The 8th annual Nelsonville Music Festival officially kicked off Friday, and even with big names like Iron & Wine and Guided by Voices, it was a relatively unknown act that stole the show.
Charles Bradley, sometimes known as “The Screaming Eagle of Soul,” and His Extraordinaires won the hearts of minds of everyone in the crowd with his soulful funk jams and energetic dance moves.
Bradley dropped to his knees during his final song, crying out, “I don’t care what you believe in, but I bet all of you believe in love.” And when he later shouted, “They don’t want me to leave,” the crowd erupted, proving he was exactly right.
And while Bradley may have been the surprise of the day, Iron & Wine — the project of Sam Beam — played an expectedly strong set, albeit a long one. Beam’s father played alongside, switching between the mandolin, guitar and banjo.
“You’ve got the before and after here,” Beam said, pointing to his father. “Yeah, I brought my dad with me.”
Guided by Voices took to the main stage after Iron & Wine. Their set was their first show in months, leading frontman Robert Pollard to dub the set as “something of a practice.”
“This is our first show in months,” Pollard yelled to the crowd. “We hate to practice on you, but that’s kind of what this is.”
The band, originally from Dayton, went on to prove that age means nothing when it comes to putting on a show. Pollard and other members of the band swigged liquor and drank beer throughout the set while showcasing the energy of a much younger band.
Rather than just playing old favorites, Guided by Voices played mostly new material. And even though everyone seemed to be loving it, when the band walked offstage for the first time, much of the crowd vacated, leaving only about 150 people for the encore.
The No-Fi Cabin and Porch Stage drew hundreds as well, with the No-Fi Cabin overflowing during the set of Athens’ own brother-duo, Adam and Jesse Remnant.
Some other noticeable happenings included:
—The ground in front of the main stage seemed to show some lasting damage from last year’s festival, which had quickly turned into a mud pit after three days of rain. This year’s festival has a more promising forecast, with highs in the 80s and sunny skies for all three days.
—Charles Bradley’s performance featured a costume change. After dropping into the splits and promptly walking offstage, Bradley returned to join his band in a sparkling red suit. As with his first outfit, he quickly shed the jacket.
—Sam Beam (Iron & Wine) — or what might have been a Sam Beam doppelganger — was spotted munching a burrito in the crowd during Charles Bradley’s set.
—Although the men of Guided by Voices put on an energetic performance, their age showed during parts, particularly when bassist Greg Demos grabbed his chest and sat down on the cooler. Even so, they played through with gusto.
—Between them, Guided by Voices brought a handle of Jose Cuervo, a handle of Crown Royal, a cooler of Miller Lite, a pack of Camels, and a pack of Marlboro to the stage — as well as guitarist Mitch Mitchell’s wife, who made sure that he always had a lit cigarette. By our count, Mitchell smoked more than 13 cigarettes while on stage — and that’s not even counting the sound check, throughout which he dangled a smoke from his mouth as well.
—Kurt Vile and the Violators had to convince fest organizers to let them play over their allotted time.
—While there were highs in the 80s during the day, once the sun went down the temperature dropped to the low 50s. For those planning to attend the rest of the fest, sweaters are recommended for the evening.
—During Iron & Wine’s set, audience members routinely sent up flaming luminaries of some sort into the sky.
—The Post’s business manager, R.J, Sumney, brought his seven-year old son to the Kurt Vile show, and after the show the boy wanted an autograph to remember the show by, as it was his first concert. Vile happily signed a vinyl record, giving the child something to remember.
—Kurt Vile performed a spectacular cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Downbound Train.”
—The overall pacing of the festival seems a little bit different this year, with the biggest crowd grabbers taking the stage on Friday and Sunday. With that said, Saturday is traditionally the most well-attended day, so tomorrow should be bustling from the time yoga takes place bright and early.
—Nicolien Buholzer, Cameron Dunbar, Ian Ording and Adam Wagner contributed to this story.