Well, when there’s an outdoor festival, you’ve always got to expect the unexpected, and for a second year in a row, Forecastle got the unexpected shoved at it. Thanks, weather. But more on that later.
The day started uneventfully enough as I went to see Sarah Jarosz perform. There was quite a sizeable crowd for her, the first act of the day, and many of them in costumes and weird body paint. I consulted my schedule and realized the Flaming Lips were playing that stage later in the day. I spent most of the time, covered in sweat, wondering how these people with face masks and reflective silver capes and wigs and silver body paint weren’t absolutely dying of the heat. Props, y’all. In her early 20s, Jarosz is another artist who makes me feel epically old with how talented and accomplished she is. With a fiddle player and a cellist, she delivered a fantastic set of bluegrass and country tunes, including a cover of a Joanna Newsom song, and mentioned that she’s just wrapped up work on her third album, so hopefully we will have more from her in the future.
After her set, I made my way to the main stage to check out South Carolina-based husband and wife duo Shovels and Rope. Embarrassing factoid time, I picked up their album when I was in Minneapolis last year, and then it promptly went into the pile of “stuff I’ll listen to eventually” and now seven months later, I’d never gotten around to it. Well, don’t I feel dumb, because they were amazing! Take Matt and Kim and swap the synths and indie rock for a great rootsy, rockabilly vibe, and you’ve got Shovels and Rope. The duo, Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst swap roles easily, with one on guitar and the other on drums and keyboards. Hearst is a real powerhouse on vocals, and I look forward to seeing more from them… and finally listening to their album.
After their set, I wandered around for a bit, got some food, and tried to figure out how I was going to spend the rest of the day, whenever an announcement came that due to impending inclement weather, the festival was being temporarily evacuated. Last year, there were such severe thunderstorms and torrential downpours that the start of one day of the festival was actually delayed for a few hours. I’m guessing that I just bring bad weather luck to Forecastle. I trudged back to my home base and waited around for a while. No weather materialized and the festival was repoened within about an hour or so. I continued to laze about until later, though, as the midday portion of the fest didn’t have much of interest to me.
I finally wandered back in time to see Freakwater perform. They had a smaller crowd, facing stiff competition from The Alabama Shakes on the main stage, but Janet Bean and Catherine Irwin served up their excellent authentic alt-country. Bean has a vocal style that I would love to aspire to have. Her mouth opens and these amazing, big songs come out. Their set felt natural and heartfelt and comfortable, the kind of stuff that I really connect with. They haven’t released an album in years, but have been working on new material, so I hope to see something else from them soon.
I spend most of the rest of the day wandering about, half-listening to bands, including Nosaj Thing and The Joy Formidable, who I’d actually wanted to see, but didn’t have the energy for battling the crowd at that stage, so listened from afar instead. I made my way back to the main stage in time to catch most of Jim James‘ set, and while I haven’t heard his new album, I will say that this man never appears to get tired. Ever. At all. I don’t think he stood still at all for the 90-minute set. He alternated between vocals, saxophone, and guitar, and was a madman, a whirling dervish of hair and beard and flailing that was to be admired. Towards the end of the set, he slowed things down with a more acoustic section, including his closer, an acoustic cover of “Let It Be”. And while I doubt James knew this when he played the song, the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial had just been released. I was sitting on the lawn, scrolling through tweets from friends of outrage and heartbreak, hearing James softly croon, “When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be.” I don’t know, I don’t aim to inject politics in this post, but it felt poignant, and also sad and troubling at the same time.
I debated whether or not I wanted to stick around any longer after James’ set, and aimed to just wander for a bit more when I came across Matt and Kim performing. And no matter how meh I feel about their music, especially recorded rather than live, they put on such an energetic, non-stop show that I found myself standing there for most of their set. Their enthusiasm and sheer joy at playing is infectious, and the crowd loved their antics. Is it the cleanest, slickest, most intellectually challenging music I heard all day? Nope, but Kim’s huge smile as she pounds away on her drums is worth standing there watching for a while. I’m glad that they’ve never lost that sheer joy of performing.
Coming next: day three, wherein I have a whole lot of tough choices to make in what sets I see.