Forecastle Delivers the Musical Goods Again

by Elijah McKenzie

Our town is infatuated with festivals.

We’ve got Nulu Festival, Germantown Festival, the Butchertown Art Festival and just about every other festival named after the neighborhood in which it takes place.

Louisville even holds a weeks-long celebration to honor “the most exciting two minutes in sports” and we do so with boat races, a 12k marathon, and the nation’s largest fireworks display. We simultaneously pay homage to the late Dr. Hunter S. Thompson with Gonzofest, even in spite of his infamous commentary criticizing those aforementioned two minutes of sports.

We’re an odd bunch, we Louisvillians. Perhaps it’s our unique mixture of southern charm, Midwestern simplicity, and urban cosmopolitanism. Or maybe it’s because we simply know how to party.

I personally like to believe our city loves to celebrate all the things because of an unspoken affirmation that, indeed, there is something here for everyone.

Now in its 12th year, it’s safe to say that Forecastle has become Louisville’s premier music festival. Launched in 2002 by JK McKnight, the Festival was seen as an attempt to create a space where artists, concert hippies and social activists could groove together and change the world.

Insider the Bourbon Lodge at Forecastle with the Billy Goat Strut Review
Insider the Bourbon Lodge at Forecastle with the Billy Goat Strut Review

Since then, the Festival has evolved into a juggernaut of an event that’s spawned two parody festivals to help generate hype for the real thing: Halfway to Forecastle, and now, Poorcastle.

We sure do love our festivals.

In the early days of Forecastle – long before it became a familiar fixture on the waterfront – the Festival was routinely held at varying outdoor venues like The Belvedere and Tyler Park: the place where it all started.

Forecastle once featured speakers like Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who, in 2008, gave a speech about the importance of environmental awareness and stewardship. Nonprofit organizations used to teach workshops every year about voter empowerment and community outreach.

Hearing people say something to the effect of, “Oh my goodness, did you hear Henry Louis Gates is coming to Forecastle this year? I can’t wait to hear his lecture on income inequality!” was nearly as common as hearing the excited squeals for the next headlining band.

As Forecastle seems to be hitting its stride, attracting popular artists like The Flaming Lips and Robert Plant, it’s become obvious that the Festival has shifted its focus away from the activism and is now more about the music. Even still, Forecastle has continued to draw artists from a wide range of genres from all over the world, thus proving to concertgoers that it still has something for everyone.

First, there was Outkast, who kicked off its set with the crowd-pleasing Bombs Over Baghdad (B.O.B.). Big Boi and a wig-clad André 3000 dropped some familiar beats from their repertoire and provided enough of their signature blend of R&B and hip-hop to draw people from every corner of the Waterfront to the Mast Stage, where the packed crowd reached as far as the expressway overpass.

Up next was Jack White, an act that was possibly one of the best live performances I’ve ever seen. Ever.

Not only did Mr. White deliver the goods – offering favorites from his days with The White Stripes and The Raconteurs – he gave the audience a sampling of his penchant for turning any tune into a blues-rock masterpiece.

Midway through his set, White gave a nod to fellow Forecastle headliner, Dwight Yoakam, and infused a bit of country into his rock n’ roll. “Y’all people of Kentucky know a thing or two about a fiddle, am I right?” White asked the audience as he delved into a cover of Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”

Then there was Beck – the Bob Dylan of pop music.

Now, I’ve never played on-stage before, but I can imagine it isn’t easy to be the last headlining act on the last night of a three-day music festival. However, Beck nailed it. He nailed it good.

Opening with radio-friendly “Devil’s Haircut,” Beck carried the show high on his shoulders as he recurrently pulled a harmonica from his pocket and reminded us of how we fell in love with his music back in the 90’s. He wisely waited until closer to the middle of the set to unleash his iconic track “Loser” upon an audience that roared with satisfaction.

It’s strange now to think that Forecastle has only been around for a little more than a decade. It seems like every year, people schedule their entire summers around the celebrated festival in order to avoid missing out on one of those special “Forecastle moments” like the time Green Day frontman, Billie Joe Armstrong, joined The Replacements on-stage at Forecastle 2014.

Of all the festivals Louisville loves to celebrate, there are few that rival the awe-inspiring array of diverse talents at Forecastle, where there’s always something for everyone.