Photography by Mark Manary
Saturday along Louisville’s waterfront brought an overcast day of unseasonably cool weather for July, and the rain held off for the second and most heavily-attended day of the three-day Forecastle Festival.
Early arrivers reclined on the lawn to watch New Orleans combo Hurray for the Riff Raff get the day started with their sweet-sounding fiddle, upright bass, and organ. A Hammond organ and Leslie cabinet added maximum fragrance to “Crash on the Highway” and helped the band get surfy on “Lake of Fire”. Singer-songwriter Alynda Lee Segarra got rustic at times, frailing on a banjo on “Here It Comes”, a song about throwing yourself in the river, somewhat tempting as the humidity crept up.
Boy & Bear are major stars in their native Australia and wrapped their US tour with this midday set. The five-piece combined New Romantic swoon with Mumfy indie-folk and well-behaved guitar patterns. With all five band members singing harmonies, B&B incorporated ‘70s soft-rock drift on “Golden Jubilee” and “Southern Sun” as drummer Tim Hart stayed busy with a polished playing and bassist David Symes hung out in the 4th position to keep the crowd on their toes.
Over on the big stage, Spanish Gold dispensed a heavy dose of slinky blues-steeped rock, packed with classic fuzz and muscle-car boogie. “Out on the Street” was a highlight with Dante Schwebel’s desert-moon vocals, settling into good long grooves. It was a festive scene as the quartet, featuring Kentucky’s own My Morning Jacket drummer Patrick Hallahan packed a wallop during this jam-inclined set. The set ended with a swinging cover of “Mercy Mercy”, the guitarists crossing swords and sparking good business at the beer booths.
Back on the Boom Stage, Lord Huron attracted a massive crowd for a set of strummy acoustic chooglers and soaring vocals. Singer Ben Schneider’s clean tenor was pushed up front on “She Lit a Fire” and put the cowboy hat on for “Ends of the Earth”. If you’ve heard one Lord Huron song, you’ve heard them all, but the band played nifty arrangements of their best songs, including “Time to Run”, augmented by drummer Mark Berry’s washboard, during a set built for Saturday revelers who brought plenty of beach balls, bubble blowers, and silly hats for the occasion.
The Dap-Kings vamped on the big Mast Stage for a while before bringing out Sharon Jones, introduced as a woman who “kicked cancer in the ass”. Sharon was indeed in high spirits, announcing, “We shout when we’re happy, and I’ve got something shout about! I’m cancer free!” The crowd gave her plenty of love, and Sharon kicked off her shoes, covered the stage with hare-footed dance moves, and sang-shouted at the crowd until her earrings fell off. Tricked out with horn and backup vocal sections, the Dap-Kings in suits and ties provided the soul oomph and Sharon pushed her voice hard on “Get Up and Get Out” and a rattling “Retreat!”
North Carolina quartet Mount Moriah’s studio records are roots-suffused Americana, but there was no twang anywhere during their hour-long Port Stage set. A small crowd gathered to watch singer Heather McEntire blister the stage with punk spirit, her guitar slung down to her knees in her “Linda Ronstadt—Queen of L.A.” t-shirt. The band played some slow hard-rocking bongwater jams with tight guitar and bass the old-fashioned way, with McEntire sounding like a punk Dolly Parton, sending tremors out to the yachts parked in the river for the party.
Jason Isbell sang the most of 2013’s Southeastern for a crowd that attended closely, yowling appreciatively when Isbell belted out songs like “Relatively Easy” and “Elephant”. He had no trouble hitting those big notes on “Cover Me Up”, a set highlight, and finished the set with “Super 8”, a rocking climax that rewarded the crowd that had stuck it out through Isbell’s slower material.
Band of Horses frontman Ben Bridwell eased into their 90-minute set with a solo-acoustic performance of “St. Augustine” before bringing out the band, Bridwell sitting at the pedal steel and singing “The First Song”, the band pounding hard in front of a large backdrop of forest trees. Bridwell’s dog-whistle-high vocals remain a marvel, and guitarist Tyler Ramsey played Travis-style picking before a barn-fire version of “Everything’s Gonna Be Undone”. A delirious setlist—a grand “Great Salt Lake”, a chugging “NW Apt.”, a cigarette-incited “Laredo”—had these guys sweating their neck tattoos off, peaking with a Crazy Horse-worthy take of Neil Young’s “Powderfinger”, the handclappy singalong “Older”, and an emotionally resonant “The Funeral” finished off a satisfying hard-working set.
The crowd shifted to the Boom Stage to see Dwight Yoakam, as close to any “legacy” act at Forecastle this year. Yoakam, backed by a slick-picking band rocking Branson-worthy sequined jackets, scratched itches early with hits like “Little Sister”, “Streets of Bakersfield”, and throwing in snippets of Buck Owens classics “Buckaroo” and “Act Naturally”. The middle of the set was less-familiar to the audience, drawing from 2012’s Three Pears, including the droll “Waterfall”, before covering CCR (“Who’ll Stop the Rain?”) and Johnny Cash (“Ring of Fire”). Yoakam’s final half-hour was a thrill-a-minute, a relentless parade of hits including “Honky Tonk Man”, “It Only Hurts When I Cry”, and “Little Ways”, which saw Dwight doing his trademark roadhouse dance moves across the stage, generating delighted squeals from the crowd. The set ended with “Suspicious Minds”, one of the most high-five-provoking moments of the weekend.
Headliner Jack White opened with “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground”, and his searing guitar leads announcing his intentions to lay waste to this audience. White did so over two hours, digging deep into The White Stripes songbook and strangling the life out of his guitars. The stage was bathed in blue and white lights and three rectangular light boxes descended over the band, a tight unit of drums, pedal steel, bass, organ, and violin. White demonstrated a keen sense of place, first by dedicating a bit of Buck Owens’ “Sam’s Place” (wedged into a countrified arrangement of the Stripes’ “Hotel Yorba”) to Dwight Yoakam and a sweet fiddle-laced “Blue Moon of Kentucky”, an only-at-Forecastle moment, and then an obscure Hank Williams cover, “You Know That I Know”. Jack kept it rootsy for a shared-mic duet with fiddler Lillie Mae Rische on “Temporary Ground” before turning back to dragon-slaying Telecaster fireworks on The Raconteurs’ “Top Yourself” while steel player Fats Kaplin worked a theremin like a demented wizard and drummer Daru Jones unseated himself with hurricane power and sway. Early Stripes tunes “Cannon” and “Astro” were heavy spleen-rearranging jams, continuing through a main-set-closing “Ball and Biscuit”.
Jack didn’t want to quit playing during a 45-minute encore, rolling straight through Forecastle’s 11pm curfew with a hammering “Icky Thump” (with a verse of Jay-Z’s “99 Problems”) before covering Dick Dale’s “Miserlou”. “Fell in Love with a Girl” and “Steady As She Goes” followed, White letting the crowd take key lines, and White went ballistic during “Hardest Button to Button”, hurling himself around the stage and directing his rhythm section to go for broke. A full-tilt “Seven Nation Army” finally sent the capacity crowd into the Louisville night, knowing conclusively that they’d been rocked to muscle failure during a fun and fierce Saturday night special.