Nelsonville Music Festival celebrates 15 years of action, community and music

Nelsonville Music Festival started out as just a small, one-day event outside of Stuart’s Opera House on the Nelsonville Public Square. Since 2004, NMF has continued to communally grow with town that welcomes an additional 7,000 people per day during the summer festivity. Today, NMF boasts a 2019 lineup featuring over 40 names from all around the country, including well-known artists such as Death Cab For Cutie, Mavis Staples and the Breeders.  

During today’s age of Bonnaroo and Coachella, music festivals have grown notorious for losing sight of the community it borrows for their respective weekends of excitement. However, Nelsonville’s agenda couldn’t be any further from the corporate clutches of the mainstream music festival experience. 

While NMF’s priority is to bring impressive names to Appalachia, it also intends on giving back to the people who help make the festival happen every step of the way. At $160 a pop for a weekend pass, money from ticket sales go back into school art programs, environmental sustainability and other music and art-related causes. 

Marketing Director Brian Koscho has been involved with Stuart’s and NMF for nearly 13 years. As NMF’s success continues to grow, its most important facet is to never lose sight of its original purpose.  

“The main goal was to bring what we did at Stuart’s out into the community; Bringing it out to where it is more accessible and where it could be bigger,” Koscho says. “The idea now is to not lose that magic, but then also think about the new things that we can do that still fit into the community.” 

How It Works 

In order for NMF to work communally, it must also operate with that same philosophy. In doing so, NMF employs hundreds of volunteers to make efforts such as the Zero Waste Program, which is an affiliate of Rural Action, as successful as possible.  

Spencer Hobson, who joined the festival’s efforts with Rural Action in 2009, says the nonprofit works primarily within Athens county to employ goals of sustainability and reduce waste across the board.  

“Their goals are environmental conservation and economic development, kind of all rolled into one,” Hobson says.  

However, waste is not the only thing NMF keeps at the forefront of its mind. Additionally, the festival gives youth in the area the opportunity to express themselves creatively at the festival itself.  

“The intention right off the bat is in the right place,” Koscho says. “It’s not corporate. It’s not money-grubbing. And if it seems that way, we are always very transparent about why we are. For example, the After School Music Program bands play at the festival. And these high school kids are playing their first gig on the Porch stage.” 

For Alana Baldwin, an Athens High School graduate, playing with the After School Music Program was one of the few things that kept them engaged and out of trouble.  

“The confidence it gives kids is incredible,” they say. “I came from pretty privileged background, but there were a lot of Nelsonville kids who struggled with drugs in the area, and it just kind of gave people something to do.” 

Additionally, Baldwin says that playing NMF on the same stage as some of the musicians they looked up to, gave them a sense of self.   

“That was my first sense of being recognized,” Baldwin says. “I would walk around the festival after that and people would be like, ‘Wow you kids rocked. That was sick,’ and I would be like, ‘Oh my God, I’m a rockstar.’” 

In addition to providing youth with a positive outlet, NMF also gives a platform for local businesses to flourish. According to Koscho, they prioritize family-owned food trucks and neighborhood artisans.  

What’s So Special? 

While the festival invites all individuals to participate in its function, those who attend are commonly there for one thing: music.  

“Not only do they bring in these names, they bring in freaking legends,” Hobson says. “Every year there is somebody you get to see, where it might be the last time you get to see them.” 

For example, Hobson remembers when the town literally changed its name to “Willie Nelsonville” for a week to welcome the country superstar in 2009.  

While Hobson says he has had his fair share of memorable experienced, Koscho says that in order to really get a feel for what Nelsonville has to offer, you have to experience it yourself.  

“It’s one of those things that you just sort of have to experience,” Koscho says. “It’s different than other festivals and it’s different than other big events. It doesn’t feel huge; It seems very personal.” 

This year’s Nelsonville Music Festival will run from Thursday, June 6 through Sunday, June 9. You can check out the full NMF lineup here. Additionally, you can pick up both weekend and day passes here


Southeast Ohio strives to spotlight the culture and community within our 21-county region and aims to inform, entertain and inspire readers with stories that hit close to home. Southeast Ohio is the first student-produced regional magazine in the country. Every semester, approximately 25 students enrolled in Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism produce an issue of the magazine, which is published in print twice a year. The staff generates story ideas, conducts interviews, writes stories and designs the magazine in only 15 weeks. The magazine has won several Regional Mark of Excellence Awards from the Society of Professional Journalists.