ROCKBRIDGE — The Hocking Hills will come alive with the sound of music this fall.
Already nearly sold out, the first-ever Hocking Hills Music Festival is a collaboration between Stuart’s Opera House’s Nelsonville Music Festival (NMF) and Logan’s own Duck Creek Log Jam. It will take place Friday, Oct. 8 through Saturday, Oct. 9.
Headliner Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real was announced June 21, with the full lineup announced on July 2. Other acts include bluegrass legend Del McCoury Band, national touring folk duo Watchhouse (formerly Mandolin Orange), local group Hocking River String Band, and more.
After both NMF and Duck Creek Log Jam were canceled for 2020 and 2021, respective festival organizers Tim Peacock, Stuart’s artistic director, and Duck Creek’s Kyle Wilson got in touch to see what live music experiences they could offer further in the year.
“We started talking (that) if the trend of vaccination and reduced numbers in COVID continued, maybe fall would be a possibility (for a co-production),” Wilson said, adding that by March, plans for the Hocking Hills Music Festival were a reality.
“A partnership on something like the Hocking Hills Music Festival just made a lot of sense to us, in order to return some live music back to the Hocking Hills and have a nice event we could build on for the future,” Wilson said.
NMF and Duck Creek went forward with the idea they are stronger together, Chloe Musick, marketing & public relations director at Stuart’s, told The Logan Daily News.
“(We thought) if we work together, we could produce something really cool,” Musick said. “We could join our experience planning NMF, join our love for music and love for community.”
A limited capacity event, the Hocking Hills Music Festival has a hard cap of 1,500 adult tickets.
A number of factors influenced the decision to make the festival limited capacity, Musick said; however, giving people room to spread out took precedence.
The festival will be at the future location of an RV park and campgrounds; a roughly 75-acre hilltop property located directly behind the Hocking Hills Market, right off U.S. Route 33 in Rockbridge.
The venue ensures adequate space for social distancing, Musick and Wilson said. Cooling temperatures will hopefully be a plus, too.
“We expect nice (foliage), especially back in some of the camping areas... We hope folks can get both their fix (for) music this year and some classic Hocking Hills fall colors,” Wilson said.
The Hocking Hills Music Festival, like Duck Creek Log Jam, will be somewhat of a family affair, Wilson explained. Duck Creek Log Jam is a small, family-owned-and-operated festival that is organized by Wilson, his wife Mackenzie Shaw and her family, who’ve lived in Hocking County since the late-1800s. Both the Hocking Hills Music Festival and Duck Creek Log Jam properties are family-owned.
Wilson and Peacock hand-picked the lineup, Wilson said. The festival will likely be a hit with both NMF and Duck Creek Log Jam fans, Musick said.
The lineup showcases a variety of musical styles including Americana, traditional bluegrass and “newgrass,” singer-songwriter, rock ’n’ roll and New Orleans-style brass.
“We wanted the lineup to span a few different genres,” Musick said. “If you don’t love this particular artist, you may love a different genre, a different flavor.”
Though “smaller” acts, what these artists lack in fame they make up for in quality. More importantly, Musick stressed, is that both NMF and Duck Creek Log Jam have historically introduced audiences to “their next favorite artists.”
“Audiences may not have heard of Billy Strings or Shovels & Rope, but when they played (NMF, audiences) walked away (thinking), ‘I love Billy Strings, I love Shovels & Rope,’” Musick said. “We want people to walk away with a new favorite artist.”
Musick listed other NMF and Duck Creek examples, such as CAAMP, the Avett Brothers, Sharon Jones & Dap-Kings, Brandi Carlile, Shovels & Rope and Tyler Childers.
Wilson remarked that he’s witnessed previous Duck Creek performers grow over the years, especially Lukas Nelson & the Promise of the Real, who’ve become less of Willie Nelson’s son’s group, and more of a “legitimate, full-on rock band.”
As of July 8, over 80% of Hocking Hills Music Festival tickets were sold, and RV passes were sold-out. As less than 500 tickets remain, “We’re feeling hopeful and positive that it will be a sell-out festival,” Musick said.
Some of the festival’s proceeds will go to a good cause. NMF is traditionally a fundraiser for Stuart’s, a nonprofit, Musick explained. This year, Stuart’s half of the Hocking Hills Music Festival will maintain that status.
“Because it’s a collaboration between NMF/Stuart’s and Duck Creek, it is a fundraiser in that Stuart’s is one-half,” Musick said. “We can say one-half operations is a fundraiser because that’s our half, and historically speaking, NMF and shows at Stuart’s benefit our entire programming — our arts education program and other community events at Stuart’s.”
Wilson said that if the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or state issues new guidelines by the time the festival rolls around, it will adapt.
Wilson also said the festival will also seek the help of both the Ohio State Highway Patrol and the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) to assist with event traffic. Campers can set up early on Thursday, and attendees will be encouraged to take safer driving routes.
The music festival will also host artisan and food vendors and take volunteers; however, applications are not yet open for either.
Both Duck Creek and Stuart’s plan to continue their respective festivals in the future. But both Wilson and Musick expressed that the future of Hocking Hills Music Festival is at this point unknown, but will be better understood after the festival.
Ultimately, the first Hocking Hills Music Festival is for everyone, Musick said — families, music lovers, weekend vacationers and more. Most of all, it will be a long-awaited space to share the joyful experience of live music.
“People in general are really excited about live music and getting out of their house and experiencing these opportunities — it’s purely contagious, fun and social,” Musick said.
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