Keep Louisville Weird. It’s the unofficial slogan of a city that prides itself in being different – championing its local shops and eateries, embracing its odd and quirky layout, and advocating its diversity and idiosyncrasies.
It’s not surprising that the city’s own Forecastle Festival, started just over a decade ago, embraces all of the above. Once the little brother of the summer festival circuit, Forecastle has quickly grown from a small local music celebration to a full-blown art, activism and music extravaganza, complete with bigger names, brighter lights and crazier crowds.
Although the scale of the event has changed dramatically since its 2002 inception, one thing has remained unsurprisingly static: Forecastle is undeniably Louisville.
As a former Louisvillian who resided in the city during many of Forecastle’s growing years, I was always impressed with the festival’s diligence to keep things local. As Forecastle’s lineups have continued to balloon, marked this year by the inclusion of Outkast, Jack White and Beck, I was intrigued to make a return and observe the fully realized event.
If you were to classify Forecastle in years past, you might be inclined to label the festival’s musical focus as indie, folk or bluegrass. No more. While those genres are certainly represented, the full lineup spans an array of musical sounds, from electro-pop (St. Lucia, Kygo) to hip hop (Outkast) to punk (Against Me!, The Replacements) to country (Dwight Yoakam).
This combination of eclectic music and big name headliners has resulted in larger crowds and increased exposure. However, with crowds flocking from across the country, it’s clear that Forecastle has made no compromises to its overall vision. Instead, the overall feel of the festival itself has been amplified, making it quite possibly the most peculiar and unique summer festival around.
Louisville’s art scene is in full force, and is not contained to one area, but instead invades the waterfront area from every direction. The Squallis puppeteers venture around the festival grounds with odd creatures and familiar Louisville natives. On day one, a large marooned ship appears to be a prop, but instead becomes an ongoing art project with various artists contributing paint and stylings as the weekend progresses.
Tents are interspersed throughout the grounds featuring artwork for sale, blended with various non-profit and activism opportunities and organizations. The newly added Kentucky Landing offers up the best of Kentucky-made goods and cuisine, putting the best of the Commonwealth on display.
Indeed, it’s hard to find another festival with as many eatery options. In place of the typical and often grossly unhealthy fair food found at most venues, Forecastle offers up local eats to satisfy just about everyone (I personally recommend the vegan red beans and rice). Likewise, the drink options are far from scarce. The Bourbon Lounge offers bourbon connoisseurs member-only access to some of the finest whiskey in the area, while Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine serves up options for those more drawn to the sweeter side.
It’s hard to look in any direction and not be drawn to something of a local flavor. This speaks volumes to Forecastle’s overall mission and determination to keep the festival as a beacon of what Louisville has to offer. In truth, the city’s populace likely wouldn’t have it any other way.
Even though Forecastle is a music festival, one could easily distract himself or herself with the curious surroundings and activities. Nonetheless, the festival’s 2014 lineup is one for the ages and will likely cement Forecastle as a nationally recognized event in the years to come. With an opening night featuring one of the most lauded comeback acts of the year in Outkast, there’s no denying the pull.
Friday’s lineup featured a number of fresh faces for the massive crowd. Against Me! made their first Forecastle appearance with a bang, fresh off the heels of their latest release, Transgender Dysphoria Blues. Local Natives followed on the Boom Stage with their catchy, melodic brand of indie rock, led by vocalist Taylor Rice.
Perhaps the most odd appearance of the weekend belonged to Twenty One Pilots, who turned the grounds into a dance party with their indietronica/hip-hop hybrid. While not the typical cup of tea for most Forecastle-goers, it’s evident that the festival is more than willing to widen its doors to the pop world and its fans.
However, it’s no surprise that Friday night belonged to Outkast. Recently reunited, the duo promised a slew of festival dates around the globe to celebrate their return in 2014. Forecastle attendees were treated to an hour and 40 minute set that featured every major song in the band’s catalogue and then some. With one of the most impressive live productions you’ll witness, Andre 3000 and Big Boi lit up the night sky on the waterfront and proved why they’re considered hip-hop royalty.
Other highlights from the weekend included hour and a half sets from the likes of indie rock giants Band of Horses, country legend Dwight Yoakam and a surprise appearance from Billie Joe Armstrong during The Replacements’ set. Not to be outdone by Outkast’s giant Friday night performance was the one and only Jack White, fresh off the release of his latest solo effort, Lazaretto. White shredded through Saturday night with a setlist filled with newer solo material, White Stripes hits and a few Raconteurs tracks thrown in for good measure.
It’s hard not to be impressed with the sheer scale of this year’s Forecastle Festival. Even more impressive is that the city of Louisville lies at the heart of every move and every moment. It makes sense that this city would refuse to follow in the footsteps of the other major summer festivals and instead blaze its own trail. The fact that it does so with its own residents, artists and musicians leading the way is truly admirable.
So what lies ahead for Forecastle? One could imagine an ever-growing lineup of big name artists while still making room for the usual suspects and local talent amidst an expanding audience. If the steady growth of recent years is any indication, it won’t be long before Forecastle is mentioned alongside the likes of Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo. In the meantime, it’s still a wonderful sight to see this hometown festival liven up the Louisville waterfront more and more with each passing year.
by Kiel Hauck
Kiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.