downtown historic arts district to create a greater sense of community and to generate funds for the opera house.  Over 700 people attended the festival, but the first festival did not have the desired effect of bringing the community together, it instead generating complaints from people who didn’t want beer gardens in Nelsonville’s streets. In reaction to this complaint, the next two Nelsonville Music Festivals took place on the banks of the Hocking River. Later, additional changes were made. In 2008 they extended the festival from one day to three and moved the festival to Hocking College. The festival has grown to host more than 7,000 people at Nelsonville Music Festival in 2014.

The Nelsonville Music Festival currently has four stages. The main stage is the biggest and where the most popular, loudest, and (or) largest bands’ concerts happen. The porch stage is just a porch in front of a cabin and smaller than the main stage. The No-Fi cabin is the smallest setting where music fans enter a one room cabin or listen indoors. No amplifiers are used in the cabin, adding to the intimacy of No-Fi cabin’s setting. A converted train boxcar is the newest stage, which was used for the first time just last year as the festival expanded its footprint across the train tracks running adjacent to the grounds.  The boxcar stage is smaller than the porch stage but offers an outdoor space about the size someone’s backyard. It is perfect for up and coming acts that favor acoustic instrumentation.

This year’s Nelsonville Music Festival will be four days long and is scheduled for June 1st to the 4th.  The headliners of the over forty act festival include They Might Be Giants, Jenny Lewis, Ween, Emmylou Harris, and Conor Oberst. If you stay at the festival, you have the option of camping on the festival grounds, renting a cabin in nearby Hocking Hills, or staying in a hotel in nearby towns. The festival also has a variety of food trucks, food stands, and other venders. This year’s Nelsonville Music Festival is sure to be one of the best yet and will continue to bring funds in for Stuart’s Opera House while creating a community highlight that attracts visitors to Nelsonville.


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