TVD Live: The Forecastle Festival 2012

After attending Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits, Coachella and several iterations of Lollapalooza and Pitchfork, it is Louisville’s Forecastle that has been my most enjoyable total festival experience, to date.

Forecastle began in 2002 as a free summer festival built to celebrate and support Louisville’s music community. For its tenth anniversary, Forecastle’s production team joined forces with AC Entertainment – which produces Bonnaroo and Moogfest – to create a higher-profile experience curated by Louisville legend, My Morning Jacket.

In its second year at Waterfront Park, the location offered incredible sunsets over the Ohio River, and lush scenery that made it easy to relax. For me, this was also one of few festivals in recent memory with a high ratio of “bands to see.” And despite sharing the experience with friends wanting to balance their Americana with EDM, the festival’s size and layout made it easy to separate and meet up. As an aside, the Kentucky bourbon-tasting tent was a most convenient meeting point between shows. Cell phone service was also a plus.

On Friday, shows started after 5 p.m. with Tanlines. They played in full daylight, in front of a mediocre light set (reminiscent of Hasbro’s light-bright), and under a freeway. Needless to say, this was not the best set-up for these two. They made light of the situation though, giving the audience some of the humor on-stage that has made them famous on Twitter. We didn’t stay to finish their set, but I don’t think they would blame us. They seemed to be using the time to warm up for their after show (on a steamboat). Which I’m sure was amazing.

Following Tanlines, Friday’s highlights included Houndmouth and Sleigh Bells.

Not even a year old, Houndmouth is the “up-and-coming” Kentucky band to speak of, and there is a lot to say. The quartet combines powerful vocals and well-rounded musicianship for a sound rooted in American folk and roots music. Recently signed to Rough Trade Records, the band’s first EP is scheduled to be released August 27th (U.K.) and 28th (US).

Houndmouth’s Forecastle show reportedly drew an audience of close to 1,500, making it the group’s largest crowd to date. The magnitude of this performance was visible on the band members’ faces, which brought a charming humility to the show that had the audience cheering in support.

To me, this show best exemplified Forecastle’s spirit of camaraderie for the local Louisville music scene – even Jim James was spotted supporting the group, stage-side. It’s apparent that Houndmouth has quite a road ahead, and a quickly growing fan-base that will happily stand behind them along the way. Those that were lucky enough to catch this show were treated to a unique and memorable performance.

Sleigh Bells was another highlight of Friday’s lineup. I was disappointed with their second LP, Reign of Terror, as a follow-up to Treats; but their set list flawlessly brought the best of both albums to life, introducing the congruence needed to explain the bridge from one album to the next.

Alexis Krauss’ stage presence during this show was incredible. Head banging and mosh pits as far as the eye could see, Krauss absolutely dominated the stage, her band and the audience. We left that show doing our own version of kicking-ass – which, for a group of girls, just translated into drop-kicking our empty Bacardi cups all the way to the next show.

After a great first day, thunderstorms pushed back Forecastle’s Saturday start time by one hour. But instead of cutting the first five or six bands from the lineup, festival organizers reworked set times to fit each band within a shorter time slot. My Saturday lineup included Justin Townes Earl, Real Estate, Dr. Dog, FUTUREBIRDS and My Morning Jacket.

FUTUREBIRDS was an obvious addition to Forecastle’s lineup given the buzz they’ve been generating over the past few years – and fit right in among acts like Dr. Dog, Deer Tick and Fruit Bats. Their amped up shows and layered, reverbed sound – reminiscent of the early sounds of Forecastle’s curators – make for a fun and raucous show. The fun they have playing is usually equal to the fun the audience has dancing and watching; however, that equation seemed out of balance during this performance.

Covered in feathers and red lipstick, the show seemed to focus more on their sense of humors than on tight presentation. In fairness, the sound wasn’t great at the stage they played on (it was off for JEFF the Brotherhood’s set too). The audio for the band’s three lead guitars wasn’t appropriately balanced with vocal levels, and bleeding noise from surrounding stages interfered with the spacey rock they bring to closed venues.

They played a long set filled with plenty of new tunes from their upcoming album and wrapping up with favorites from Hampton’s Lullaby. While, for me, their festival showing didn’t top their most recent Chicago show at Schubas, FUTUREBIRDS will remain a favorite…and I can’t wait for the new album.

Saturday ended with an EPIC two and a half hour set by My Morning Jacket – which I am not going to review because I have nothing to say that hasn’t been said better by someone else. Simply marinate on the following: broad set list, George Michael, bananas, puppets, the mayor, legends.

Sunday got off to an earlier start with Lower Dens, Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires, Deer Tick, Fruit Bats, Neko Case and Wilco.

I’ve been excited to see Lower Dens since they released Nootropics in May, but Forecastle wasn’t a great venue for this group. The band’s hypnotic synth-drone sound just didn’t translate well in the humidity, and it was almost too hot to pay attention to the lyrics. It was apparent they weren’t thrilled to be onstage in the muggy heat either, after playing in equally hot, humid conditions on Friday at Pitchfork.

But despite looking desperate for an armchair and a stiff drink, Lower Dens lead Jana Hunter exuded girl power (and apathy) with her side-parted bowl cut and wire-rimmed power spectacles. Despite an incongruous venue, I still enjoyed seeing them – and look forward to seeing them again, in a more appropriate setting.

Reflecting on a great festival, there were a couple of areas I felt could have been improved. The festival layout left a bit to be desired, as stages and set times were scheduled such that band overlap was audible. The bleeding sound was the worst on Sunday night. Overlapping Clutch’s stoner-friendly hard rock and Wilco’s dad-rock is AS TERRIBLE a mash-up as it sounds.

Despite rain on Saturday that pushed shows back an hour, apparently 2 dozen felony drug arrests (a must-read), terrain in places that can only be classified as “dirt sand,” and a bit of an awkward layout for sound, this festival was a major success – and likely one of the few I will return to.

Forecastle had all the charm of a local festival with the lineup of a major production – without the pretention of Pitchfork, the stress-inducing lineups of Lolla and ACL, the manufactured experience of Coachella or the (insert anything) of Bonnaroo. If you find yourself within driving distance of Louisville, I definitely recommend checking this out for yourself.

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