Show Review

Cabin Fever Festival

Brian Ahnmark
In the aftermath of another crippling Ohio Midwest'ner (Read: One inch of snow), I was faced with a Saturday conundrum: Brave the great unknown backroads of Southeastern Ohio enroute to the Cabin Fever Music Festival in Nelsonville, or twiddle my thumbs and curse myself come Sunday.

Easy decision.

As the snowflakes stopped, I started, disembarking mid-afternoon down State Route 33. A sliver of blue sky assured me that my judgment was sound; I aimed my Civic at the azure patch as if to drive clear through into heaven, but alas – Nelsonville would have to do.

Seventy miles later, I discovered a town encased in ice. Trees glimmered in the twilight; blades of grass shattered beneath my booted footsteps. Just a block north of 33 is the Nelsonville Public Square, a wholesome slice of old-fashioned Americana. A pit stop at Beans' Mama Renie's pizzeria filled my belly with a piping hot barbecue chicken pizza, then it was off to Stuart's Opera House.

This venue, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is a brick monument to a bygone era – and well worth a day trip. She towers above the Nelsonville skyline, her restrooms adorned with jazz-themed wallpaper trim, a dramatic staircase hoisting visitors far from the mortal Earth, up and away from the pitiful concerns of the everyday to lush theater seats, ample leg room and a cozy balcony.

But ah ah ah – first things first. As in the record/CD/cassette swap in the lobby pre-concert. A half-dozen collectors offered their personal spoils, and a treasure hunt ensued. Worthwhile goods abounded. Narrowly foiled in my lifelong quest to acquire Disraeli Gears by Cream ( Fresh Cream and Wheels of Fire available, but I already have those), I can't really claim to be disappointed.
Not after picking up the Top Gun soundtrack – on vinyl – for the greatest dollar I ever spent in my life.
A crowd gathered as the 7 p.m. showtime approached, the masses restrained from the ascending staircase rather dramatically by a red velvet rope. Jackie O's beer (of Athens) was on tap, along with coffee by donation. A certifiably old gentleman sported a Huey Lewis & The News hat – presumably his “rock and roll” cap. A certifiably lovely young woman sported suspenders. I do not know why.
At long last, the friendly volunteers unclasped the ropes, allowing us to shuffle into the breathtaking opera house. A buoyant Tim Peacock, festival organizer and Stuart's Opera House executive director, noted that the inclement weather had delayed many travelers.
“So we just need everybody to make twice as much noise,” he exclaimed to cheers.
And then there were shows. Five of them. All marvelous.

Power trio Sport Fishing USA led off, riding the harmonies of brothers Nathan and Brendan Moore. Nathan and his early Soundgarden Chris Cornell hair went epileptic seizure during a rousing cover of Buffalo Springfield's “Mr. Soul,” and he and drummer David Bryne served up punishing surf rhythms during closer “Living On The Underground.”

Lydia Loveless – raised in Coshocton, now of Columbus – was all firecracker. “At least it's not my G-string,” she quipped as she battled tuning issues with her high E. The diminutive blonde ripped through tunes from her appealingly violent 2011 LP Indestructible Machine , her voice a dagger designed by God to pierce the soul. Throughout the set, Loveless locked her knees as if to brace her body for the recoil of her guts-deep vocal delivery.

“Pleasant Surprise of the Evening” went to The Sundresses. The Cincinnati trio unloaded a unique dirty swing, drummer/guitarist Brad Schnittger beating the bejesus out of the kit with a beer bottle holder on the hi-hat stand, guitarist/drummer Jeremy Springer pushing his amplifier beyond reasonable volume, and bassist Makenzie Place spinning in woozy circles as she set the foundation. Even Peacock acknowledged that the band “rocked Stuart's Opera House harder than any band in recent memory."

He then distributed free bubble gum to the crowd, simultaneously warning folks not to stick the remnants to their seat backs of the floor.

Nick Tolford and Company brought the soul to the opera house, but only after a couple of charming false starts. Drummer Michael O'Shaughnessy initially had the wrong setlist and ripped into a snare roll from a different tune. After a blank stare from Tolford and a wave of confused laughter, the band eased into “Until I Walk Away” – too easily for Tolford, who halted the proceedings and insisted that the band could do better. After a quick count-out from O'Shaughnessy, they launched into a crowd-pleasing set of cuts from the 2010 record Extraordinary Love . A healthy collection of folks in attendance were familiar with Tolford from his boisterous appearance at the 2011 Nelsonville Music Festival.

Headliner Buffalo Killers took the stage at 11 p.m., and the delirious crowd did its best to keep pace with the Cincinnati psychedelic throwback trio and the generous assortment of meaty slabs from their most recent album, 3 . A cover of Neil Young's “Homegrown” summed up the all-Ohio evening with precision, grace and warmth:

“Homegrown's alright with me / Homegrown is the way it should be.”