Brands make money. Money funds corporations. Corporations sponsor festivals. Festivals draw consumers. Consumers use brands. Full circle, stop. It seems the brand consciousness of consumers and corporations alike have managed to permeate the once seemingly pure world of music festivals – those once saccharine escapes from reality – have now become more akin to weekend getaways for purported music “lovers” to continue to build their Instagram accounts of vapid whimsy and cloudy grandeur. No musical purism to be found anywhere.
Such a cynical perspective seems to have been the prevailing narrative when considering music festivals in 2016 – downed sales at Bonnaroo, and Live Nation/Goldenvoice’s slow creep into festival industry domination – but when you really think about it, when has a festival really ever managed to be a musically “pure” environment? Probably never (yes, including the original Woodstock, the three day marathon of group love, controlled substances, and some music), but that’s okay.
If you’re a musical “purist,” music festivals aren’t for you – you see bands in the dark dingy depths of clubs and subterranean music venues, forever in search of your greatest “discovery.” Music festivals are moments of escapism for the Weekend Warrior that vary in nature and musical variety, and few festivals manage to appeal to such a homogenous crowd as Forecastle Festival, on Lousiville’s Waterfront Park. Unlike its Live Nation counterpart, Bonnaroo – which places its attendees in refugee-like camps under the guise of “magic” – Forecastle appeals to the privileged everyman – those that could quote their exact follower to following ratio on Instagram, and would be the first to tell you that G-Eazy is an incredibly underrated rapper – and that’s okay. Everymen like music, too (as long as its familiar).
There’s a muted beauty to a festival like Forecastle, as the talent bookers seem to be fully aware of their attendee’s wants as much as their musical tastes – iced coffee/Local Natives, Four Roses bourbon galore/Blackberry Smoke, and artisan tacos/Ben Harper – setting the festival up as a selfie-queen(or king)’s paradise. It knows exactly what it is. It’s a place where one can admit the only Death Cab for Cutie song they know is “I Will Follow You In the Dark” because it was the title of a Grey’s Anatomy episode and they really admire Shonda Rhimes’ musical tastes. Forecastle is a festival where someone can show up and confide in the person next to them that they have “no idea who this Ryan Adams guy is (actually had a guy say that to me… Sorry Brandon).”
So with that in mind, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Forecastle 2016 openers were let out adrift to play for unfortunately paltry crowds that had no real familiarity or want to be illumined by fantastic lead off set from the likes of 1200, Black Pistol Fire, Seratones, or Caveman, but rather hit the Bardstown bars before making their way into the festival grounds, so as to be properly sauced to see The Avett Brothers headline Day One.
When you consider the full makeup of the Forecastle patronage, it would probably be best likened to those who take part in celebrating Homecoming Games at an SEC school – everyone is there to celebrate the team (music) on paper, but some place more emphasis on the celebration than the actual game (music). Ironically enough, those who chose to skip the early opening acts were provided with a little extra time to imbibe as the festival grounds were “evacuated” (alarmist language to get all festival-goers off festival grounds to avoid liability for anyone’s death due to “severe weather”) much like Bonnaroo and Governors Ball. So with that in mind, don’t go to festivals with me, because apparently, I bring the threat of vaguely tempestuous weather.
Once the ominous thick clouds that rested in the most mildly intimidating of ways decided to play chicken with some other large group of people out in the open, Forecastle resumed, but this time with a little more fervor, due mostly to the Bardstown crowds having found themselves thoroughly “juiced” and ready to drink at Forecastle. Luckily, the lowered inhibitions brought about by Bardstown made for some fantastic crowd/act interactions at virtually every set. No one seemed remotely as confused as they had been in the earlier part of the day, as Tourist took to establishing the Ocean Stage – which was placed precariously beneath a busy highway overpass – at the official “rave” headquarters of Forecastle, as many a doobie wafted its way throughout the London based producer’s set.
As Day One shifted from day to night, Forecastle saw Wild Child call out the festival’s “institutional” marionette version of Hunter S. Thompson as “fucking creepy” amidst a solid folk pop set, and GROUPLOVE enthusiastically congratulate the Forecastle crowd for surviving the “severe weather” before jumping into “Tongue Tied,” which enacted an all out sprint from those who were not already in the audience, rushing to dance to GROUPLOVE’s hit song during their Mast Stage set.
Back at the under-the-overpass-rave, teens in retro basketball jerseys and deck shoes grinded and gyrated against each other during Baauer’s set, and one young lady was having so much fun, she literally could not contain her excitement and vomited over the barricade. While the massive throngs of Forecastle would have likely held different opinions, Day One was (arbitrarily) won by Nashville favorites (and masters of the festival set) Bully. They played the WFPK Port Stage (because everything needed to be nautically themed), and absolutely crushed every person that came within earshot of the set. Despite Ben Harper playing at the Mast (Main) Stage, Bully managed to enthuse the audience of mostly teens to the point of pseudo-mosh pit euphoria while Alicia Bognanno put on a masterclass in punk rock fronting. It seems as though every Bully set – festival or not – sees the band become progressively more tight and continually cementing their place at the top of the modern rock hierarchy.
While Day One went on a little longer due to the rain, Day Two saw an earlier start, which began in similar fashion to Day One, when early opening sets from Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear on Boom Stage (the designated “Americana” stage) and Jazz Cartier brought some tonal diversity, but didn’t necessarily draw out a massive crowd, and there was virtually no talk of The Avett Brothers’ headlining set the night before, as people seemed uninterested in discussing any of the sets from the day before, and would have rather gotten a bourbon slushie to help pass the time until evening.
Day Two saw a brief Nashville takeover of the WFPK Port Stage, with fantastic sets from MYZICA (despite some minor technical difficulties), Future Thieves, and The Shadowboxers (who showed some Price love to an enthusiastic core of fans). After having some of the catering graciously provided to Press by The Colonel himself, I popped by Pokey LaFarge’s set, which had pleasantly surprising crowd for his mid-afternoon set time, only to be one-upped by Shakey Graves’ set following Pokey’s, which paled in comparison to the crowd that was present for Danny Brown’s under-the-overpass set that saw virtually every teenager at Forecastle (which would be somewhere in the near ten thousands) present for oddball rap and heavy 808s, thus produced a dust storm of sorts with the heavy body gyrations and Millennial meandering about.
Once I managed to navigate my way through the Molly-laced madness that was the under-the-overpass Danny Brown dust storm, it was back to a more mature sounding set from The Arcs, who put on an excellent show, but having seeing their Ryman set from earlier in the year, simply yearned for their Mother Church set. Following The Arcs, it was back to the land of hip double buns and cheap branded sunglasses – that’s right, back to the under-the-overpass rave for the man who produced much of Kanye’s The Life of Pablo, Hudson Mohawke. I’m not sure what I expected, but Hudson Mohawke was one of the most entertaining sets of Forecastle, primarily for the pure goofiness of Hudson Mohawke’s cheesy grin every time he looked up from playing some nasty 808, or sampling some crunchy afro-beat that all the teens went wild for. Furthermore, Danny Brown’s DJ must be a fan, because he felt propelled to hilariously provide Hudson Mohawke with dap in the middle of his set.
The first Mast Stage big draw of the day was Local Natives, bringing ethereal harmonies and wanderlust laden tracks to an exuberant crowd, most of whom seemed to actually be there for Local Natives, thus begging the question of just how big are Local Natives? Who knows, but the set was certainly entertaining, as their upcoming Ryman show will no doubt be. The enthusiasm for Local Natives was interesting, however, as many festival goers admitted to not being fully familiar, but attending under the guise of a friend’s suggestion to see the set. In turn, such a notion highlighted the fact that Forecastle seems to be comprised predominantly of casual fans, almost none of whom would be crazed enough to subject themselves to sitting out in the hot sun to see Alabama Shakes later that evening.
The beauty of such a realization was that if you were on of the few who desperately wanted to see any band at the festival – let’s say All Them Witches – you could casually meander up to the WFPK Port Stage to get prime viewing of the Nashville dudes’ killer set, and then manage to finagle your way to the front of Sylvan Esso’s under-the-overpass set, despite the scads of scantily clad teens experiencing an unaccompanied weekend for the first time. Even Alabama Shakes’ set, which dwarfed any other of the weekend, I managed to wander up to a considerably good spot in the VIP viewing area so as the properly witness Brittney Howard’s gravitas (a descriptor that might actually be an understatement). The Shakes played with the Louisville Symphony Orchestra, which led for phenomenal reproductions of “Sound & Color” with a full palate of sound, and a blistering rendition of “Gimme All Your Love.” Brittany and the Shakes have reached full-fledged rock gods in my book, and their Forecastle set was an immediate indication of such exceptionalism.
Its safe to say that Alabama Shakes won Day Two, though it could be argued that in a wider sense, the day was won by Nashville in general, as every Nashville act seemed to be in primer form. Day Three of Forecastle was amusing if you were able to talk to any working person at the festival, as they would tell you they were “only going to have one drink today,” because they had to work on Monday; like I said, this is the Weekend Warrior’s festival. Day Three saw solid sets from The Suffers, as front woman Kam Franklin managed to use food as a clever analogue for love, which went over very well with the crowd. Nashville made another appearance, this time around with Anderson East’s Mast Stage set, which brought the Weekend Warriors to church despite being at a festival.
Perhaps the most surprising and pleasant set of Day Three was Patrick Watson’s under-the-overpass set, which saw him playing out to an unexpectedly enthusiastic crowd, heightening his brooding electro-moody music as he provided some tongue in cheek banter at the same time. Other standout sets came from the new-look White Denim (who lost founders Austin Jenkins and Joshua Block to Leon Bridges) and a harmony-laden Saintsecta set before Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s fun under-the-overpass set. Then it was off the Mast (Main) Stage for the rest of the festival, to see Ben Gibbard and Death Cab give everyone over the age of 21 high school nostalgia whilst moving around like a manic marionette on stage, and then finally, “that guy,” Ryan Adams. There are few times I can think of Adams ever seeming more enthused on stage than his Forecastle set seemed to indicate, and it was an absolute delight to see.
As I referenced earlier in the lede, there’s a lot of cynicism surrounding the economics and shifting market dynamics of music festivals, sure, but who’s to say that’s the absolute worst outcome? Sure, there was a guy that hadn’t the slightest clue as to who Ryan Adams was, and there were tons of teenagers congregated beneath the overpass virtually the entire festival, but one can only hope that maybe, just maybe that “that one guy” went ahead and saw Ryan Adams’ set, and maybe those teens caught the Patrick Watson bug. Forecastle may be a festival for the Weekend Warrior, for the Instagrammer, the brand conscious consumer, but its ultimately an example of the best-case scenario for the future of festivals as we enter the Age of Live Nation vs. Goldenvoice festivals.