I spent last weekend attending Louisville, Kentucky’s Forecastle Festival for the first time. All I heard from anyone when I mentioned where I was going were exasperated expressions of jealousy and promises of one of the best festival experiences I’d ever have. Forecastle, you sure do deliver.
Held at Waterfront Park right on the Ohio River (which I suppose you could deduce from the name “waterfront”), the three-day festival offered a plethora of absurdly delicious food, a Bourbon Lodge and, of course, four stages to showcase a bevy of some of the best rock ‘n’ roll artists around.
I arrived at Forecastle a little bit late on Friday (because I’m very busy and important, but mostly because my flight was late), eager to power walk over to catch the end of Caveman’s set at the WFPK Port Stage. Unfortunately, the weather had other plans for me. As soon as I made my way to the gates, had my fanny pack checked by security and was ushered in, I was immediately informed that there was a “code red weather alert evacuation” and ushered right out again, followed by all of the other 65,000 or so festival-goers behind me.
Once the threat of the apocalypse had subsided, we were allowed entrance back onto the festival grounds, and I was more than ready to make up for lost time as I headed straight for the Mast Stage to catch LA’s Grouplove. I gotta say, this is definitely the band you want to task with getting a party (re) started. Fronted by spouses Christian Zucconi and Hannah Hooper, the indie-pop quartet launched into “I’m With You,” the first track off of 2013’s Spreading Rumours, immediately inciting uncontrollable bouncing energy throughout the crowd. The band’s biggest hit “Tongue-Tied” came early in their set, introduced by Hooper with a disclaimer: “When I say ‘take me to your best friend’s house,’ I’m not just talking about me. I’m talking about fucking everybody here!” The electricity never let up throughout their set, as they partied with us through their signature cover of Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” and closed with fan-favorite “Colours.”
Next up for me was Nashville-based four-piece Bully with savage frontwoman Alicia Bognanno. I first saw this band open for METZ at the Music Hall of Williamsburg back in January and was blown away by their raw angst and Bognanno’s hardcore shrieking vocals, the kind that make you want to throw a lozenge on stage so that she can make it through the evening. Let me tell you, this girl doesn’t need your lozenge, as she powers through her grating screams, each one more badass than the one prior. Serious band girl crush over here if you couldn’t tell. Alicia, teach me your ways.
Other highlights of the night included Glass Animals, with their boundlessly heady beats and trippy grooves (not to mention their crowd-pleasing cover of Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown”), as well as any-given-frat-party anthem duo Ghostland Observatory, all leading up to the big kahuna of the night, the Avett Brothers. Being honest, I only caught about three songs of this, because I was exhausted and, being even more honest, I wasn’t super interested. Yes, they’re undeniably exceptionally talented musicians, and they put on one hell of a show for an inspiringly loyal fanbase, but on a totally personal level, they just don’t float my boat. That said, they totally crushed “Talk On Indolence.”
Day Two kicked off bright and brutally hot as I walked over to the festival in 2,000-degree heat (that’s 90 degrees on the Emily-Bitching-About-It-to-Fahrenheit scale) to conduct a couple of interviews and then grab a spot up front for Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear. Their set began with the mother and son taking the stage and gracefully beginning their set with a captivating rendition of “Modern Day Mystery,” pure and beautifully stripped down, giving the impression that the crowd had stumbled into a peaceful evening in the Ward’s living room by accident. “Thank you for coming, and thank you for letting us be ourselves,” Ruth Ward addressed the crowd while sitting on stage and strumming her acoustic.
A couple of hours and half a dozen of interviews later, I managed to catch the end of Dan Auerbach’s The Arcs, just as they were finishing up a cover of The Kinks’ “Big Sky” and closing with my new obsession, “Outta My Mind,” off of their 2015 debut LP, Yours, Dreamily,. Get on board with this band if you haven’t already.
My favorite show of the night was Dr. Dog, partly because I’m a super long-time fan, partly because I got to watch it from the gloriously shaded side of stage (#blessed) and partly because they are a fantastic band who kills it every time they deliver a live performance. Mostly the last one. They played new track “Bring My Baby Back” off of their 2016 album The Psychedelic Swamp but mostly treated us to their classic catalog with an even mix of tracks pulled from 2010’s Shame Shame, 2012’s Be the Void and 2013’s B-Room. Bonus visual: Scott McMicken rocked an apron throughout their set and somehow managed to make it look cool. That in itself deserves an accolade.
Day Three was the hottest day of the festival. That’s a completely useless fact, but it was on my mind a lot, so I figured I’d share it with you to put you in the moment with me. It was rough. Basically, one bandana and one sweat band were not enough, nor were the 15 plus bottles of water I chugged throughout the day.
After wrapping up a final round of interviews and stuffing my face with my second (out of three) lobster roll of the weekend from the Longshot Lobsta food truck, I ended up at the Port Stage for Saintseneca who were, at the time, unknown to me (talk about being late to the party). I’m now officially a fan of the Columbus, Ohio folk quartet, for the record, but then again I’m a sucker for dark, melancholy concepts packaged in deceptively poppy beats.
After an extensive trip to the Bourbon Lodge for yet another Kentucky Mule (taking this cocktail recipe with me to spread across the country—everyone reading this run out and try one, especially if you’re at work), I headed over to what might have been my most anticipated show of the weekend. Death Cab for Cutie has played a massive role in my life, helping launch my musical awakening back in 2003 with the release of the iconic Transatlanticism. That began a lifelong love affair with the music of DCFC, yet somehow I had never managed to see the band live. So this was a big one for me. I snagged a primo spot for the first few songs, as Ben Gibbard belted out “No Room In Frame,” “Crooked Teeth” and “Why You’d Want To Live Here” while I stared unblinking and watched my high-school-and-beyond wishes come true. Though I moved back (okay, moved back to the Bourbon Lodge) for the later part of their set, my ears were still pricked, and I was able to soak up the songs that graced my every mix CD back in the day such as “The New Year” (tell me that wasn’t on every New Year’s Eve playlist you ever made), “Title and Registration,” “Soul Meets Body” (huge personal favorite) and, of course, closer “Transatlanticism.” Major bucket list item checked here. I’ll see you at their next show.
All in all, Forecastle was an incredible experience and a truly special festival. I have a lot of favorite fests, but I have to say, I expect I’ll have a hard time missing another Forecastle. See y’all in 2017.
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