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Forecastle Music Festival held its 15th annual showing of music, arts, and activism this weekend. Located in Waterfront Park, uniquely enough, underneath the highway in Louisville, the festival is nothing short of eccentric. Forecastle may be one of the bigger festivals in the Midwest region, and definitely has the sense of distinct features that set it apart. However; it’s ultimately dwarfed by the likes of Bonnaroo, Electric Forest, and Lollapalooza. (That speaks volumes, because if you know me, you know I’m not a fan of Lollapalooza). Forecastle was a lot like Lollapalooza, however. Just a smaller, Kentucky version.
More local people went to the festival, rather than any other place. That’s fine, but it says something that it didn’t attract tons of people from outside the state or region. The festival was littered with high school kids wearing fake Chinese made basketball jerseys, and most of those kids hanging out by the EDM stage doing illicit substances. (Correlation to the Perry’s Stage at Lollapalooza).
We entered the festival Friday evening in time for the bigger artists to start performing, and with a little time to explore and get to know the grounds as well. One thing besides music and arts that Forecastle prides itself on, is Bourbon. 95% of the world’s Bourbon is produced in Kentucky. Yes, 95%. An absolutely unfathomable number. One of the headlining activities to do while at Forecastle is to go into the Bourbon lodge, where all ages are allowed, but must be 21 to enjoy the goods. As a result of this, along with the seemingly countless other alcohol vendors there, you can imagine the amount of intoxicated people at the festival. Some of those people are fun to interact with, while some, in fact aren’t.
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Notable sets from the first day at the festival included Waka Flocka Flame, Cage the Elephant, Run the Jewels, and Odesza, in that order. One thing that caught my attention was everyone but Odesza started at least 10 minutes late. That’s the only festival I’ve been to where artists consistently came on late. However, the music definitely made up for it.
Cage the Elephant, a Kentucky born and raised group, rocked my socks off for the third time. Matt Shultz’s on stage presence is unlike any other, resembling the likes of Mick Jagger. That goes for his outfits, which was an all dark green suit, pants and a blazer in this case, and his quirky, energetic dance moves. They played for an hour on the headlining stage, playing a fair mixture of their discography, centered around their 2015 album Tell Me I’m Pretty. They loved playing for the Louisville crowd, and have a great sense of loyalty toward their home state.
Next came Run the Jewels. They played at the Boom stage, which was a straight walk from the entrance of the park. They started around 9 o’clock, and my oh my was it fun to watch. Killer Mike and El-P had the crowd chanting “RTJ!” “RTJ!” “RTJ!” the entire set. While their music was something that generally you’re supposed to rage to, they sent a very aware message while on stage. “If you see the person next to you fall down of have trouble, pick them the f**k up,” said El-P in between songs. The duo’s energy on stage was electric, and they held goofy conversations on stage between songs. I’ve been waiting to see Run the Jewels for a few years, and the set did not disappoint at all.
The festival closed with a vibey set from Odesza on the headlining stage. They played from 10-11:30, and gave us a perfect mixture of what an EDM show should consist of. The duo stood up on stage playing foot-tapping drum rhythms that accompanied their mixes. They both had silhouette figures on stage, standing in front of a big screen that consisted of numbers of trippy visuals. It was a wonderful way to close out day one of the festival.
Saturday started a lot earlier than Friday did, in terms of live tunes. Sets by the Shelters, Jack Harlow, Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, Sturgill Simpson, and LCD Soundsystem.
The Shelters came on at 1:45, and played until 2:30 at the Boom stage. They played most of their self titled debut album that was released back in 2016. The band actually had the ability and privilege to work with one of their musical idols on the album in Tom Petty. Vocalist/guitarist Chase Simpson was shredding throughout the entire set. The band was nothing short of entertaining to watch. They are an up and coming band in the music industry, be on the lookout for them.
Young rapper Jack Harlow took the Ocean stage, underneath the highway bridge at 3 o’clock. His DJ played a collection of bangers before having him come out on stage to get the crowd’s energy ready. Jack came on and performed a handful of his project 18, including hit song “Ice Cream.” I was new to Harlow going into his set, but he was a good example of a new artist I discovered while there.
Folk group Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats took the main stage at 5:30 in the scorching heat. They were one of my sleepers from the weekend. Nathaniel’s vocals were raspy but so deep and powerful. He also played a mean tambourine throughout the set. “It’s important that you care more for the person next to you than yourself,” he said while on stage. They did a tribute to rock legend Chuck Berry during the set as well. The band closed with their hit song “S.O.B,” which was very dance inducing to the entire crowd.
Kentucky based country artist Sturgill Simpson followed on that same stage. Aside from a few technical difficulties, that Sturgill actually played off quite well, the set was flawless. I’m not a country music fan really by any means, but Sturgill gives the genre a nice bit of pizazz. With exceptional guitar playing, and his old school sounding vocals, he was very entertaining to just listen to live. His ultimate dad fit of jeans, a t-shirt, and Adidas sneakers topped it off quite well.
And the headliner, LCD Soundsystem. Not my first time seeing them (Bonnaroo 2016), but it was just as good, if not better. The group had a two hour set to close out day two of Forecastle, and I don’t think I stopped dancing for one minute. They played both of their new singles off their upcoming album “american dream,” and “call the police.” The entire group is so eerily interesting. They were drinking wine on stage while performing these insane rhythms using a plethora of instruments. James Murphy’s voice took me away with “New York, I Love You, but You’re Bringing Me Down.” The large disco ball on stage with them shined bright lights upon the crowd full of dancing. They were, without a doubt, the best set of the weekend.
One of my favorite parts about the festival in my opinion was the landscape. The park is absolutely beautiful, and having it run along the coast of the Ohio river with the highway bridges as a backdrop make for one of the most beautiful sunsets you’ll ever see.
There is also nothing short of tons of beautiful artwork that can be found at various locations at the festival. Graphic design artists made some beautifully distinctive art pieces of movie & TV characters, artists that frequently perform at Forecastle, and other commodities. Major shoutout to any and all artists who worked on the pieces that were at the festival.
Not trying to seem harmful or mean towards anyone, but the people at Forecastle were my least favorite part of the experience. As a whole, people were not very interactive toward each other. I’ve also never seen more out of control drunk people at any festival/concert before. Now this doesn’t speak for everyone. I met a handful of cool people throughout the first two days. But the people who attend these events play a critical role in the experience and whether it’s deemed good or not. Major downfall there.
It seems the beauty of festival culture is slowly but surely being ruined by younger high school/college kids who are just looking for a reason to party and do illegal substances the entire weekend. I met a middle aged man during Nathaniel Rateliff who was jokingly saying, “I came to festivals before it was cool.” While he was (kind of) joking, there is a bit of truth to that statement. Now, not to say that partying isn’t apart of music festivals, but if you’re paying $200-$400 for a weekend at a music festival, why wouldn’t you spend it by discovering new music, new people, and new opportunities? Just my two cents.
Overall, Forecastle is a festival that prides itself on bringing artists from Kentucky to the festival, having a beautiful landscape, and spreading activism of environmental health and art. It definitely had its good and not so good features.
As Anthony Fantano would say, y’all know this is just my opinion, right?
Junior at Ball State University studying photojournalism. Lover of music, travel, and photography.