I’d sworn off outdoor festivals for a little while, once they stopped being fun, but the lineup for Louisville, Kentucky’s tenth annual Forecastle Fest swayed me. The lure of a good road trip was also a bit too good to resist, and so here I am, in a hotel on the Louisville waterfront (although my view is of the roof of the building next door, so I’m mostly using my imagination). At first impression, I am absolutely in love with Forecastle. It’s everything I’ve always wanted from Lollapalooza or Pitchfork, only without 95,000 people and with far less douchebaggery. That’s saying something, because there is a lot of douchebaggery in Chicago. (See: anyone’s tweets from Pitchfork this year.)
After arriving at the festival, I headed for the Boom Stage (all the stages have nautical names) to see Abigail Washburn kick off the festival. I hadn’t heard her music prior to a few days ago when I was trying to sort out my schedule for the festival. Her headshot showed the neck of a banjo, so I figured, well, sign me up. She absolutely did not disappoint. She started the set alongside Kai Welch (keys, trumpet, guitar & vocal) on an a cappella song, and though the crowd was small, they were pretty rapt through it. Her songs are rooted in folk music, but draw from all sorts of traditions, including traditional Chinese music. That’s right, Washburn is fluent in Chinese and has spent time in China. She sang what could only be described as a Chinese torch song, the way she belted out the words, accompanied by Welch and special guest Ben Sollee (this won’t be the last you see of Sollee today, either). From there, she moved on to a traditional folk song based off of a 1930s recording from South Carolina. Washburn really won me over during her set, and I will definitely be looking to acquire her music in the future.
I stuck around the Boom Stage to see The Head and the Heart next. They’re another act which I was only vaguely familiar with. Their songs have popped up while I’m listening to Pandora or Spotify but I honestly never got around to really digging in to. I mostly know of them because Pitchfork absolutely skewered their album when reviewing it. Well, you know what, Pitchfork can suck it because they put on a fantastic live show. (I checked out the album on Spotify as I started drafting this post, and it does seem to lack a bit of passion, but still.) Their music is the sort of indie-Americana that’s not quite as authentic as what you hear from more well known acts like the Avett Brothers, but it was an engaging show nonetheless. Ben Sollee came out to join The Head and the Heart as well — they’d never met before the show, but were introduced and brought him right out. (Sollee’s a busy guy; he’s playing his own set on Sunday, and I’m going to hazard a guess that he’ll pop up at collaborator Daniel Martin Moore’s set on Saturday, as well.) They really won me over with “Rivers and Roads”, which touches on gospel traditions and has an amazing intensity live that isn’t matched on the studio version. I don’t know, Pitchfork can hate all they want, but I walked away a fan, so, you know, whatever.
I spent some time wandering after that, checking out the layout of the festival. I ate a delicious King of Pops popsicle, which I learned about through Mel, and despaired of ever eating, since they are pretty specific to the south, where I do not live, but there they were! I was pleased and would eat again, no doubt.
Meanwhile, I followed the sound of music to the Mast Stage (the festival’s main stage) to see Minneapolis hip hop group Atmosphere. The group incorporates a large variety of sounds in their show, and I was really drawn to their use of sung vocals and acoustic guitar on several songs. The crowd seemed to be into it, as well, as the main stage was pretty well packed for the duration of the set. Atmosphere’s lyrics are pretty introspective; it’s not your stereotypical rap show. At one point, rapper Slug paused to talk about all of the hands in the air and the way people are moved by music, and mentioned that for many people, this is as close to church as they’ll get. That’s an idea that’s resonated with me for years — I feel far more at peace at a good show than I think I ever did during my church-going years — and I was pleased to hear someone else raise the point, as well.
After Atmosphere, I did significantly more wandering, not feeling all too interested in the other bands for the evening. I ate some food, did some shopping, sat around in a giant inflatable chair. The usual. Eventually, my wandering took me to the Starboard Stage, where I caught the last half of Dean Wareham playing Galaxie 500 songs. Now, go ahead and judge me, but I didn’t have the slightest idea who Dean Wareham or Galaxie 500 were, but I was pretty much an instant fan of his set. (I have since Googled myself an education.) The crowd was small — they were up against Beach House — but fully engaged in the set. The reimagined Galaxie 500 songs took on a dreamy sort of tone, perfect for the cool, dark evening in Louisville.
That was it for the bulk of my show-going. I watched Sleigh Bells from afar, not too interested in joining the dancing, writhing mess at the main stage. They sounded fantastic from a distance away, and their light show was awesome! It’s not a style of music that I am too well versed in, but I enjoyed it immensely as I sat in a giant inflatable chair and people watched. I caught a few songs by Lucero, who I’d really wanted to see, but had to bail because I was starting to feel kind of gross. I was tempted to go back for Bassnecter after resting in my hotel room for a bit, but, well, the call of this giant mound of pillows was just too great.
I get to do it all over again on Saturday, which is Andrew Bird day! Hooray!