NELSONVILLE — Two local musical festivals are planned for later this year in Nelsonville. One is making an in-person return; the other is new.
Despite controversy related to the two Nelsonville festivals in the local press and on social media, organizers of both events told APG outlets they wish the other success.
The 2022 Nelsonville Music Festival (NMF) will be held Labor Day weekend, Sept. 2–4, at a soon-to-be-announced Nelsonville address. NMF, presented by Stuart’s Opera House since 2005, has not occurred in-person since 2019.
The music festival, typically held on Hocking College’s campus in June, famously serves as a fundraiser to support programming at Stuart’s, including arts education programming.
NMF’s 2020 in-person festival was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in its place Stuart’s produced a virtual NMF (VNMF). Its 2021 festival was canceled as well, and instead Stuart’s co-produced the successful and limited-capacity Hocking Hills Music Festival in Logan.
On Aug. 9, 2021, NMF announced that it would leave the Hocking College campus for its 2022 event. Later, in October 2021, NMF announced that it would be holding its 2022 festival June 10–11. However, weeks later on Dec. 6, 2021, NMF changed its dates to Labor Day weekend, Sept. 2–4.
Meanwhile, Hocking began planning its own festival, officially announced in December 2021. The first Black Diamond Music & Arts Festival (BDMF) by Hocking College will be held on Friday and Saturday, June 10–11 at Hocking College.
On Dec. 17, 2021 The Athens Messenger published a modified press release entitled “Hocking College unveils Nelsonville Music Festival replacement scheduled for 2022,” which inspired a Dec. 26, 2021 Letter to the Editor from Ann Moneypenny entitled “Fake News.”
Moneypenny’s letter, which said the Messenger gave Hocking College a “free ad for sleazily trying to steal NMF,” trended on the Athens Messenger website for days and received more than 3,400 pageviews.
Moneypenny’s rental company, Kleinpenny Rentals, has evidently donated to Stuart’s Opera House in the past through its KP Educational Fund, according to its website. The KP fund also contributed more than $5,000 for the production of 2020’s VNMF and in 2019 provided free admission to all walk-ins on the last day of NMF, according to the Athens News.
On Dec. 28, 2021, a Facebook post by Stuart’s Artistic Director Tim Peacock addressed NMF’s date and location changes. He stated that NMF had no intention of leaving Hocking College’s campus, but had to do so due to campus modifications, “making about 90% of our previous festival site unusable.”
Peacock also thanked Moneypenny in his Facebook post for “speaking out and standing up for NMF, (Stuart’s Opera House), and all the blood, sweat and joyous tears that so many in our community have poured into NMF over the last 17 years (15 festivals).” Peacock’s post, as of Monday, had received more than 400 likes, 150 comments and 300 shares.
Moneypenny’s letter and Peacock’s post prompted many comments regarding various concerns related to the two Nelsonville festivals.
Peacock said the aspect of the situation that he finds most “confusing and bewildering” is that Hocking “chose to do (their festival) on the exact same weekend that we were scheduled,” part of what prompted Stuart’s to change the previously announced dates for NMF in 2022.
“I’ve been trying to figure out if there is any positive reason to host a second music festival on the same exact weekend in a town the size of Nelsonville,” Peacock said. “I have yet to figure it out. I’m not saying there isn’t one. It’s difficult to not feel like it was intentional and intentionally competitive with our longstanding Nelsonville Music Festival, which is a nonprofit fundraiser for arts education for kids.”
The college chose the June date for the festival because it fit both students’ and the college’s schedules, said Hocking College Dean of Workforce Development and Community Engagement Sean Terrell. He explained that the college wanted to avoid intruding on students’ lives; had concern for underage students being around permitted festival alcohol sales; and needed to consider other college-hosted summer camps and activities.
“It’s actually right before our summer intersession begins,” Terrell said. “It just made sense to do it on that date because of everything else that happens on this campus throughout the summer.”
Moneypenny’s letter also said booking agents had contacted Stuart’s regarding “ambiguous and confusing communication” about a new festival at Hocking College associated with NMF, which Peacock said was “pretty accurate,” adding that he received questions from multiple booking agents.
Peacock shared a Nov. 17 email he received from a booking agent at Wasserman Music stating “a few people have heard from someone else saying they’ve taken over the fest” and requesting clarity.
President of Klein’s Entertainment RJ Kaltenbach, whose company is acting as the exclusive talent buyer/promoter for the festival at Hocking College, said in an emailed statement, “We have never used the Nelsonville Music Festival name or stated it was the same event.”
“We have been clear from day 1 that the College was our client and buyer for this festival. Although the location, which is owned by the college, is the same, it was obvious to everyone involved it was not the same event,” Kaltenbach said in the statement. “The festival name is completely different for this event and has been all along. Klein’s Entertainment has never had any association of any kind with the Nelsonville Music Festival.”
Hocking College Board Member Stuart Brooks added an additional element to the disputes over the two festivals, suggesting in comments from his wife’s Facebook account on Peacock’s post that Stuart’s owes Hocking College rent for the two years it had to cancel its festival.
“That comment on our Facebook page was the first we had heard about that,” Peacock said. “If we owe Hocking College rent for the two years we had to cancel because of the pandemic, we will make that right. We are an upstanding organization.”
Brooks said his comments represented his “own personal views” and were not made in his capacity as a representative of Hocking College.
Peacock’s December 2020 Facebook post also stated that “Hocking College is working with the same people who previously produced the Fashion Meets Music Festival in Columbus, Ohio.” Peacock was apparently referring to Bret Adams of Adams Partners Ltd.
The 2014 Fashion Meets Music Festival saw heated controversy amid outcry over the inclusion of R&B singer R. Kelly on the lineup, as Rolling Stone reported, due to Kelly’s “past legal strife and accusations of possessing child pornography.” Kelly and the festival reached a joint decision to cancel his performance.
Adams Partners Ltd. registered Black Diamond Development LLC, a Dublin-based development company, in April 2020, according to Ohio Secretary of State records.
In May 2020, Black Diamond Development LLC registered the Black Diamond Music & Arts Festival, according to state records.
However, that initial festival never came to fruition and its name-share with Hocking College’s creation is being worked out, according to parties involved.
Terrell said he wasn’t aware of Black Diamond Development LLC’s registration of BDMF’s name; in a follow-up email he said Adams had relinquished the name of the festival to Hocking College in September.
Chris Reel, managing attorney at Reel Law Firm LLC, who represents Black Diamond Development LLC, said in an email, “Black Diamond Music & Arts Festival is a registered trade name for Black Diamond Development LLC. The festival was initially to be held in Shawnee, Ohio. Black Diamond Development is in the process of assigning to Hocking College an interest in and to the name Black Diamond Music & Arts Festival.”
Terrell confirmed that Adams is working with the college as an “external consultant” and is “helping us put it together.” However, he affirmed the college’s role in BDMF’s production and that its name comes from the city’s history: “It was our idea. It’s our festival.”
Parties from Hocking College and Stuart’s say that both festivals can exist at the same time, and that both will benefit the region where they are held.
“Our festival should be complementary to NMF — it should be another festival offering that’s going to attract people to come to southeast Ohio... We’re here to support Nelsonville Music Festival. We hope they’re here to support us,” Terrell said. “Ultimately, we’re just trying to figure out how to bring more people to southeast Ohio to create more opportunities for people to engage in the history here, to engage in the natural assets here, to create positive economic impact here.”
Peacock said, “Really, we think that Hocking could have their own music festival that is successful, and Stuart’s Opera House could have our music fest that is successful, and ultimately what would be great is if both could benefit southeast Ohio and Athens County and Nelsonville.”
The first festival of “Black Diamonds”
Terrell, who serves as a festival organizer and its campus liaison, said the college created the festival with Nelsonville’s history in mind; hence its titular theme. The festival will showcase country and bluegrass music, though it will have several cross-genre performers, he explained.
“Nelsonville is one of the Little Cities of Black Diamonds, and that’s a term that has been used historically to define the coal communities here in southeast Ohio,” Terrell said. “(Coal) really just defines the roots of this area... (Those genres) of music (are) very deeply rooted in the traditions of southeast Ohio.”
But BDMF will also feature southeast Ohio’s culture, arts and music – especially those Hocking College provides classes for. To Terrell, its role as a community college is something that will make the festival unique.
“Having a music festival here allows us to engage the community concert-goers in some of the academic programs, and we’re going to do that through demonstrations,” Terrell said, which will include glassblowing, ceramics and artisanal arts and crafts.
The festival will incorporate plenty of student involvement, Terrell said – especially in the coming weeks, as classes began on Monday. Students in certain classes will have some projects that relate directly to the planning and execution of the festival, Terrell explained.
Culinary students will be involved in supplying food for artists and VIP tents, as well as running the college’s food truck, Terrell said. Hocking College fermentation science students will also create Black Diamond-themed beverages.
“We want to create a music festival that celebrates the traditions of southeast Ohio,” Terrell said. “We also want to create a music festival that gives our students an opportunity to be a part of that kind of event.”
As for the festival’s lineup, which is not yet completed, headlining is cross-genre singer songwriter Elle King, perhaps best known for her 2014 single “Ex’s & Oh’s” and contemporary country music artist Elvie Shane.
However, BDMF will also feature country rock group The Kentucky Headhunters, bluegrass band Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers, local bluegrass group Coal Cave Holler Boys and more.
“It’s a really nice eclectic mix,” Terrell said. “You’ve got (both) young and more established artists.”
The festival will have three stages, including some in Robbins Crossing, Terrell said. It shares some of the same venue space as NMF once did, but will be in “slightly different areas.”
Stays for BDMF are also unique; it will offer camping (with electrical hookups available), lodging and dormitory rooms. Dorm stays offer either two or four beds; a microwave, bathroom and a fridge (bedding and bathroom items not supplied). Camping starts at $75 and dorms at $325.
Tickets for the festival start at $145 (for both days); single-day tickets will be available soon, Terrell said. All proceeds from the festival go back into the college, he explained.
“Any revenue made from the festival will go back into the college to continue its expansion efforts,” Terrell said. “(We’re) constantly adding new programs, which means new equipment, new labs, updated labs, things like that.”
Capacity for BDMF is 6,000, Terrell said. The college hopes the festival is a success and that it becomes an annual event, he added.
“We want to create something that people in our who live in our region, work in our region, play in our region will want to come to and celebrate the fact that they live here and they work here, as well as bringing people from outside the region to come in and experience it and celebrate it with those people,” Terrell said. “So this is a festival for all, and we want our local communities to be excited about this and proud of this and be a part of it, because it really is a celebration of them and their family and their heritage and their traditions.”
More information on BDMF can be found at www.blackdiamondmusicfestival.com/.
Peacock said that despite changes, the 2022 festival is going to “feel very similar to past music festivals.”
The mission of the festival is likewise unchanged, Peacock said, serving as a fundraiser for arts education programming at Stuart’s Opera House.
According to the Stuart’s Opera House website, an average of 7,000 students participate each year in the nonprofit’s arts education program, which offers affordable and broad programming in the performing arts.
The festival also has another impetus – supporting the local economy in Nelsonville and southeast Ohio. Peacock said that he’s heard from many Nelsonville businesses that the weekend of NMF is the busiest of the year.
Additionally, for many who attend the festival, their main experience of Nelsonville generally becomes a positive one, Peacock said.
“People said, ‘are you going to Nelsonville next year?’ and they meant, ‘Are you going to the Nelsonville Music Festival?’” Peacock said. “So Nelsonville was perceived in a positive light, but the biggest contribution is the positive economic impact we provided to our community, and that we will continue to provide to our community in the future.”
For those who have attended NMF in recent years, the festival will appear notably smaller in scale, however. Ticket sales will be capped at 2,500 for 2022, Peacock said, although NMF has typically sold between 4,500 and 5,000 tickets.
The reduction in scale will help the festival “ease into this new site, because it takes a long time,” Peacock said.
“Our intention for 2022 is to reduce our capacity slightly, so we can live within the space and slowly build back up to where we were,” Peacock said. “We were at Hocking College for 12 years, and every year we made adjustments to, like, the actual stage placement, or where we put this food vendor related to electricity, or, ‘Oh, we have to turn the porch stage seven degrees because of the sound bleed from the bass.’ All of these minor adjustments take time, and the only way to learn them is by existing in the space.”
The new location is within four miles of Hocking’s campus and has a Nelsonville address, Peacock confirmed in a Facebook post.
“In a very strange, strange way, even though we were not looking for this, it’s something of a blessing in disguise,” Peacock said.
Peacock added that the new site is a “really beautiful location,” while “the calendar at the new place is less constricted,” which could allow Stuart’s and other Athens County organizations to host additional events there.
The official announcement of the new site is coming “very, very soon,” Peacock said, noting that contract negotiations are in their final stages.
The relocation of the festival delayed the booking process, Peacock said, because Stuart’s has historically booked bands a year or more in advance. However, Peacock said many bands have now been secured.
“We have some awesome things confirmed,” Peacock said.
For festival goers still woeful about previous cancellations of NMF, Peacock said some bands previously slated to perform in 2020 will appear on the 2022 lineup.
“There are a couple already confirmed, and then there are conversations with others as well,” Peacock said.
While the change in venue and related conflicts caused an “enormous amount of stress,” Peacock said he is excited to move forward.
“We wish Hocking College well with their event. We’ve seen this unnecessary drama continue to raise its head, and we just want it to go away,” Peacock said. “We just want to move on and have our music festival.”
More information on NMF can be found at www.nelsonvillefest.org.
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