Located in the northeast corner of Ohio, Nelson Ledges Quarry Park could be the most laid back, beautiful campground in the Midwest. With over 250 acres of woods, beach, and swimming quarry, this festival site is not only a terrific place to see music, but is also a great venue to relax in the outdoors all day and rock out at night.

Nelson Ledges Quarry Park
By Mark Frost
The setting is perfect: the stage sits just past the beach with vendors on every side. The beach remains open until 7 p.m. each day, at which point the lifeguards pack up and the sand becomes a dance floor. Campsites line the lake, with access to the swimming spots every hundred yards or so. And all around the lake, the edges of quarry rock create plateaus from which to plunge into the 30-foot-deep spring-fed water and float on a raft until it's time to hit the stage.

When the weather is right and the sun beats down, this place is paradise. And as we learned last weekend, even when the rain pours down in buckets and the thunderstorms are relentless, it can still be a damn good time.

This year's Summer Hookah Weekend Blowout was somewhat of a challenge. Beginning Friday morning around 10 a.m., storms rolled over the quarry consistently until late Saturday night. When glimpses of sun graced the park for an hour or two at a time the lake would quickly fill with rafts and swimmers, but the menacing clouds would eventually reappear and it was back to the shelters and tents.

The magic of Nelson Ledges kept the spirits up, though. Despite the constant "recovery mode," campers were out and making fires again with each passing storm. Neighboring campsites cranked tunes over the roar of thunder and then shared dry wood once it was through. The energy never ceased all weekend, and in the end the weather eventually cleared and gave us a beautiful sunny Sunday.

Tim Carbone of Railroad Earth
By Mark Frost
While the scenery is enough to make the trip worth it, the music only made the experience that much better. Railroad Earth played the slot just before hookah on Friday and gave a stellar performance as usual. This group has quickly become a favorite of mine over the past year and has compelled me to see as much of them as I possibly can. For those who haven't experienced RRE yet, their sound is pure, beautiful bluegrass set to a rock 'n' roll pace. This six-piece country-rock machine recorded their first studio album after only three weeks of jamming together in 2001. Now only three years young, this band's energy feels like the first time every time, and they're only getting better.

Like most small festivals, the beauty of Nelson Ledges is the short trip back to the campsite to refuel between sets or bands. Even the furthest campsite at the Ledges gives you time to walk back, take care of business, and hit the next set before it begins. ekoostik hookah's Friday night gig began with clouds overhead but positive vibes nonetheless. It wasn't until second set that the skies opened up and unleashed.

Ed McGee at Nelson Ledges
By Mark Frost
Powerful performances like "Slipjig" and "Sun Goes Down" made the first set a memorable one. The band was obviously happy to be back at the Ledges and pleased to see that their fans were not swayed by the weather. Second set opened up with Cliff Starbuck on harmonica for both Dave Katz's "Sheepdog" and a crazy version of Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited" that brought the rain down in buckets. Because the weather had cooperated through all of the first set, the crowd was unprepared for the downpour that would last through the encore. People were soaked and loving it--dancing in the puddles of rain and rinsing the mud off in the water at the shore of the beach. It was a celebration of wetness and spontaneity as the band plunged into a "Couldn't Stand the Weather" encore followed by a beautiful "And When I Die" that Steve Sweney absolutely let loose on. Needless to say, there was little sleep to be had on that wet and crazy night.

Saturday we awoke to more of the same: the rain pounding as hard as it could onto our tents and our fire-ring overflowing with rainwater. With no particular place to go, though, this makes for fantastic sleeping weather in July. The Quarry woke up in the early afternoon when the fog lifted and the ground began to dry. Rafts were soon afloat in the middle of the lake to once again listen to the music reverberate over the water.

Come Saturday evening, the crowd was more prepared. This time the audience was covered in ponchos and raingear and eyes were pointed upwards for signs of rain. This time it didn't wait until second set.

Cliff Starbuck & Ed McGee
By Mark Frost
First set was impressive. An "Ecstasy" opener was followed by Ed McGee's "Another You." Cliff Starbuck took on Bob Dylan's "Isis," a challenging tune that has become a crowd pleaser, and did some damage on harmonica. By the end of the second set, the lightning had gotten closer and the band warned the audience that the set break may be unusually long.

Once the weather had calmed to a steady rain without lightning, the second set beckoned the crowd back from their shelters with a haunting version of Pink Floyd's "Echoes." Easing into "Change" and then "Dumpster," hookah treated the second set like one long song, weaving in and out until eventually returning to "Echoes" and letting Sweney go nuts. Amazing things happened during that second set: the clouds broke and stars shined through for the first time all weekend. And during the encore, just when Ed was reaching the height of "Dragonfly," the moon made its debut appearance as well.

Saturday night's festivities included fire juggling on the beach and drum circles in the woods. The crowd was rejuvenated by the clear sky above and rewarded later with a perfect sunny Sunday. The lake stayed full of floating festivalgoers until late Sunday afternoon, soaking in the long overdue sunshine. Thanks for letting us linger, NLQP!

07.30.2004 (Fri)
Nelson Ledges Quarry Park
Garrettsville, OH

Railroad Earth (5:30 p.m.)

The Good Life, Magic Foot > Luxury Liner, Goat, Black Bear, Elko, Stillwater Getaway, Long Way To Go

ekoostik hookah (8 p.m.)

Set 1: Lax > Raging River, Daffodils In Detroit, Slipjig, Moonshiner, Seahorse, Sun Goes Down > Grass, Sundial

Set 2: Sheepdog#^, Highway 61 Revisited^, Little Maggie^, Surround, Backseat > Better Man, Only Falling

Encore: Couldn't Stand the Weather, Bone (Old Man is Snoring and L.L. Rain Rap), And When I Die

^ John Skehan from Railroad Earth
# Cliff on Harmonica

7.31.2004 (Sat)

ekoostik hookah

Set 1: Ecstasy, Good Time, Another U, Isis#, I Been Down That Road, Thief, Silver Train# > DWI#, Treehouse^

Set 2: Echoes > Change > Dumpster, Rhythm Session > Chicago > Highway Home > Chicago, Change > Echoes

Encore: Never 2 Return > Dragonfly

#Cliff on Harmonica
^Brianna and Brittney on vocals

Samantha Hanford
JamBase | Ohio
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[Published on: 8/23/04]

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