Consequence of Sound: Forecastle Photo Essay

Louisville’s biggest music festival was just a dream of founder JK McKnight over a decade ago in a small urban park. What started off in a backyard grew to a larger park, to an arts center, then finally blossomed into one of America’s best and well-liked music festivals. This year, again with help from Bonnaroo mastermind Ashley Capps, Forecastle invited back many of its previous big headliners (The Black Keys, Big Boi, The Avett Brothers, and Flaming Lips), breakthrough acts (Killer Mike, Night Beds), and a slew of local artists (The Pass, Freakwater) to concoct a cross-genre, wide-appeal lineup.

In the press conference prior to Friday’s kickoff, Mayor Greg Fischer said to be mayor of this city “you gotta love Forecastle.” And that is true – Forecastle is packed with local flavor beyond just the local talent peppered throughout the lineup – from the giant puppets roving the crowd to local food vendors, as well as the giant Bourbon Lodge, packed with the state’s most beloved elixir.

The music backed by Louisville’s beautiful Waterfront Park makes Forecastle a unique experience with many memorable moments. It was tough to whittle all the acts and sideshows down to a select few, but here are the moments that will have us remembering Forecastle 2013 and chomping at the bit to experience what’s in store for next year.

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Saturday afternoon saw the evacuation of some 30,000 people when a storm with high winds flew just south of Louisville. Considering Waterfront Park is an easy two-hour drive from the stage collapse disaster in Indianapolis last summer, organizers played it safe almost to a fault. Luckily, the evacuation only delayed most artists between 45 minutes and an hour from the original scheduled time. Shortly after six in the evening, Kurt Vilecommanded his post, and while the disruption catalyzed myriad sound issues, The Violators plowed through like champs. Kurt and the boys balanced selections from all his three major releases, from the stirring and trenchant “A Girl Called Alex”, to the bucolic electric psych folk of “Jesus Fever”, to closing out on the driving, hypnotic, fist-pump-inducing “Freak Train”. Every baked-out-their-gourd festival-goer nodded along with fervor to Vile’s hour-long, cross-catalog set. As well, Vile’s nod to Andrew WK in his new get-up is a great style.

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Squallis Puppeteers are an absolutely awesome local non-profit that collects talented artists for educational endeavors geared toward both children and adults. Last year, Squallis rolled out a variety of whimsical animals, American presidents, and, if my memory serves correctly, this Easter Island-lookin’ homeboy. For Forecastle 2013, Squallis roved about the crowd with… even more animals, but more impressively, a 15-foot tall Hunter S. Thompson. At night, with glowing red eyes and fluorescent hems, he turned into creepy Cyborg Hunter, and I’ve never been happier to not hold a public office. Please check out this organization, as it’s a shining example of how art directly impacts lives.

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Over the past decade, The Flaming Lips have become the cardinal festival band. You haven’t legitimized your fest until the Lips have redecorated your stage with confetti and fake blood. However, they’ve done the same show for roughly that long as well – Wayne rolling out in the bubble, the animal costumes, big hands, etc. So Saturday night’s performance offered a nice surprise in the form of a new – and, dare I say, creepier – live show. Like the colorful Willy Wonka, there always seemed a bit of a darkness to Coyne’s Technicolor wonderland, and presiding over the crowd on a metallic pedestal holding a (not real) baby hooked to tubes was a bit unsettling. The epileptic lights were still present, of course, as well as various stage props. But the spectacle was more subdued, much like the setlist, which kicked off with “Look… the Sun is Rising” and “The Terror”, as well as a slower version of “All We Have is Now” and a sparse, celestial take on Devo’s “Gates of Steel”.

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About 100 very lucky folks via a Music Allies contest were treated to a second, even more different Lips show the next morning for a special, invitation-only performance at The Muhammed Ali Center in downtown Louisville. The hour-long celebrated the third decade of The Flaming Lips with a retrospective set replete with storytelling, jokes, and Wayne Coyne cookies.

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The best part of Friday night? That the oldest guy in the room rocked the hardest. Former Husker Du frontman Bob Mould’s latest incarnation fully respects the Big Muff and devastating volume. Last year’s Silver Age saw Mould cutting the bullshit and picking up the divining rod once again to recreate what made Minneapolis famous. Mould and his three-piece band were tectonic, and even treated the crowd to a selection of Hüsker Dü and Sugar cuts. I was afraid a barricade was coming down during “I Apologize” off 1985’s New Day Rising, even though the audience was (unfortunately) sparser than other stages.

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Wales’ The Joy Formidable was made for arena and festival milieus. Unlike most shoegaze-revival/newgaze acts, The Joy Formidable borrows only the most muscular elements, as opposed to the most celestial – making them the natural torchbearer to Swervedriver and their ilk. There’s no fear of the double bass pedal on the kit (or a gong), and the ever charming Ritzy Bryan is the most dangerous force in rock. Her unassuming stage presence does not prepare you for the impending sonic steamroller brewing inside the PA. Of course they closed the set with “Whirrings”, but did so in a noise freakout that Wolf Eyes could appreciate.

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They grow up so fast. I first caught Chaz Bundick in a parking lot near UT-Austin at South By Southwest 2010, at the height of the chillwave crisis. I’ve caught him opening for Caribou, in a couple of small clubs, and at Pitchfork Festival’s Blue stage. Because of his grind and affable stage presence, I always wanted to like his live show, but it never connected. Turns out, he needed a bigger boat, and Forecastle’s massive Mast Stage gave it to him. With the background of brilliant blue clouds contrasting the oppressive heat and thousands of sweaty kids (who were all really into the grooves), Toro y Moi was provided the perfect catalyst to launch Anything in Returns heavy hazy summer anthems into the stratosphere.

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Our favorite set of the weekend left me wondering who had more fun, the crowd or Killer Mike and El-P. The duo smiled the entire time and appeared to have the time of their lives while they both took turns displaying their solo work which lead to a closing performance of their new masterpiece, Run The Jewels. After Killer Mike, dripping sweat from the Louisville heat, put on an exhausting performance, he quickly moved from the backstage area out to the front row to take pictures and sign autographs. It was a strong reminder that passion in music will always win out. Killer Mike and El-P love what they’re doing, appreciate each and every fan, and go the extra mile to deliver the highest quality music, both on record and on stage. This was one of the best festival sets I’ve ever seen.