Forecastle was my first complete music festival experience. As it was an “urban festival,” I was able to enjoy the comforts of a hotel room and the late night food of my choice. When I arrived with my fellow festival goers, I was first struck by the fact that a portion of the event was located beneath an underpass; the main stage was framed by the Ohio River. Beyond the festival was the bridge we drove across to get into Louisville. The setting was serene and sprawling, and although crowds got dense at points (especially at the various stages, of course), the festival was not overwhelming to walk into.
As the day wore on, the crowds began to get more dense, and fortunately, Friday was a relatively cool day. I spent a lot of time exploring the grounds, drifting from stage to stage. There were many booths that sold merchandise, all types of food and drink, and art booths (one of which belonged to the official Forecastle artist himself, Status Serigraph). Many oddities wandered the grounds, including an odd papier-mâché man supported by three or four people (he was probably a pop-culture reference, but I don’t know it), a couple of monster-looking creatures, and various Chinese dragons. A ship was beached in the middle of it all; it was often inhabited by women dressed as mermaids, and a beautifully tattooed man painted the boat with intricate designs that evolved and grew throughout the weekend.
There were four stages, and each stage seemed to draw a different crowd; the Ocean stage generally housed more EDM and experimental groups such as Mimosa and Tune-Yards (these crowds were generally populated by much younger people), and the Port stage was generally visited by a more relaxed, generally older crowd that came to see groups like Sun Kil Moon and Joy Vance.
The Mast and Boom stages were home to the bigger acts. On Friday, these included JJ Grey & Mofro on the Mast Stage (this was the largest one and the first you saw walking in) and The Black Lips on the Boom stage. The unfortunate thing about Friday’s lineup was that I wanted very much to see Spoon and The Districts (Spoon being one of my main musical high school obsessions and The Districts being a group I’d had the privilege of seeing in Bloomington a year prior). Instead, I ended up being dragged into the Twenty One Pilots crowd in order to get up close for Outkast.
Initially, I was skeptical. I got some great photographs of Twenty One Pilots; don’t get me wrong, they are talented musicians much like the many other amazing artists who played on the stages of Forecastle this July. However, I’d seen them last summer at Piqnic and been relatively unimpressed (I have not heard much of their music, which probably contributed largely to this disinterest).
But being in an excited crowd is infectious. At one point, lead singer Tyler Joseph urged everyone to get up on each others’ shoulders and get closer to the music. Josh Dun—the currently pink-haired drummer—also crowd surfed, playing his drums on a board being held up by what I hoped was able-bodied helpers and not unsuspecting crowd members. I have to give it to them: Twenty One Pilots does know how to put on a good show. They are always full of energy and never fail to get the crowd to go insane (which is generally full of devoted fans, but still).
Once Twenty One Pilots ended, I found myself five rows from the front. After an hour of waiting in a dense, sweaty crowd (an act I reviled at the time but quickly grew to appreciate throughout the weekend), the lights went dark and a black and white American Flag appeared projected onto a giant red screen, against which was silhouetted Big Boi and Andre 3000.
They emerged, Andre 3000 sporting a white wig and a jumpsuit with a price tag. They immediately got the show going, belting out hit after hit. The crowd went ballistic; it was amazing. Earlier that day, I had spoken to somebody on his way to the festival. He had told me that Outkast was the only reason he’d come. Now I fully realized why this might be the case. Of course Outkast is a duo we know and love for fondly sung-to hits like “Ms. Jackson” and “So Fresh, So Clean,” but everyone on stage (backup singers, DJ, and instrumentals alike) truly had a wonderful time. Being exposed to such positive, talented, and, might I say, raunchy artists in such an in-your-face way was the perfect way to start off the weekend right.
On Saturday, I arrived to see Boy & Bear just beginning their set. The folky indie-rock band—composed of David Hosking, Killian Gavin, Tim and Jonathan Hart, and David Symes—came all the way from Sydney, Australia. Towards the end they played the popular single “Southern Sun,” which preceded their second album, Harlequin Dream. Hearing it live was a beautiful experience; the 70’s-inspired relaxed simplicity of the song really shone through from the stage. You can listen to the song here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3q_SchLR0I
Then I ran into some friends holding front-row spots for the next band, Lord Huron, who I’d never really heard before. The five-man Los Angeles indie-folk band came out on stage with a lot of positive energy. Lead singer and founder Ben Schneider couldn’t keep a grin off his face, and by the time I left their show I was smiling and dancing with the crowd, as per his example.
Then began the best three-show succession I will probably ever experience in my life. A friend and I had resolved to be in front for Jack White—he’s almost as much of a die-hard fan as I am—and fortunately two of my other favorites were playing consecutively before him at the same stage. We squeezed close to the front for Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, but couldn’t get all the way to the front because die-harder Jack White fans solidly populated the first three rows, and had been doing so since the gates opened at noon (Jack White wasn’t scheduled to go on until 9:30). Apparently arriving five hours early simply wasn’t enough for Jack White, but third row was all right too.
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings played an amazing set. They were more contagiously upbeat than anyone I’d seen before. I own the album Give The People What They Want, almost every song of which they played. Sharon Jones did not once stop dancing… in fact, she even tried teaching us some new-old dance moves between songs! Recently cancer-free, Jones obviously had a newfound zest for life that she wanted to share with everybody whose life she touched. As a part of her crowd at Forecastle, I was able to receive some of this extreme happiness. The perspective she created with her remarkable new outlook on life was extremely touching. Speaking on her plans after performing for us that Saturday evening, Jones memorably said, “I’m gonna fish my way back to happiness!” (Literally- she had plans to go to a lake and fish.) She and her Dap-Kings (and let’s not forget the Dap-Ettes) played music that was all at once uplifting, sassy, strong-willed, and full of hope for the future.
After Sharon Jones, Band of Horses came on. A huge name for many music lovers, Band of Horses played against what looked to be North woods imagery. Presenting a much different sound from Sharon Jones, they mellowed out the crowd with deeply emotional songs like “No One’s Gonna Love You,” “Older,” and “Infinite Arms.” Ben Bridwell sang true to everything I’d heard recorded of them, and even though Band of Horses does not have a necessarily fast or upbeat tone, one could not help but feel warm inside watching them smiling and playing and deeply feeling what they were giving to us. On stage, Bridwell was accompanied by Tyler Ramsey on guitar, who played a long solo at one point that completely blew me away. They were accompanied also by Ryan Monroe on keyboard and guitar, Bill Reynolds on bass, and Creighton Barrett on drums. You can listen to my favorite Band of Horses song here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4H1h32vqDxE
Once Band of Horses blew us away with their most popular song “Funeral,” we were left to wait for the long-awaited Saturday headliner. Along with just a couple other things, seeing Jack White had been at the top of my bucket list for years. I’d never gotten the chance to do it until now, and to be honest it didn’t feel like it was actually going to happen. The surrounding crowd also seemed to be in extreme anticipation as well, and we had all gotten to know each other somewhat after standing in the same place in close quarters for the past several hours as White’s top hat- and suspender-wearing cronies set up the stage. Just as I opened my mouth to say something to the person behind me, everything went dark and her eyes went wide. I spun around and—lo and behold—it was Jack White in the flesh.
Now, folks, I promise you I’m not too crazy. But at that moment my eyes welled up with tears and I just couldn’t contain my happiness. I had never felt so star-struck until this moment. The entire crowd roared, and Jack White and his band members assumed position on stage. The stage was lit completely blue, and every person on stage glowed eerily under the blue light. Lilly Mae Rische stood to his left in a flowing white retro frock that made her look like some sort of beautiful, fiddle-playing ghost. Fats Kaplin sat behind White playing an instrument I later found out was a theremin. Other supporting members were Daru Jones on drums, Dominic Davis on bass, and Ikey Owens on keyboard.
Every song Jack White and his supporting band played was absolutely phenomenal and full of aggressive energy. White ran around the stage, interacting with every member of the group and characteristically hiding his face behind a messy mop of black hair. Often he did not face the crowd; the emotional intensity and obvious eccentricities of White as a performer was intoxicating to watch in and of itself. “Love Interruption” was overwhelmingly great (you can see the music video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iErNRBTPbEc). And of course, when they played the White Stripes’ song “We’re Going to Be Friends,” the entire crowd sang along to the simple ballad in a lovely, harmonious rendition. White played a lot from his past works, which was pleasantly surprising. But of course, they also played a lot from Lazaretto and Blunderbuss; these tended to be the more intense numbers in his act.
At one point, White and his crew left the stage early with no warning. The assumption was that someone in the crowd had angered him, but nobody really knew what had happened. So we did the only logical thing: chanted “Seven Nation Army” as if we were at a basketball game. After doing this for a long time, they returned—this time, White was wearing a black shirt as opposed to his previous blue one—and ended up playing until far past their intended end time. (Which reminds me: Forecastle did an amazing job at keeping everything going smoothly and on time. Not a single show started late.) At the end of it all, he smashed his guitar as seemed only fitting and threw his tie out into the audience.
So after I had the most intense and wonderful experience of my life, it only seemed fitting that a nutritious meal of pizza and soda be consumed before falling into the deepest sleep of my life. Both nights I ate dinner in Louisville, we got a deliciously large and floppy slice of pizza at Spinelli’s on East Jefferson (I highly recommend, although I don’t have much to compare it to). It was very satisfying that night.
The next day, I awoke with a new vigor for life despite my extreme soreness from standing in one place for so long. At this point, I understood how people could get addicted to festivals. Fortunately, I made it back to the grounds in time to see The Weeks perform. I saw them a few months ago in Bloomington, and they’re a pretty fun group to hear live. Of course they played “Buttons” at the end of their set, ever reminiscent of Kings of Leon (meets Bruce Springsteen meets Matt Kearney meets Bloomington basement band).
After this I wandered over to the Ocean stage to see some of Chrome Sparks at the behest of a friend (we’d seen some of Blue Sky Black Death on my way to see The Weeks). They were nice to listen to, but nothing could keep me from heading over to the main stage to see Brett Dennen perform. This was probably my favorite crowd, as everyone around me was light-hearted and happy to be there. Sunday was a warm, sunny day, so the whole scene seemed rather whimsical. Everybody sang along when Dennen played his more popular and upbeat songs, “Out Of My Head,” “Sydney,” and “Wild Child.” This was another artist I had looked forward to above many others at Forecastle, and seeing him in the flesh also felt very special.
For the rest of the afternoon, I spent time watching Nickel Creek and then Ray LaMontagne. As much as I hate to admit it, I didn’t know as much of either artist at the time as I would have liked. As a result, I was blown away by the amazing charisma presented by Nickel Creek; this highly lauded musical group played with more instrumental skill and enthusiasm than I’d ever seen. The simplicity of their sound was made complex by the intricacies brought upon by the expert way each band member handled their instruments, which is not surprising considering their successful past.
Ray LaMontagne followed Nickel Creek on the Boom stage. Fortunately we got close to the front. I honestly did not know what to expect from LaMontagne live, but I knew from various people that he wasn’t somebody you should miss. When he came out on stage, the cheers were deafening. Again, I was in the presence of an amazingly skilled musical artist. The pained look on his face as he sang of emotionally themes in songs like was extremely touching; many times he sang songs of love unrequited and love attained. When they played “Meg White,” the band first played a short instrumental rendition of the “Seven Nation Army” chant. Considering the night before, this was rather funny indeed. “All The Wild Horses” brought some audience members to tears. I felt privileged to see the connection LaMontagne could create with an audience. Of course, his more popular and upbeat songs such as “Supernova” and “Lavender” were well received also, but in a happier sort of way.
After this beautiful experience ended, I headed over to catch some of Beck before driving home to Indianapolis to be back for work the next morning. Although I didn’t get very close at all, I got to see Beck—an exciting feat all on its own. I caught some fun songs like “Loser” and “Black Tambourine,” among other greats. As I left the lightly mist-shrouded festival grounds, “Blue Moon” (listen to it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WIWbgR4vYiw) from his newest album sent me off into the cool evening on a note that couldn’t have been more perfect.