Forecastle Festival: Louisville, KY 07/13/2012 – 07/15/2012

After taking a year off and joining forces with Bonnaroo producers AC Entertainment, the Forecastle Festival returned to Louisville’s Waterfront Park for its 10th anniversary. Initially a gathering of local music artists when it began in 2002, Forecastle has grown to include over 60 major bands across three days, with a distinct focus on the intersection of art and activism.

Day 1 – July 13

Abigail Washburn kicked off the festival Friday afternoon on the Boom Stage. The Nashville-based banjo player was joined by cellist Ben Sollee, for what would be the first of many collaborations at Forecastle.

Following Washburn was The Head and The Heart, who have become regulars on the US festival circuit. Despite having toured non-stop for nearly two years, the band showed no sign of weariness, putting on a joyous and energetic show. Opening with “Cats and Dogs,” they played their debut album almost in its entirety, as well as treating the audience to newer songs “Gone” and “What’s the Point,” the latter featuring Ben Sollee. Sollee, who the band had only met earlier in the day, also joined in on “Winter Song.” Singles “Lost in My Mind” and “Down in the Valley” caused the audience to sing-a-long with fervor and intent, while Charity Rose Thielen’s straight-from-the-gut vocals on “Rivers and Roads” drew wild cheers. With their ever-increasing popularity, it’s surely not long before The Head and The Heart move to the main stages of festivals and achieve minor-headlining status.

Making their Louisville debut, Beach House drew a large crowd as the sun set. Guitarist Alex Scally started their set by telling the masses up-front that they aren’t an audience participation kind of band, and that they would let the music speak for itself. Of course, the comment only endeared the band more to an audience with already high expectations. Scally and vocalist-keyboardist Victoria Legrand then launched into a shimmering set that benefitted greatly from the addition of live drums. Beach House’s “nighttime music” was accompanied by a backdrop of windmills, twinkling lights and smoke, most of which couldn’t be appreciated until the sun finally disappeared with only a few songs left to go. Legrand and Scally have clearly formed the kind of musical chemistry that only comes from playing countless shows together and is nothing short of mesmerizing to watch.

Lucero was an interesting choice to follow Beach House on the Boom Stage, as the two bands could not be more different. The Memphis six-piece was accompanied by a horn section, rounding out their huge Southern-punk sound. Singer-guitarist Ben Nichols bantered easily with the audience, taking several requests, including “Chain Link Fence” and “Raising Hell.” Highlights of the set included a cover of Jawbreaker’s “Kiss the Bottle” and “Slow Dancing,” off 2002’s Tennessee, which seemed perfectly timed with the fireworks from nearby Slugger Field.

With Bassnecter headlining on the Mast Stage, Friday was an eclectic way to start the weekend festivities, leaving the crowd anticipating a packed Saturday line-up.

Day 2 – July 14

Day Two of Forecastle Festival was pushed back by 90 minutes due to thunderstorms. Gates scheduled for 2:30 finally opened at 4:00, and Wye Oak, originally scheduled for 3:00, kicked things off on the Boom Stage at 4:15. A crowd quickly gathered for the much-hyped band, hoping to catch a bit of the live magic so talked about since the release of their excellent third album Civilian in early 2011. Unfortunately, Wye Oak was forced to shorten their set due to the weather delay, but that didn’t diminish the power of their show. The duo, comprised of Andy Stack and Jenn Wasner, played a gorgeous set of indie-folk pop. Wasner has a uniquely warm voice that commands attention, but her guitar skills cannot be ignored. She creates a layer of fuzz and beautiful noise that is the base of Wye Oak’s signature sound, which is absolutely gigantic for two people. And then there’s Stack, who somehow manages to play drums and keyboards at the same time. The band drew a hugely enthusiastic response as it closed its too-brief set with the title track from Civilian.

Almost as soon as Wye Oak stepped off stage, Justin Townes Earle and his band ran on to prepare for their also abbreviated set. Earle rolled with the punches and set up quickly as an eager audience looked on. Earle, who has a completely charming and comfortable on-stage presence, joked about bad relationships, bad apartments and bad new country music, blaming the latter both on Toby Keith and the veering away from the genre’s blues roots. Earle got serious for moment, though, when he talked about the importance of his mother on his life before going into a stunning version of “Mama’s Eyes.” He wrapped up his set with a rollicking cover of The Replacements’ “Can’t Hardly Wait,” which was a real highlight.

Over on the Mast Stage, Dr. Dog proved to be a huge draw, and it’s no wonder. The band was the perfect accompaniment to the sun finally coming out over the Ohio River, as festivalgoers soaked in the summer weather with little sign of the storms that had delayed the music earlier in the day.

Forecastle organizers used the bridges that run through Waterfront Park to their advantage, setting up the EDM-focused Red Bull Ocean Stage under an overpass. It provided not only a relief from the heat, but created a club-like atmosphere, as Adventure Club whipped the crowd into an absolute frenzy early Saturday evening.

Back at the Mast Stage, Andrew Bird had the daunting task of playing right before intensely anticipated headliners and festival curators, My Morning Jacket. Bird, however, proved to be wholly captivating, as he and his bandmates created a dreamy, lush set that drew heavily from his latest release, Break It Yourself.

Easily the largest crowd of the weekend gathered for My Morning Jacket. Forecastle founder JK McKnight and Louisville mayor Greg Fischer took to the stage to thank festivalgoers and to look forward to the festival’s future. Fischer spoke of hopes to expand the festival yet again, from its current small corner of Waterfront Park to an eventual almost two-mile span.

My Morning Jacket arrived on stage around 10 p.m. and tore into an almost three hour set that was clearly a love letter to their hometown of Louisville and their adoring fans. Despite achieving massive national success, MMJ has remained devoted to Louisville, both in terms of the music scene and philanthropy, making them the obvious choice to headline and curate Forecastle’s 10th anniversary.

Opening with “The Dark,” MMJ was then joined by Preservation Hall Jazz Band for “Holdin’ On To Black Metal.” The band peppered their set with covers by George Harrison, The Band, Elton John and Wham, as well as guest appearances from Dean Wareham, Andrew Bird and original MMJ member, Johnny Quaid.

During a four song encore, the band showered the audience with what seemed like hundreds of bananas as they performed George Michael’s “Careless Whisper,” leaving many singing “bananas-nanas” as they exited the park after the show.

But was there any more triumphant way to end a headlining festival slot in their hometown than with an almost defiant “One Big Holiday,” a 2003 song about the band being discovered? The pride the crowd felt for their hometown music heroes was absolutely electric. It was clear this was the kind of show that attendees will talk about for years to come. The delighted audience screamed along to the song as The Squallis Puppeteers danced around the band, bringing Day Two of Forecastle to a thrilling close.

Day 3 – July 15

The third and final day of Forecastle began with Kelly Hogan playing in the early afternoon’s blistering heat to a small but admiring crowd at the Starboard Stage. Hogan, who also tours as a member of Neko Case’s band, opened her set with “Dusty Grove,” a song written by Catherine Irwin, who grew up in Louisville. It was during Hogan’s set that the drawback of Forecastle’s relatively small size became apparent, as the sound from the beginning of Walk the Moon’s Mast Stage set bled over. Making the most of a festival situation, Hogan and her band played along and joked about other festivals they’d played. Hogan’s gorgeous, crystal clear voice was almost enough to make her audience forget about the heat and music from the other stages.

Nearby, under the bridge at the Red Bull Ocean Stage, Krates N Keys entertained the crowd seeking a relief from the sun with their live remixing as The Squallis Puppeteers danced with audience members.

Over on the Mast Stage, Walk the Moon, a band from nearby Cincinnati, continued their set of bouncy power pop. The band’s fans had gathered early in the day, wearing facepaint and the skinniest of skinny jeans, despite the sweltering conditions. The band and their audience mustered as much energy as possible and jumped around gleefully as they closed their set with “Anna Sun.”

Back at the Starboard Stage, Lower Dens trudged through their set, clearly affected by the heat. With the sun pounding down, many audience members stopped by for less than a song before moving on to the vendors and shade under the bridge. The band’s dark, swirling sound would have benefitted from a set later in the day—not necessarily an early afternoon stage time.

On the Mast Stage, Cloud Nothings were a curious choice for a main stage slot. By the time the band was halfway through their second song, Walk the Moon fans who had stuck around were pushing their way through the crowd – in the opposite direction. Wilco fans who had claimed their front row spots early in the day could be seen covering their ears and rolling their eyes. Frontman Dylan Baldi and co., however, delivered a set of wonderfully chaotic punk epics that would have been better suited for one of the smaller stages. For reasons unknown – it could have been the disinterested audience or the fact that Baldi looked absolutely miserable in the heat – Cloud Nothings cut their scheduled one hour set short and left the stage after only 35 minutes.

After Cloud Nothings’ early departure, eager Deer Tick fans began to gather at the Mast Stage. As they excitedly spoke about the band, audience members who were there early for Neko Case and Wilco couldn’t help but become curious about what they were in for. What they were in for was a set of rambunctious alt-country and perhaps the first and only band of the day who didn’t seem to be the least bit affected by the warm conditions. Singer-guitarist John McCauley ended a fun and energetic performance by diving into the audience and crowd surfing in front of the Louisville skyline.

Neko Case was up next, opening with “That Teenage Feeling.” Case was joined by her backing band, including vocalist Kelly Hogan, who had played earlier in the day and joked about the intense heat. Case declared that she was having heat-induced hallucinations, at one point announcing that the audience looked like a giant bowl of fruit that she was ready to eat. There’s no doubt that Neko Case’s fans absolutely adore her, singing along to favorites such as “Hold On, Hold On,” “This Tornado Loves You” and “People Got a Lotta Nerve.” Between her hilarious quips, one-of-a-kind vocals and outstanding new songs, such as the incredible “Calling Cards,” Case was easily one of the festival’s highlights.

Wilco, Sunday’s headliners, played to a noticeably smaller crowd than My Morning Jacket the night before. With the sound from A-Track on a much smaller nearby stage at times overpowering the band, the festival’s space limitations were once again evident. While the die-hard Wilco fans closest to the stage ate up every moment of the 18 song set, which included a Happy Birthday sing along to Woody Guthrie, the band seemed to have trouble capturing the attention of curious festivalgoers who had stopped by to see the evening’s headliners. Even though the band drew large cheers for “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” which was indeed fantastic, many headed out to beat the traffic soon after. Wilco has a reputation for being a great live band, but this time they were overshadowed. As crowds exited the festival grounds, it wasn’t Wilco that everyone was talking about, but rather My Morning Jacket’s stellar Saturday performance.

Photographs by Ashley Brumback, All Rights Reserved.

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