Fan Spotlight with Nellie Coffman of the Faerie Pranksters
Interview by Elise Olmstead
We were wearily making our way down a moonlit path after a late night show with Railroad Earth at Delfest with no other festival goers in sight. As we approached the bathrooms the attached spotlight shone on a petite redhead in floral attire and a fringed shirt. “Well hello late night wanderers,” she says with a smile as Taco’s shoulders rubbed against hers. They take the time to grin at each other then stop in their tracks. “What’s your name, darling?” he asks.
She laughs and throws her hands up as she exclaims “Queen of the Faeries Nellie Mother Fuckin’ Coffman!” and wraps Taco in a big hug. “There’s Tacos and Elises out here!” she says as she pulls me in for an embrace. Having only ever chatted on Facebook and heard of each other through mutual friends, our meeting could not have been more sweet and serendipitous.
The rest of the weekend was filled with the sounds of Nellie’s upright bass pickin’ and mischievous yet adorable laughter. We joked and drank out of the head of Manuel, a ceramic jar carrying the story of a wizard who had wronged her and she shrank his head. We mixed drinks and stories with the rest of the Faerie Prankster Tribe and at the end of the weekend I was crowned with my own set of Faerie horns. I’ve been following in Nellie’s faerie glitter ever since. Such a captivating woman deserves to be heard in her own words, so I’ve included her entire rip-roaring interview for your reading pleasure.
Where’s your hometown?
I was born in Santa Monica, California and much like my gypsy soul mother moved across the West Coast, now finding myself tucked in these beautiful Appalachian Mountains; a far cry from the Coastal mountain but so beautiful in their own right. I just wish we did more to preserve our beauty here and keep these mountains safe that we call home.
Where do you live now?
Putnam County, WV, baby!
What’s your Favorite Band?
Being a true Festivarian Music lover this is a hard one…I’ll have to start with Leftover Salmon and their hard driving Slamgrass sound that changed the face of bluegrass as we know it. “Check out Years in Your Ears if ya don’t.” I also like DGQ, John Hartford, Further, Todd Snider, and Great American Taxi.
What’s your Favorite Venue?
There’s so many yet so few….
I recently visited Terrapin Hill and loved all the organic stages, art and feeling. That place really set a peaceful mood. Red Rocks Colorado…need I say more? Nelsons Ledges Ohio, the lake makes for a cool festival in every sense of the word…water has a way of doing that to hot, partying dancing festivarians. Black Rock Desert NV, and last but most certainly not least Rocky Grass Music Camp and Festival. This place is so green-aware you can walk barefoot all day long in the soft grass never having to worry about picking up trash. Everyone helps everyone get all recycling where it needs to go. There are recycle attendants by the bens to help you out as well. Lots of water pumps for all to refill water bottles. This place not only made me feel comfortable but aware of this grand beautiful mother earth that we’re all here to care for.
What’s your favorite festival?
Every year all our local pham goes to Appalachian Uprising in Scottstown, Ohio. The reason this is one of my favorites is because it’s the one festival that all our pham with children get to take their kids to. It’s truly great to see all the moms and dads continuing this magic with their children.
What’s your favorite festie food?
Other than the shake down grilled cheese I would have to say Disco Pizza never lets me down.
What’s your favorite place to visit in Appalachia?
Easy…Fayetteville WV with the New River Gorge, kick ass down home reliable rafting companies like WV Adventure. The camping, the town and most of all the kind folks that live there! Loves me some Fayetteville!!
What was your first show?
Oh my that’s kind of hard I’m just gonna go waaay back and say Santana at an outdoor concert in San Francisco when I was about 4 with my mom. I remember the smell of incense and mom weaving flowers into my hair.
What is your actual career (if you have one)?
I run a ma and paw metal building construction company in Hurricane, WV called American Building Systems. We use recycled products as well and are doing are part to change the construction view in Appalachia.
How many shows do you attend a year?
As with most it all depends on my cash flow and planning. This year I’ve hit Wannee, Appalachian Uprising, Delfest, Telluride Bluegrass Festival, and Arts Alive Morgantown. And we’ll be going to All Good, FloydFest, Clifftop and as many more as I can fit in this year.
What keeps you coming back to the jam scene in particular?
I would definitely have to say the music and the phamily that goes with it. It’s like going to church; I always come out feeling better and with a kinder look on humanity and what people are actually capable of doing for one another. There’s magic that happens in these scenes that you don’t see anywhere else.
What is your outlook on life i.e. what meaning you see behind it?
Wow this is a loaded question! …….damn… Being a good Momma Nell not only to my immediate festie pham but to new ones I meet every time I go to a festival….give out love and the rewards are sweet.
What do you do for fun besides go to shows?
Make fun wherever I am! I enjoy playing my upright bass fiddle, hosting jam circles and dinner parties, making jewelry, hoops, faerie wings, horns, gathering stuff for my Faerie Prankster Tribe Camp – look for us at a festival near you! Anawhacking and all around shenanigans
What is your best show/festival memory?
I’m just going to the first one that pops into my mind.
String Cheese Incident in Portland, Oregon – Millennium Show
Yup all shit was expected to hit the fan in 1999…fuck it! About 30+ of our phamily both loaded up in trains, planes and automobiles and headed from the Hills to the city of Portland Oregon Civic Center for two nights of The String Cheese Incident. If anything was gonna happen we were gonna to be together! So many other phamilies had the same idea. Phamilies united in the hotel that we were in, taking up every room leaving the hallways smelling of nagchampa, sage, patchouli and sensa. Pham gathered in the hallways, took up conference rooms filling them with pillows, candles and musicians.
Oh yeah! The venue! Ha ha! They went above and beyond with art making it enjoyable not only to the ears but sight and comfort as well. Picture this…a grand central civic central dance floor with stage. A hallway with lots of doors..I opened first door and there were super large pillows all over the carpeted floor for partiers to chill on and a huge screen flipping slowly thru various festival snap shots of everything imaginable.
What is a funny story that happened recently?
I went to Delfest this year and was back stage during the late night. I was dressed in my best Faerie Prankster outfit complete with horns, tiny top hat, fox tail and a moostache to boot, yes a moostache. As I sat there on the bench sitting next to a couple of women they looked over at me and asked, “soooo, how and who do you know back here?” well with my silliness at the time I replied in my best WV accent, “weeell, see Vince Herman there? I had his illegitimate child in 86, Drew’s twins in 90 and Andy Thorn’s boy in 91” then gave them that sly smile and giggle. She replied, “I don’t know what to believe with that moostache on!” I replied quickly, “I’m just kidding, Del is my Paw Paw!” Right at that moment I noticed Del talking to Vince and pointing over to me asking him, “Who is that girl with the mustache?” Vince replied, “That’s Miss Nellie, you oughtta go over and say hello” Del with his smooth self, flipped his guitar behind his back and started to walk my way…just after my story with these women! Before he could say anything I hopped out of my seat and said “Paw Paw! Will you tell these women that Nellie is your granddaughter, they don’t believe me,” and with his smooth story telling voice he proceeded to explain to these women that I was a product of his 14 year daughter…and well. You see what happens when you have children too young. For the next hour he introduced me to his actual grandson, wife and the rest of the McCoury boys as his lost granddaughter. We really had fun with the story… and the fact that I wear a moostache.
How do you think you’ve changed since you started seeing music more regularly?
I work harder to make it happen.
What is your advice for other people just now discovering this music scene?
Keep a festival diary! I have a few that are already full. You will experience so many different bands, people, incidents that it’s hard to remember them all as you start going to more. Keep these memories for a lifetime; keep them to share with your children and their children. They are all magical moments so write them down either when you get home or at the end of the evening. Trust me you won’t regret it..
See ya on the lawn!