With Forecastle and Lebowski Fest both celebrating their 8th anniversaries this weekend in Louisville, Ky, it’s hard to believe there’s room at the inn! But I found the Motel 6 just north of town, across the Ohio River in Jeffersonville, Ind., that did indeed have a vacancy for me. Almost immediately after checking in, I get a call from my old partner in crime, my once and future Bonnaroo buddy, photographer extraordinaire Keith Klenowski. He’s waiting for me at 5th and Main in downtown Louisville by the main entrance to this year’s Forecastle Festival.
So I put on my cowboy hat, gather my things and head for the Belvedere, a riverfront park where the multi-stage music festival is already underway. I park downtown and walk north towards the river. The gate is easy to find, I hit will call and I spot Keith right away. The park facility is a nice grassy spread, lined with sidewalks and concrete stairs. The Friday night crowd is just beginning to swell and already the park is turning into a concrete clusterfuck. In truth, it always takes a moment to get one’s bearings upon entering a big festival like this. Keith snags a Forecastle schedule with a park map for me and we begin to plan our evening.
Cage The Elephant is rocking out for the late afternoon crowd in front of the main stage, which is called the West Stage. This main stage area is circled by the usual booths hawking food and beverages and other knick knacks. To the east are two more stages, a smaller “Rock” stage called the East Stage, and a stage featuring Hip Hop and Electronica called the Ocean Stage. The dancing, DJing, MCing, representing, pounding bass and bouncing sweaty bodies under the tent in front of the Ocean Stage are set off by the peaceful, cascading beauty of a waterfall fountain that gurgles and splashes just 30 feet in front of the stage. It actually seems to be in dangerously close proximity to all that sound equipment and lighting gear. But the smiling, red-faced dancing throngs don’t seem to notice at all, kicking off their shoes and wading to the electronic beats.
It is indeed a strange juxtaposition: people cooling off in the water like they’ve done since the dawn of man, awash in the deafening electronic sounds of Hip Hop booming from a system just 10 yards from the fountain. I’d forgotten how hot it gets inside a port-o-potty in July, so after relieving myself I returned to the fountain by the Ocean Stage just to splash a little water on my face. I rather like the urban setting for this festival, but the park itself seems barely big enough to contain Forecastle. In fact, the aforementioned Ocean Stage is directly facing the back of the East Stage and all around the Belvedere one can hear throbbing noise from other areas in the small park. These two stages in particular seem a little too close together.
That said, the Louisville skyline is a beautiful backdrop for this super diverse Rock festival whose two main stages face the river. This is the sort of park set-up and festival setting that Cincinnati could but seemingly refuses to learn from. All the usual wares and fare were available for purchase here, including ice coffee, soda, frozen lemonade, jewelry, women’s clothing like skirts and belts and scarves, tie dyed bandanas, hats, purses, bags, backpacks, pot stickers, burritos, grilled cheese, quesadillas, beer, Red Bull, Southern Comfort, and all the typical t-shirts and tour merchandise from each of the bands performing at the festival.
At 6:30 p.m. Keith and I catch the beginning of The Whigs’ set. At first they struck me as an unremarkable Pop Rock group, but soon the threesome kicked up such a noisy frenzy that I was won over. The rhythmic thunder of drum pounder Julian Dorio I liked immediately. And after watching and listening to The Whigs for 20 minutes I finally had to admit that I really had no idea how Parker Gispert and Tim Deaux get all that noise from a just a guitar and a bass. Good stuff, really. Many layers of sound from a three piece. At one point I thought I heard a Farfisa in the mix but I could not spot a keyboard on the stage during The Whigs’ set.
Wandering through the already sunburned and red-eyed masses back over to the East Stage, we see Cincinnati’s Lions Rampant launch into a roaring set. Keyboardist Dan Mecher sits out the first tune but rejoins the band after some stage crew heroics produce the missing instrument cable that held up his participation in the opening number. It was a stage crew member racing across the festival grounds on a bicycle who saved the day and upon his return, still on a speeding bike, he heaved the instrument cable over the heads of the crowd into the waiting hands of another crew member who quickly installed the missing electrical link. Mecher’s keys and voice were in the mix from the second tune onward and none in the crowd were even aware of the stage crew’s typically stoic heroics. With the city skyline and the towering Galt House hotel looming just behind the stage, the Friday night crowd swelled and many lingered to enjoy the Lions’ set. Lions triumphant.
Like always at a big festival like this, there were many hilarious moments of people-watching. One of my favorites was a guy walking around dressed like a medieval elf. The pompous, condescending expression on his face seemed to imply that the rest of us were the ones that looked like idiots. Classic.
The Friday night highlight for me was Zappa Plays Zappa. Dweezil pays tribute to his papa by leading an amazing band dedicated to keeping Frank Zappa’s music alive. Perhaps now more than ever Zappa’s music sails over the heads of most listeners. But the Friday night crowd seemed to respond to it favorably, with a lot of grey pony-tails and Zappa t-shirts in attendance. Zappa is a huge influence on Phish and on the Jam Band scene in general, so it was interesting to see the festival crowd’s overwhelmingly positive reaction to Dweezil and crew. Though some of Frank’s odd time signatures definitely confused the noodle dancers! In a crowd of dancers normally accustomed to swaying together to pretty straightforward, 4/4 type stuff, many were bumping into each other, falling out and about, and often just flailing wildly, struggling to find the beat. At times this scene looked less like dancing and more like a collective seizure or tantrum. Something to see, for sure.
I have to admit, though — the more I walked around, the more cynical I felt. I am sure that a lot of my poor attitude was just me being a scornful and crabby little bitch cuz I got very little sleep the night before. With my neck and back aching and my brain barely functioning due to lack of sleep, the summer sun took a steep toll on me and my mood. I am not the most experienced festival goer. And I don’t think I’ve necessarily been spoiled by the couple of times I have attended Bonnaroo. But walking around on hot concrete sucks compared to walking around on cool grass. I doubt if anybody would argue with that. To be fair, Forecastle can boast a lot more shady trees to huddle under than the ‘Roo. So chilling in the grass, laying on my back in the shade, listening to the music was enjoyable for sure. Always is.
I was happy to discover some very interesting art installations, sculptures, and glass blowing exhibits on site at Forecastle. There’s an entire section of the festival grounds dedicated to booths featuring info on sustainable living, recycling, organic farming, and all the usual environmental groups and green-minded organizations. I walked through Forecastle’s Sustainable Living Roadshow area with a sense of cool discovery and a respectful awe and affinity for the people who were working there. All volunteers, most likely. God bless ‘em. And somebody involved with organizing this festival, admittedly a HUGE endeavor, saw to it that these green groups and organizations would be well represented here. Bravo. That’s great. Fight the good fight. Get helpful info out there to further the movement.
(Photos by Keith Klenowski)