Festival preview: Five hidden gems at this year's Nelsonville Music Festival

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

If you’re going to this year’s Nelsonville Music Festival, chances are you’re going for one of the headliners. But it’s the undercard that’ll keep you coming back year after year. What those second-tier acts might lack in name recognition, they’ll more than make up in wowzas (an official scientific music term). I tried to focus on acts not performing on the Main Stage, and likewise avoided those with Columbus ties (because Connections and Bummers shouldn’t be hidden gems to you). Otherwise, here are a few of my favorites at this year’s fest.

Ezra Furman

10:45 p.m. Thursday, Porch Stage

For my money, Furman’s one of the most underrated indie rock songwriters of the last decade or so. Furman routinely manages the impossible task of being at once poetic, vulnerable, sentimental and unpretentious, as best evidenced in “Wild Feeling,” off 2011’s Mysterious Power: “I don't see defeat or despair in the world/ I don't see things that are not there in the world/ I'm just a kid without a care in the world all a-spin.”

Ryley Walker

5:45 p.m. Friday, No-Fi Cabin

9:15 p.m. Friday, Porch Stage

One notable review for Walker’s sophomore album Primrose Green, which came out in March, hailed the Chicago musician’s instrumental virtuosity but docked the release considerably for a lack of singing chops. That’s sorta like dismissing Michael Jordan’s dunks because you don’t like his tongue hanging out. In other words, you’re not there for the singing. Walker’s vocals, indeed, serve as merely another colorful accompaniment to his finger-pickin’ digressions that veer his take on ’70s folk into drone, psychedelia and free jazz territory.

Wooden Indian Burial Ground

11:15 p.m. Friday, Porch Stage

Personally, I prefer my psychedelia as wild, weird and raw as you can get. If you, likewise, find the Flaming Lips’ brand of psych too tame, head out of that set early to pursue this Portland garage outfit, whose spiraling surf and blues riffs, “yips” and “yawps,” and textural analog synths will leave you in a state of euphoric squalor.

Sarah Neufeld

2:30 p.m. Saturday, Main Stage

The violinist’s output outside of her main gig with The Arcade Fire is more in line with the instrumental ambience of Tim Hecker or the classical minimalism of Steve Reich than it is any of her indie rock contemporaries. Take the songs from Never Were the Way She Was, her release this year with saxophonist Colin Stetson. Each tune starts with a riff that builds in complexity as looping layers of melody are added, one atop another, until the thing grows in intricacy and power, like a slowly rising tornado off in the distance.

My Bubba

1:45 p.m. Saturday, Porch Stage

7:15 p.m. Saturday, No-Fi Cabin

1:30 p.m. Sunday, Main Stage

Catch whichever performance you can, but my money’s on the No-Fi Cabin. The sparse setting should allow the Icelandic and Swedish duo’s Scandinavian folk songs and mesmerizing harmonies to dazzle even more brightly — sorta like the Northern Lights set against the barren wintry landscapes of their home countries.