The consensus around the grounds of Forecastle Festival at Waterfront Park in Louisville over the weekend was that the 3-day event isn’t nearly as widely known as it deserves to be.
But this year’s lineup — including Beck, Outkast, Jack White, and The Replacements — obviously brought more acclaim and attracted more media attention than in previous years. And if the folks I met are any indication, Forecastle has already established itself as an important destination.
The trio next to me at Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings had come down from Cincinnati. The man next to me at The Replacements had driven to Louisville from Minnesota. At Beck, I chatted with a couple from West Virginia. Before Jack White, I struck up a conversation with a 34-year old man from Detroit who happened to be wearing a Kylesa t-shirt — even when I manage to leave Savannah for brief trips, reminders are everywhere. I also ran into a friend from Kingsport, Tennessee, and into a former Savannahian who now lives in Birmingham.
Forecastle 2014 used a huge swath of Louisville’s sprawling and beautiful Waterfront Park, a public space that has been 30 years in the making. A pedestrian bridge over the Ohio River has just been completed upriver from the festival grounds, and Forecastle even manages to make good use of a highway overpass, which provides some shade on hot afternoons and functions as a surprisingly good backdrop for the smallest of the four stages.
The three larger stages have the slow-rolling Ohio River and bridges to Indiana as a backdrop. The Louisville skyline is just off to the west, and it’s only a short walk from one stage to the next. There are few spots where the sounds bleed together.
There was far more being offered on the festival grounds than I have room to describe here, but I was especially impressed by the presence of some excellent local food trucks (I ate at the Holy Mole Taco Truck all three days), by the short lines at most of the bars even when the park was swarming with huge crowds, by the inclusion of a Kentucky craft beer tent and the Bourbon Lodge, by the booths selling beautifully printed posters, and by the sheer number of places to lounge, relax, socialize, and — above all — listen.
The scene was all pretty chill, too, with little for the ample security to do.
As much as I loved the headlining acts that I managed to see, I was also thrilled by some of the earlier sets by bands that I already follow — like Hurray for the Riff Raff, The Weeks, and Matrimony — and by bands whose music I wasn’t really familiar with, especially Against Me!, JOHNNYSWIM, Willie Watson, and The Soul Rebels.
Despite the relative ease of getting around the grounds and the unusually pleasant summer weather, I got a little weary of the large crowds on day 2, so day 3 was especially refreshing. The crowds seemed slightly tamer and older — no surprise given that fewer really young people seemed to turn out for the Sunday night headliners Beck and The Replacements, both of whom were flat out fantastic.
I began my Sunday with powerful sets by Matrimony and The Weeks. My only regret was that the two overlapped a little — it made for a tough choice. I could imagine both bands headlining a festival like Forecastle by the end of the decade. Both bands also happen to be compelling subjects for photos.
I also caught part of the Sunday sets by Lucius, Chrome Sparks, Sharon Van Etten, Trampled By Turtles, Sun Kil Moon, Nickel Creek, and Tune-Yards, before camping out on the great lawn for The Replacements then Beck.
The strength and diversity of the lineup is obviously an extension of founder JK McKnight’s vision and of the booking expertise of AC Entertainment (programmer of Bonnaroo). The headliners seemed perfectly pitched to attract a wide age range — around me at Outkast were teens who literally grew up listening to the band and folks who were already adults when those two immensely talented and daring kids burst onto the scene.
It was a dizzying, dazzling weekend of music — and everything stayed on schedule too. I had few complaints about the beautiful staging and strong production values, and I’d say the artists were mainly responsible when things didn’t go so well. Like Jack White with the overly complex but poorly used banks of lights and all that blue light and smoke — maybe a nice effect for a song or two . . .
So could Forecastle get bigger and better? (Sometimes those two terms are antithetical, of course.) It certainly seems possible to add another day to the event, but then we’re talking about more than a weekend and about stretching staff resources and municipal services. The Boom Stage sometimes seemed to have more fans than the larger Mast Stage, and I thought there were a few spots where the crowds got a little too pinched. I’m sure the VIP tickets generate some good revenue and fill a need, but a lot of real estate was lost to the VIP viewing areas, which often weren’t well-occupied and didn’t even necessarily offer such great views.
But those are minor quibbles — really minor quibbles — with a stunningly successful event.
I’ll have quite a number of photo sets to post in the next day or two.