Forecastle Festival 2018: Recap & Highlights
Huh. So that’s what going to one of those big, weekend-long festivals feels like! It was a fun weekend, even with 8-9 hour days of walking and standing. The best part of a festival experience is getting to see so many bands you’d be interested in at once. I’m so excited that I finally got to experience it, but I think one festival experience might be enough for me. Well, at least until next year’s Forecastle lineup gets released and I get suckered into another amazing looking weekend!
Here are some of the highlights of Forecastle Festival 2018 by festival day!
Day 1 – Friday
Let’s start with the basic layout of the fest. The fest was in Louisville’s Waterfront Park, which is a cool, gigantic green space right on the Ohio River that has an I-64 overpass running right over the middle of the park. It was a neat space that seemed like it’d be fantastic to hang out in. There were five stages set up in the park: the Mast stage which is the gigantic, center main stage, the Boom stage, the Ocean stage, the Port stage which focused on local acts, and the Party Cove, a landed boat set up for a rave!
I’m With Her
I started my fest off by catching I’m With Her, and man are Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, and Aiofe O’Donovan talented! These three are a folk supergroup and deserve all of your attention. Even though their set was kind of quiet, it was just overflowing with skill and beautiful sounds. The closest they got to having any bass was Watkins using her electric guitar as a bass for a song, and all the rest of their instruments were acoustic guitar/violin/mandolin, so the sound system wasn’t being particularly flexed. They also pulled out a cover of Adele’s “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” toward the end of the set, and you should go listen to a version of it right now because they just nail it.
On the other end of the volume spectrum, Lucero made me realize how many speakers they really have stacked up on those festival stages. These guys were far and away the hardest rocking set of the whole weekend. During the set, lead singer, Ben Nichols, openly questioned his decision to stay out until 4AM the night before. Even though the heat and the hangover may have kept them off of their very best game, they absolutely delivered on the kind of badass set that their recorded music promised. They even balanced out that hard drinking and rocking with one of the most adorable moments of the festival, when the band played a song that Nichols wrote for his (soon to be two-year-old) daughter’s first birthday. It was goofy and so, so sweet.
I wish I could have spent more time at the local music tent over the weekend. Wax Fang was the only band I got to catch more than one song from, and they were so fun. They were super high energy, weird space rock. The lead singer was wearing a Cyclops-style eye visor. Of what I saw, they had the only theremin of the weekend and then kicked that theremin over in true rock star fashion after they were done with it. It was weird and different and honestly great, which is exactly what you want from a good local band.
Father John Misty
The divide between Josh Tillman the person and Father John Misty the stage persona is insane. Moments of Tillman came through in the set, like in the awkward, quiet moments between songs, or when he stopped “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” in the middle because he saw someone collapse up front and he wanted to make sure they were okay. He’s a pleasant, kind of reserved guy. Father John Misty isn’t human at all. When a song is playing, he turns into a giant ball of psychedelic, sardonic energy, with wild, flailing dance moves, vocals that fluctuated from a wry deadpan to intense emotion in a second, and some of the most bitter social commentary lyrics around. Seriously, “True Comedy” is a nasty, angry song, and it’s great for it.
Vance Joy is an adorable teddy bear of a human being, and I would like to be his friend. The best part of what I caught of his set was when he would explain what each song was about, and made it abundantly clear that he is a loving, caring person. He just wants everyone to be able to be happy, even in the aftermath of something like a breakup. I would like more people around with that mindset, please.
Apparently, I don’t know Modest Mouse’s music as well as I thought I did, because I didn’t recognize like half the tracks they played. But it honestly didn’t matter because the set was still super fun. It was loud, it was jangly, it was chaotic. It was kinda scream-y and I couldn’t understand a single thing Isaac Brock said or sang. It’s exactly what I was hoping for from a Modest Mouse concert. They kept us wanting more (their set was an hour and fifteen minutes), but otherwise it was a great cap to Day 1.
Day 2 – Saturday
Saturday was a bit overshadowed by the other two fest days, but all the artists I spent time with on Saturday were still really good and enjoyable.
Houndmouth turned out to be the big surprise of the festival for me with a really fun set. They’re a Louisville-area band, so the crowd was hot for them and they delivered with a rollicking set that was just rough enough around the edges to be incredibly charming. Houndmouth’s keyboard player also had the first legit mullet I’ve seen in years, which is certainly one way to let the world know that a band is from Kentuckiana.
Day 3 – Sunday
Sunday had, without question, the three best sets of the weekend. To be fair, two of those sets are bands that I already knew were incredible live, but that doesn’t take away from how amazing they were at Forecastle.
The first amazing set was Trampled By Turtles. It’s been four or five years since I saw them last, but they’re still the fastest band in bluegrass. You can really only appreciate how fast they all can play when you see them in person. If you just listen to one of their songs, for example their new single “Kelly’s Bar”, the immediate reaction is that these guys play fast, upbeat bluegrass. If you get the notion to get out your guitar or banjo and try and play along, you realize that it is so hard to keep up with. These guys are playing way faster than I’m used to, but then when you see them live and see how fast their hands are actually moving, it just blows you away. Also, “Alone” and “Midnight on the Interstate” are still two of the best, most emotional songs for me to hear live. They’re beautiful songs, and perfect representations of love tinged with the sadness and loneliness that comes with life.
Oh my sweet lord, the Punch Brothers were so, so good. I was originally only going to stay for like half this set because I wanted to see Jason Isbell, but they were on fire that I just got sucked in to the entire show. If they had been able to play for maybe 15 minutes longer, then it would have easily been the best show of the entire weekend. They split the hour set evenly between songs from their new album and their back catalogue. Their past hits were all amazing, but the new stuff was all so good that I would have bought a copy of the album immediately if I could have found one somewhere on the festival grounds. Punch Brothers were also the only set that really made the early set hour-time-limits feel like not enough, and the giant “One more song!” chant after they left the stage confirmed that I was not alone in thinking that.
Speaking of the Punch Brothers, Chris Thile really is one of the best performers today. When he’s singing, you can see every ounce of emotion that’s in the lyrics reflected in his face. The shift from cocky confidence to desperation to anger to sadness as they went through “Another New World” was incredible. When he’s playing, he is physically inhabiting his music, jerking and bobbing and gyrating around in synch with his mandolin solos. He is, without question, the best mandolin player alive right now, and it’s awe inspiring to watch a genius work his craft up-close like this.
Before we get to the big finale, the other set I was interested in from Sunday was Dan Tyminski, performing as Tyminski. I’m not a huge fan of the new Tyminski album now that I’ve had some time to check it out. I get what he’s going for, and it’s clearly inspired by the collaboration he did with the late Avicii, but it’s over-processed and flattened by production, which takes away from the outsized voice and sound a long-time music vet like Dan Tyminski can bring to the table. But live, those same songs popped like crazy because you can’t flatten out Dan Tyminski live. The songs came out as big, gruff, well-written country rockers with just enough of a hint of electronic influence to be interesting, rather than being dominated and washed out by the electronic bits. Dan Tyminski is an incredible musician and deserves this kind of solo recognition at this point in his career. Hopefully, he can channel this live awesomeness into a slightly better, more well-rounded second solo album.
Finally, the best set of the festival: Arcade Fire. I was already hyped for this set because I’m a long-time Arcade Fire fan, but they just completely blew me away. You could tell that these guys are a band who regularly play for tens of thousands of people, rather than the hundreds to a few thousands that the other bands in the festival might reach during their usual tours. They had a giant light set-up including a massive disco ball, all kinds of video fun going on, and plenty of choreographed weirdness, especially from Regine Chassagne. They knew how to get a tired festival crowd fired up too, stacking their set with their biggest, hypest songs from their entire discography. Win Butler was even happy to throw in a few extremely pointed political jabs, adding a line about refugees to “Here Comes the Night Time” and telling a story before “Intervention” about how Chassagne’s Haitian refugee father served in Vietnam, while the current president didn’t do anything. They closed the show and the festival with “Wake Up,” which was way more cathartic than I was expecting.
Turns out just screaming along to the opening chants of that song with thousands of other people is extremely cleansing.
Even as their albums get a little more hit-or-miss with the fans, it’s great to know that these guys still put on an absolutely incredible show. I would be happy to go extremely out of my way to see Arcade Fire live again in the future.
As Arcade Fire left the stage, Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” came on over the loudspeakers to let everyone know the set was over. So as everyone started to leave, the entire crowd just started to sing along. I don’t know if there could have been a more perfect, pleasant ending to the weekend than a park full of people smiling and walking and dancing along into the night as they sang the do-do-do’s from that song together. It was a perfect moment, and a perfect image to leave this recap with.