Forecastle Festival | 07.10 – 07.12 | KY

Words by: Frank Etheridge | Images by: Ian Rawn

Forecastle Festival :: 07.10.09 – 07.12.09 :: Louisville, KY

Forecastle Festival 2009
Heading into the 8th Annual Forecastle Festival last weekend in Louisville, Kentucky, it seemed hardly anyone knew what to expect. From fans and bands to vendors and organizers, along with a slew of activists promoting myriad environmental causes, there were plenty of unknowns as this formerly small-scale festival made the jump to the big leagues in 2009. Thanks to the vision of producer JK McKnight, and due in large part to the sure-fire draw two nights of Widespread Panic guarantees and the traveling circus that accompanies it, this year’s Forecastle was a success.

Typically a naval term pronounced ‘fo’ksul’ and defined as the forward part of the main deck of a ship, Forecastle the festival held an oddly executed aquatic theme (buoys and nets hung in trees, pirate emcees at BMX events) in a decidedly urban setting. Backed by the Ohio River and flanked on all sides by tall buildings, its sidewalks, stairways and fountains had a Mall of America feel, especially when you’re tailgating in a parking garage and drawing comparisons to established festival grounds such as the Narnia feel that permeates the forested paths of Rothbury in Michigan or the majestic live oaks of the Spirit of the Suwanee in Florida. There was plenty of well-branded product marketing, but little access to water (though it was quite hot and humid at points over the weekend). These factors proved a bit jarring to many veteran fest-goers.

In addition to a stellar music lineup, a strong element of activism geared toward educating festivalgoers on the need for and means towards achieving sustainable environmental and agricultural practices was clearly an integral part of McKnight’s concept for the revamped event. The activism area, given prominent placement in the center of the festival grounds, featured the Sustainable Living Roadshow, with its information booths on topics such as GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and an earth peace mandala (a concentric diagram that is used as a spiritual teaching tool in Buddhist and Hindu traditions) erected under the direction of artist Veronica Ramirez. Activists were also given plenty of stage time to voice their causes and concerns.

Yet, the info booths looked like lonely wallflowers, their pamphlets and brochures largely ignored, and the appearances on stage drew little reaction from the audience. Perhaps the activism element will mesh more smoothly with the overall festival vibe in years to come as it is more established. And if even one person became a believer in sustainable practices, then it would perhaps be worth the considerable effort.

Even though the crowd, roughly estimated at 9,000 on Saturday and Sunday, was dominated by Spreadheads, over the three days the three stages at Forecastle boasted a diverse offering of DJs, indie, punk, metal, Southern rock, bluegrass and more, featuring polished veterans and hungry up-and-comers. Panic was the icing on this cake, capping off the festival with a marathon show on Sunday of epic proportions.

Friday, 07.10

Cage the Elephant :: Forecastle Festival 2009
The energy surrounding the Galt House, the stately, historic hotel annexed to the festival, bubbled up from excited to electric early Friday afternoon. Clearly, the carnival was in town.

Cage the Elephant, a punk band from nearby Bowling Green that garnered the most attention in the local media, kicked off the large West Stage, delivering a fast and furious set at ear-splitting decibels, as frontman Matt Shultz moved about with an Iggy Pop-like swagger. Next on the smaller East Stage, Nashville’s The Young Republic performed a solid set with a unique sound that moved on heavy percussion mixed with doses of psychedelic guitar, bluesy harmonic, violin, ragtime piano and crazed chord progressions.

The program had “Last Pick Promotion Winner” listed next on the East Stage. “Damn,” I thought, “what an unfortunate name for such a kick-ass band.” I soon found out the band’s real name was The Last Straw, and their short set simply killed. A last-minute addition to the festival lineup, this fearsome five-piece from Murfreesboro, Tennessee played with the ferocity of a caged animal. The sweet slide guitar work of guitarist Quincey Meeks, who played and looked like a rock star with his mirrored aviator shades, is a perfect match for the soulful-yet-forceful, Southern-fried vocals of Kyle Daniel, and the entire band performed with a cohesive tightness. Expect them to be added to many festival lineups in the future.

Hailing from Athens, Georgia, The Whigs‘ heavy rock-pop, mixed with just a hint of Pink Floyd, came next on the West Stage and was followed by the orchestral madness of Zappa Plays Zappa, with the late Frank Zappa’s son, Dweezil Zappa, leading his band through a set of his father’s music. Considering the compositional complexity of the music and the fact that it’s drawing from such an extensive catalogue of more than 80 albums, this is no small task. But lead guitarist Dweezil, who thrilled the crowd with a number of deft solos, has amassed a band up to the challenge, featuring the excellent work of saxophonist and keyboardist Scheila Gonzalez and lightning fast vibes play of Billy Hulting. This set was more like a seamless symphony than a rock show. Judging from the thrilled audience reaction, Zappa Plays Zappa seems to be the perfect vehicle to keep the timeless music of Frank Zappa alive.

Hackensaw Boys :: Forecastle Festival 2009
The Hackensaw Boys crossed the Appalachian Mountains from their Virginia home to the Bluegrass State to deliver some rowdy, foot-stompin’ bluegrass as the sun set on the East Stage. Those that have listened to the Hackensaws only via their studio albums, where their superb musicianship and reverence for old-time traditions are readily apparent, are not quite prepared for the balls-to-the-wall frenzy that marks their live show. Fiddler Ferd “Four” Moyse was in fine form, frenetically working his instrument and securing the crowd’s affection by the time they hit “Oh, Girl.” The band never took their foot off the gas and went full tilt into “Blue Eyed Girl,” “Look Out Dog, Slow Down Train” and the raucous “Cannonball” to close their set.

I’ll admit to being a bit close-minded when it comes to DJ music, ignorantly wanting to dismiss musicians in this genre merely as “button pushers.” Pretty Lights, which by virtue of featuring drummer Cory Eberhard doesn’t qualify as purely DJ music, has been tearing up the South in 2009 and earning rave reviews from almost everyone who has seen them. The first impression I had was, “Pretty Lights has… pretty lights.” The light show was nice, sure, but the level of energy Eberhard and DJ/producer Derek Vincent Smith created during their set was blissful, accessible and alive, qualities I’d never thought I could experience with electronic music. Eberhard proved top-notch in keeping time with Smith’s deep, penetrating grooves. As the band wound down “Cold Feeling,” Smith threw out a deep bass reverb that shook the festival grounds and rattled the bones of everyone there. An excellent show, and those that attended their late night Saturday set aboard the Belle of Louisville reported an amazing time.

Dan Auerbach – The Black Keys :: Forecastle Festival 2009
Jason Isbell appeared as his own version of the Man in Black during his set with his 400 Unit band, pouring his soul into both heartbreaking ballads and up-tempo rockers on the East Stage. After “Never Gonna Change” and a rollicking cover of the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer,” a staple of the band’s sets, “Goddamn Lonely Love,” a brilliant, piercing bit of disheveled poetry that is perhaps the best song Isbell has ever written (recorded with the Drive-By Truckers on The Dirty South album), came next. The opening lines, “I got green and I got blues/ and everyday there’s a little less difference between the two,” have been the only companion for a man that has sat, heartbroken and depressed on a living room floor with this song on repeat amidst a graveyard of empty bottles and cashed bowls. So soothing and saddening, what more could you possibly ask for in a ballad? This tune alone should cement Isbell’s reputation as one of the finest songwriters performing today. The band continued with a number of rockers, with enough expert jamming to throw in a Zeppelin riff at one point, and finished with another incredible piece of songwriting, “Outfit.”

The Black Keys were electrifying as they closed out the West Stage Friday night, their raw blues still intact from their Fat Possum label days and now rounded out well with distorted rock accents. Guitarist-singer Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney never slowed for a second during this set, hitting a sweet stride as they closed with the bouncy, rocking “Till I Get My Way.”

Continue reading for Saturday’s coverage of Forecastle…

Saturday, 07.11

The New Mastersounds :: Forecastle Festival 2009
The weekend ushered in a far larger crowd than Friday. A few of them on Saturday afternoon were in the Silent Disco, a bizarre wigwam near the East Stage, with people fist-pumping and noodling with headphones under pulsing lights as silent beats were laid down by a DJ. An odd case study in mob mentality, behaviorism and the collective conscious, the Silent Disco, a big draw at Bonnaroo, certainly had an allure, but it seemed too early to get that weird.

The all-instrumental set by The New Mastersounds had the crowd grooving to happy rhythms, which came across as a jazzy, jammed-out sound with a nice touch of Afrobeat’s adventurous patterns. The skilled, yet soulful, guitar work of Eddie Roberts was a clear highlight.

Next, Athens, Georgia’s heavy-hitting Dead Confederate was a welcomed antidote to the friendliness of The New Mastersounds, scattering more than their share of hippies with a loud, dark wall of sound. The drums, screams and guitar crunch hit hard in the faster numbers, but the band, reportedly one of the favorites of Panic bassist Dave Schools, drew slower, spacier moments out expertly with a Radiohead-like approach.

Chris Robinson – The Black Crowes :: Forecastle Festival 2009
The Black Crowes rank high on my list of all-time favorite bands, though the majority of this passion is saved for Marc Ford-era albums, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion and Amorica, the former a blistering Southern rock boogie and the other a serene slate of introverted psychedelia. Warpaint, the album created with new guitarist Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars), returned the band to its former glory in 2008 and I was thrilled to finally see the band live with Dickinson.

The Crowes started off with several Warpaint tunes before launching into “High Head Blues” from Amorica, with the outro jam clocking in at more than five minutes as Dickinson simply ripped it up and down the scale as Chris Robinson shimmied about the stage in glee. The ballad “Thorn in My Pride” still held its crisp, pristine poignancy, but it too possessed an extended jam. The band’s latest single, “I Ain’t Hiding,” recorded during the recent Cabin Fever sessions at Levon Helm‘s studio, has a distinct disco swing to it, but sounded great with an infectious energy. Next, Chris picked up an acoustic guitar for the Southern-style sing-along “Poor Elijah.” The band nailed old classics “Jealous Again” and “She Talks to Angels” to close their set. The Crowes look and sound reinvigorated, with driving, searing improvisational jams, courtesy of Dickinson, augmenting their signature sound. And with a new album soon to be released and the band seemingly always on the road these days, great things are in store for The Black Crowes.

John Bell – Widespread Panic :: Forecastle Festival 2009
Following an “Evenin’, Louisville” grunt from frontman John Bell, Widespread Panic kicked off their two-night run with the instrumental “Disco,” always a good omen. The song sent the crowd into a unified form as a gyrating, amoeba-like mass of heads, lights, sweat, smiles and snarls. The classic “Pigeons” came next, and while not the best version, a vocal change by Bell to draw out “remember… remember… remember…” was a great example of the spontaneous lyrical and inflective switches that are one of his trademarks. A drum breakdown marked the middle of “Climb To Safety,” which paused before an extended “Papa’s Home.” The hard-charging “Protein Shake” > “Sewing Machine,” a couple of Vic Chesnutt tunes featuring monstrous guitar riffs perfectly suited for Jimmy Herring, and a swampy jam leading into “Rock” highlighted the remainder of the first set.

The second set lacked the pure heat of the opening one but still packed plenty of thrilling moments, including a haunting build up to the “What’s everybody gonna say? What’s everybody gonna do?” line in “Henry Parsons.” With the band playing well past its announced midnight closing time, they only had time for one song in the encore: the expected, but appreciated, “Action Man,” a tribute to the thoroughbred greatness of Man o’ War, perfect in this home of horseracing that drew plenty of hoots-and-hollers with the line, “My old Kentucky home.”

Continue reading for Sunday’s coverage of Forecastle…

Sunday, 07.12

Cinninger & Stasik – UM :: Forecastle Festival 2009
On Sunday, I finally discovered the Ocean Stage, encased in a tent next to a fountain and dedicated primarily to local DJs. Being able to cool your feet in the splashing fountain (its spray delightfully imbued with prisms of light) was a welcomed respite from the crowds and heat. The Ocean Stage also revealed producer McKnight’s determination to not only offer diverse styles of music but also help promote the local Louisville scene.

Kim Sorise, a beloved alumni of The Mighty-Fine Ninety-One Nine, the listener-supported, commercial-free 91.9 FM station in Louisville, spun a stellar rotation of deep and rare grooves on vinyl from ’60s and ’70s funk acts during her afternoon set. Her playlist echoes that of another favorite community-radio great, DJ Soul Sister on WWOZ in New Orleans, who shares her passion for old-school funk (in fact, the introduction to 91.9 was one of my highlights from the weekend in Louisville, with late-night DJ Woodrow playing old-school rock & roll and R&B from midnight to 6 a.m., an ideal soundtrack for late night shenanigans). Despite the small crowd, 91.9 FM DJ Matt Anthony, host of “Friday Night Sound Clash,” was in attendance at Sorise’s set.

Forced to play on West Stage openers Outformation‘s gear, Umphrey’s McGee, running on fumes from having played late at All Good the night before, still managed to pull off a great set. “Morning Song” was an early highlight, but the band really had the crowd moving with them during “The Bottom Half” sandwiched around “Alex’s House,” which led to a set-closing “JaJunk,” which stretched out over 12 minutes and concluded with a masterful guitar crescendo.

Jeff Austin – YMSB :: Forecastle Festival 2009
Rising Atlanta indie band Gringo Star captivated their mid-sized East Stage audience with a blend of Beatles pop and the type of intense chord progressions that is the stuff of Quentin Tarantino soundtrack irony. With hints of garage, surf and new wave, the avant-garde stylings of Gringo Star will be interesting to watch develop.

Just before Yonder Mountain String Band‘s set, another representative from the Sustainable Living Roadshow took the stage. Beginning with exhortations to “all brothers and sisters” and talk of “our planet” and “culture, love and music,” the speaker clearly had good intentions, but we all know what the road to Hell is paved with. Under the stage moniker Dr. Feel Fine, one activist went into a Sesame Street-grade rap about biofuel, oil addiction, the ozone and going over the falls without a barrel. Granted, this message can’t be heard enough and the rap did draw a smattering of applause, but the medium of expression was in turn both heavy-handed and goofy and seemed a bit lost on the crowd.

It’s no secret that Yonder vocalist and mandolin player Jeff Austin is a talker. He spun some quality yarns during their short Forecastle slot, reliving memories of being shunned by the more-traditional, button-downed crowd at the International Bluegrass Music Association conference once held at the Galt House, gatherings renowned for their all-night picking sessions. The onstage banter seemed to take up a disproportionate amount of time during the brief set, but Yonder, on the last day of an exhausting tour before heading home, still shined throughout. The percussive, dark “Death Trip Baby” kicked things up a notch before banjo player Dave Johnson was introduced as he led the sped-up bluegrass beauty of “Wonder Why I Love You Like I Do.” “Ten” segued into “Holden” followed by an excellent version of “Ramblin’ in the Rambler” to close their set.

Domingo “Sunny” Ortiz – WSP :: Forecastle Festival 2009
It’s a truth well known to Panic fans that you never miss a Sunday show. After their close to Forecastle no one should ever attempt to disrespect this band or say they have lost their edge, because it was a near-lethal marathon that excelled throughout and left their fans shattered, thrilled and beaten like a pack of rented mules. The band maximized their three-hour time slot, defying the advertised two-set performance to perform one long 18-song set, followed by a three-minute break and a four-song encore.

The infectious “Who Do You Belong To?” kicked the show off well, followed by the drums and whistles intro to a nasty “Fishwater.” Keyboardist John “JoJo” Hermann had his first song of the night next with “Visiting Day,” which found his vocals and playing in fine form. The show really turned into a monster midway through the set with “Driving Song” > “Tie Your Shoes” > “Drums” > “Under the Radar” > “Blight” > “Driving Song.” “Under the Radar” is a sinister jam that’s been creeping up on many setlists of late and seems like it’s here to say. At this point, everyone realized there would be no set break. Yet, the boys didn’t skip a beat as they muscled through a rocking “North,” the ragtime swagger of “Blackout Blues,” the silky-smooth funk of “Slippin’ Into Darkness,” which all melted down nicely for the friendly send-off of “Porch Song.”

The band came right back out after the break and began with the poetic “Expiration Day” before Schools thumped an intro to a cover of “Stop Breakin’ Down,” which found Bell howling and growling. The refrain, “Stuff’s gonna bust your brains out, baby/ Make you lose your mind,” perfectly captured this show’s essence, which at this point verged on sensory overload. Panic lyrics as a soundtrack to life never rang truer than one of the closing lines to the “Space Wrangler” that came next, with “cheers to friends so near!” finding many reunions embracing in hugs, toasting cups and slapping fives throughout the crowd. A short, fast “Give,” with its talk of the carnival coming to town, was a great way to wrap up an amazing show and weekend.

Forecastle was a welcome addition to the 2009 summer festival circuit. A gracious host with a proud musical heritage, Louisville merits its own major fest. The activism element, despite a lack of interest and awkwardness in its implementation, is vital and valued. It’ll be interesting to see how Forecastle grows, but by the simple virtue of booking Panic for two nights, and supplementing that with a solid, diverse roster of other acts, the festival drew the needed numbers and provided a damn fine time.

Continue reading for more pics of Forecastle Festival 2009…

Images by: Ian Rawn

Cage the Elephant
The Afromotive
The Avett Brothers
Scott Avett – The Avett Brothers
Seth Avett – The Avett Brothers
Parker Gispert – The Whigs
Chris Robinson – The Black Crowes
Luther Dickinson – The Black Crowes
The Black Crowes
Dan Auerbach – The Black Keys
Patrick Carney – The Black Keys
Pretty Lights
US Royalty
Dweezil Zappa – Zappa Plays Zappa
Erin Hill and her Psychedelic Harp with the Space Rats
Walker Howle – Dead Confederate
Sam Holt – Outformation
Umphrey’s McGee
Brendan Bayliss – Umphrey’s McGee
Ryan Stasik – Umphrey’s McGee
Ben Kaufmann – Yonder Mountain String Band
Yonder Mountain String Band
Widespread Panic
Jimmy Herring – Widespread Panic
Dave Schools – Widespread Panic
John Bell – Widespread Panic
Widespread Panic
John Bell – Widespread Panic

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