Updated Tue, May 22, 2012 12:02 pm
If there were any recurring themes at this year's Nelsonville Music Festival (besides groovy tunes), they were probably: heat, hippies/hipsters and a very low probability of getting into the No-Fi Cabin.
The beautiful old schoolhouse is the perfect setting for a completely acoustic performance, but its small space precludes many people from seeing some amazing musicians.
However, if festivalgoers were lucky enough to squeeze in following Michael Hurley's set, they witnessed an excellent performance from singer-songwriter Matt Bauer.
When Bauer picked up his guitar and began singing straight from the gut, the audience was completely captivated, despite the sound of other music drifting in from the nearby Porch and Kids' Stages.
The music was dark; a startling contrast to the bright, sunshiny day outside. As Bauer picked through the incredible "Old Kimball" from his album The Island Moved in the Storm, one person climbed in through the window directly to Bauer’s right. Clearly, this was a determined crowd.
As the festival's final day turned into the final night, Portland, Ore., natives Horse Feathers ambled on to the Porch Stage with their numerous string instruments.
Admittedly, an "indie folk act with spurts of orchestral-style woodwinds" sounds pretty pretentious and a little gimmicky. However, any suspicions of gimmickry were shattered when the five-piece broke into their opening song.
The group managed to corral their potentially overwhelming sound into something streamlined and immensely powerful. In fact, judging from the way that the songs boomed throughout the festival grounds is evidence enough that Horse Feathers are folksters with something to prove.
One of the definite highlights of the substantial set was the band’s performance of "Where I’ll Be" from their latest release, Cynic’s New Year, featuring singer Justin Ringle’s lilting vocals and a soft dose of violin.
Regardless of how well an indie folk band can potentially perform, there's just nothing quite like watching a true-blue American rock band. Festivalgoers got their rock fix when the L.A.-based Dawes played a set on the main stage around 6 p.m.
There was something downright friendly about Dawes from the moment they picked up their guitars and charged into a series of chunky, guitar-driven tunes. Throughout the set, front man Taylor Goldsmith acknowledged each member and even commented on the incredible assortment of acts that played at the festival.
Smiling, and obviously having a good time, Dawes played through some of the most straightforward tunes of the night, drawing from influences ranging from great bar bands like NRBQ to the more rocked-out material in Neil Young’s discography.
Unfortunately, some of the audience couldn’t completely enjoy the music thanks to a very rowdy, very loud, very small cluster of sunburned individuals in the middle of the crowd, who had also made an appearance at the Horse Feathers' performance earlier in the day.
However, once Dawes broke into a cover of Paul Simon’s "Kodachrome," it was nearly impossible to not share the band's enthusiasm.
There was a lengthy waiting period between Dawes’ tear-down and the sound check of the festival’s final headliner, M. Ward.
Regardless, when the alt-country/indie-folk songwriter finally took the stage, he was nothing short of impressive.
Ward made just about every other act in the festival seem chatty, as he failed to address the audience until about halfway through his streamlined set. There was something powerful about Ward’s stage presence and the fact that a huge sound was being made by just four individuals.
Whether or not Ward came off as friendly, his music was refreshingly visceral, and by the time he broke into "Chinese Translation," the audience was mesmerized.
After Ward’s set, the audience drained out of the main stage area and headed for the parking lot, concluding the highly successful 2012 Nelsonville Music Festival.