The Forecastle Festival
20 Jul 2014: Waterfront Park Louisville, Kentucky
Photography by Mark Manary
Day 3 of Louisville’s Forecastle Festival saw its first bursts of sunshine of the weekend as temperatures steadily crept up and attendance held steady, shattering previous levels for the fest. The sun brought both energy and fatigue to a crowd that had been stage crawling for three days and nights along Louisville’s riverfront, taking in a marathon of roots rock and ‘90s nostalgia. River inlets serve as large public fountains, merging the river with the promenade, and the heat had festivalgoers wading in the inlets’ waterfalls. After all, with Forecastle’s nautical motifs, lifeguards are on hand, as are mermaids and an EDM-thumping graffiti-covered tugboat. Not so oceany is the I-64 overpass that runs over portions of the park, which a few musicians made mention of as their stage perspective offers ceaseless views of semi-trucks rolling by. The fest could use more portable toilets as lines to use them grew uncomfortably long, especially with beer booths doing brisk business, selling out of the festival’s flagship Sierra Nevada ales by midday Sunday.
Early Sunday, Lucius captivated fans warming up on the festival’s final day. Dressed in matching green bathroom-tile dresses and white wigs, singers Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig faced each other, their keyboards rubbing together, and sang luscious harmonies over their infectious pop sounds. The keys and guitars soared with rich, swelling melodies on “Don’t Just Sit There” and an especially jubilant “Turn It Around”, which incorporated a section of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” in a smile-inducing finish.
Sharon Van Etten
Sharon Van Etten played to a larger crowd over on the Boom Stage, the festival’s second-largest. Fronting a band—like Van Etten, dressed in all black—the singer-songwriter locked eyes and harmonized with her keyboard player, who added roller-rink organ to Van Etton’s drowsy vocals. “I’m usually upset when I write”, she told the crowd, a disclaimer of sorts ahead of her melancholy love-hurts songs, but much of the audience was ready to wallow with her. A stylish guitar lacquer over the songs—“Afraid of Nothing”, ”Save Yourself”, a slow-building “All I Can”—embellished a bass that snaked around Van Ettens’s warm alto, capping the set with a pair of aching Lexapro ballads, “Your Love is Killing Me” and “Every Time the Sun Comes Up”, which reminded the audience to hit the sunscreen.
Brett Dennen followed Van Etten, getting his groove on at the main stage. Playing barefoot in jeans and a flannel shirt, Denned played “Surprise Surprise” early and demonstrated his gangly crazy-legs dance moves beneath his acoustic guitar. Things got funkier with “Losing My Mind”, a below-the-waist jam featuring sopping-wet bass and Dennen’s rhythmic dynamism. Despite his six-foot-six frame, Dennen is quite a mover, feeling the rhythm to his bones, and as he roamed the stage—after a microphone-cord-tangling delay—he thrilled the audience on the simmering “Who Do You Think You Are?” Jumpy tunes from Loverboy (“Comeback Kid (That’s My Dog)”, “Sydney (I’ll Come Running)” gave dancers plenty to work with, and a Camaro-rocking “When We Were Young”, featuring Dennen’s laid-back turkey-fried tenor, was a prime feel-good moment.
Sunny skies for Trampled By Turtles, who were, given the gargantuan crowd that gathered to see them, booked for the wrong stage. The audience spilled back all the way past the overpass, too far back to clearly hear or see the band even though hundreds of people settled for that vantage point, facing vaguely stageward as the Turtles played. Even those closer to the action had trouble at times connecting to band’s new songs, some of which—like“Wild Animals”—were interminably slow, and correspondingly unable achieve emotional liftoff with the big crowd. A frenzied thrash-grass attack is, of course, Trampled by Turtles’ bread and butter, so on older songs “Wait So Long” and “Walt Whitman”, the band repurposed their bluegrass instruments into clattering percussion devices. The crowd pogoed along, giving the sonic mess the benefit of the doubt.
“Welcome to the Voyager. Can I take your order”? Jenny Lewis asked at the outset of her sparkling hour-long set on the Mast Stage. Candy-colored cartoon clouds and stars covered her shirt, blazer, boots, and Martin acoustic, a reflection of the bright California rock from her upcoming album, two of which, “Just One of the Guys” and “She’s Not Me”, opened and closed the show, respectively. In between, Jenny—all shades, red lipstick, and rock-star swagger—covered her career, including three Rilo Kiley tunes, and brought out The Watson Twins for “You Are What You Love”. “Get a load of these guys!” Jenny said, pointing at the twins, stunning with their all-white clothes and ephemeral harmony vocals. The emotional peak came as her five-piece combo, along with the Watsons, dropped their instruments and formed an a capella choir behind Jenny and her guitar for “Acid Tongue”. “I’m pretty stoked to see the Replacements”, Jenny told the crowd. She wasn’t alone in that regard, but Jenny roused plenty of enthusiasm for her own very cool star turn.
Nickel Creek hit the Boom Stage, part of their reunion tour after a seven-year break. The big crowd for their show was a reminder that this band sold millions of albums in the ‘00s, as was songs like “The Lighthouse’s Tale” and “Ode to a Butterfly”, classic Creek songs the crowd knew well. The instrumentals were reminders that Chris Thile is a peerlessly incredible mandolin wizard, and even though somnambulistic songs like Sara Watkins-sung “Anthony” and the Thile-helmed “Helena” tested the patience of a festival crowd that had been standing for three straight days, ripping instrumental “Elephant in the Corn” dazzled. The Creeksters really hit a stride at set’s end, with “When You Come Back Down”, barn-sex rocker “Hayloft” from the new A Dotted Line (featuring a particularly libidinous vocal from Sara Watkins), a final sizzling “The Fox”, with Thile picking with tremendous velocity and precision as the crowd erupted.
Forecastle leaned heavily this year on ‘90s stars and today’s upstarts, so when The Replacements hit the Mast Stage, it took the audience all the way back to the ancient ‘80s, and singer Paul Westerberg and bassist Tommy Stinson, the only two remaining from The Replacements’ classic lineup, wasted no time getting back to their roots, ripping into punk-kid versions of “Takin’ a Ride” and “I’m in Trouble”. Billie Joe Armstrong was the band’s third guitarist throughout the set, playing sinuous rhythm back by the drums, excited to be sitting in with his heroes but otherwise calling no attention to himself. Westerberg sounded superb, occasionally cracking wise, calling the Louisville crowd “Lexington”, calling the band “a Replacements tribute band”, and claiming to be adult hoboes: “Brother, can you spare a quarter…of a million dollars?”, a reference to extreme dollar figures commanded by festival headliners these days. Later, Westerberg smashed his guitar to smithereens on the stage, during, curiously, “Merry Go Round”, the ‘Mats’ least-rocking song of the day. Stinson and Armstrong beamed in response, as Armstrong grabbed the guitar’s remains telling Stinson, “That mine now!” Westerberg went flat on his belly to play harmonica on “White and Lazy” and took a seat on the drum riser to sing “Androgynous”, after which he said, “That’s a good song. I’ll admit it”.
The setlist was a ‘Mats’ fanatic’s delight—familiar tunes “Kiss Me on the Bus”, “Tommy Gets His Tonsils”, and “I Will Dare” were here, but the band got obscure on outtakes like “Nowhere is My Home” (“Our one-day rehearsal didn’t pay off”, Westerberg claimed after the song) and “Message to the Boys” (played for the fest time ever at Forecastle). “Love You ‘Til Friday” singed the crowd, especially with a middle section that morphed in Chuck Berry’s “Maybelline”. During “Can’t Hardly Wait”, Westerberg’s mike stand collapsed, and when Armstrong played roadie and fixed it, Westerberg planted a kiss on the Green Day frontman’s mouth. Such was the mood. Leave it to the Replacements to play deep cuts for the encore, but a mashup of “I Don’t Know” and “Buck Hill” was a thrill for long-suffering Replacements fans who were all smiles during a set that exceeded already-high expectations.
Given the mellow gold of Beck’s new album, speculation circulated that the Sunday night festival-closing set would a chilled-out affair. Those predictions couldn’t have been more wrong, as Beck brought the disco inferno to Forecastle. Opening with an innards-rattling “Devil’s Haircut” augmented by kaleidoscopic digital graphics on the backdrop video screens, the big stage pumped out lawn quaking bass and drums. “Black Tambourine” and “The New Pollution” continued the career survey, surging light and sound, and Beck did his best James Brown moves and worked the crowd hard. “Think I’m In Love” was an early highlight that hit fever pitch when it mutated into a spot-on cover Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”.
With only an hour and 15 minutes to play, Beck knew he had to bring the party fast and furious, so “Loser” came early (with the crowd taking the “Why Don’t You Kill Me?” line, a strange moment). “One Foot in the Grave” highlighted Beck’s gutter-rat harmonica, and later Beck played some steamy guitar leads, making like Prince, soloing over flashdance rhythms. Beck dropped the pop irony for a songwriterly section in the middle of “Lost Cause” and the two singles from Morning Phase, “Blue Moon” and “Waking Light”, embossed with ambient swirls, before returning to the everydork shtick for a final run. There was no half-stepping on a righteous “E-Pro”, before Beck introduced his band while the song transformed for a brief, exhilarating tease on the Rolling Stones’ “Miss You”. Beck strung yellow crime-scene tape in front of the stage, for anyone tempted to violate “Sexxlaws” in the encore. “Debra” featuring Beck’s considerable falsetto was next, as Beck promised the ladies in the house “love, tenderness, potpourri, and expensive pillows”, transforming Louisville into “Make Out City” before “Where It’s At” brought it on home. It as a whopping finale for a fully satiated crowd and a Forecastle Festival that was bigger and better than ever.