If you were asked to name the most popular American music festivals, it’s likely you’d be tempted to throw out the obvious names: Bonnaroo in Tennessee, Coachella in California, Lollapalooza in Chicago, maybe even Hangout Fest down in Gulf Shores, Alabama (what a scene that is).
But what about Louisville? Yes, perhaps it’s time we gave the largest city in Kentucky the attention it deserves. It’s only been twelve years since their inaugural Forecastle Festival, a 75,000-fan affair that has featured the likes of the Black Crowes, the Black Keys, Wilco, and local legends My Morning Jacket, amongst many others. Those are big name acts, artists and bands that draw huge crowds not only on their own gigs but on the festival circuit as well. So why hasn’t the Forecastle name caught on amongst the giants of the American music festival scene?
If My Morning Jacket’s epic two and a half hour set back in 2012 wasn’t enough to elevate Forecastle from “Top 15 in the Country” (per Outside Magazine) to the big leagues (meaning Top 5), then maybe this year’s lineup is. The 2014 headliners are particularly interesting when considered alongside the rest of the lineup. Highlights are as follows.
The Hip Hop Heavyweights: Outkast (Friday, July 18th)
When Andre 3000 and Big Boi announced their tour of the 2014 festival circuit- their first shows together in the better part of a decade- many pundits and fans began speculating about the likelihood of a new Outkast album. While this has proven increasingly unlikely, it is important to note that any fans attending Forecastle are in for a real treat. Since their initial disappointment at Coachella, the hip hop duo have honed their live show into a well-oiled machine; setlists have been rearranged, stage banter has been adjusted, and energy and excitement have gone through the roof. Fans can obviously expect to hear the hits (“Hey Ya” and “Ms. Jackson”), as well as a variety of deeper album cuts. Outkast have the headline on the festival’s opening Friday night slot; it’s going to be some kind of party.
The Rock God: Jack White (Saturday, July 19th)
Jack White is something of a polarizing figure: you either love him or hate him, and both camps are likely to cite the same reasons. What you cannot deny, however, is his influence over the rock music scene these last 15 years. The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, Dead Weather, solo, or as a producer, Jack White’s fingerprints are all over the place. His idiosyncratic guitar style, his unique vocal style (which can really only be described as a crazed, manic yelp), his undeniable songwriting prowess; they’re all there to back up his off-putting persona, which is nothing less than a molotov cocktail of neuroses and madness (perhaps even a dash of genius). His two solo albums, 2012’s Blunderbuss and his most recent Lazaretto, figure to play a prominent role in his headlining slot on Saturday, and if his towering, face-melting Bonnaroo set is any indication, Forecastle-goers are certainly going to get their rocks off.
The Shapeshifter: Beck (Sunday, July 20th)
It’s always been hard to peg Beck down. Is he the ironic, almost lazy artist that seemingly pioneered the niche folk-rap genre with his 1993 smash hit “Loser”? Is he the genius, sample-heavy artist that released the classic Odelay in 1997? Or is he perhaps the quintessential, heart on his sleeve, acoustic singer-songwriter that appeared on 2002’s Sea Change and again on 2014’s gorgeous Morning Phase? Beck has proven something of a stylistic chameleon, and it’s likely that fans will see a bit of all of his personas throughout the course of his Sunday night headlining set. Be prepared to expect anything and everything from one of the most prolific, interesting songwriters of the last 20 years.
Other Highlights: Friday (July 18th)
Critical darlings for the better part of a decade, Spoon have long existed on the fringe of commercial success: their sound is essentially guitar pop, but with a twist and flourish that jettisons it outside the general consciousness of pop music. With a new album (They Want My Soul) due out later this year, fans should expect an energetic set balancing the band’s old standbys with some new material.
Rolling Stone did Gary Clark Jr. a disservice by labeling him “The Next Hendrix.” In reality, the two have very little in common. Sure, they both play electrified blues guitar. Sure, they’re both black. But the similarities largely stop there. And to try and put Clark in that sort of box is shortchanging his versatility as an artist (in addition to setting him up for failure; there will never be another Henrdrix). He’s got a sultry, smooth voice, and a raw, guttural guitar style to back up his strong songwriting talent, which runs the gamut from pseudo-hip hop (“The Life”) to pretty soul (“Please Come Home”) to rock n’ roll (“Travis County”) to thick, aggressive blues (“Bright Lights” “Numb”). That kind of versatility is welcome in his live show, in which fans will be treated to some sublime guitar work and a very tight band.
Other Highlights: Saturday (July 19th)
After several lineup changes, BoH have settled into a groove that can only come with familiarity. The band’s last two albums, 2010’s Grammy-winning Infinite Arms and 2012’s Mirage Rock took some flak from longtime fans, but the band’s reverential live show has long astonished, and having only four albums worth of material means that there should be a heavy dose of songs from the band’s stellar first two albums.
Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings
Other Highlights: Sunday (July 20th)
Arguably one of the greatest singer-songwriters of the 21st century, Ray’s music usually took a somber, muted route straight to your heartstrings. And there are very few artists that can pull them as well as Ray LaMontagne. But on his newest album, 2014’s Supernova, Ray seems to actually enjoy the process of music making. Expect to see Ray smiling a lot more than usual, electric guitar in hand.
Trampled By Turtles
So there’s a lot to see and hear this year at Forecastle. And a lot of big-name acts. Let’s give this festival the recognition it rightfully deserves. Here’s to Forecastle Festival, and here’s to Louisville!