As we’ve been saying every year since our first time covering in 2013, Louisville’s Forecastle Festival is one of our absolute favorite music fests- not just in the region, but in the whole country. It’s not the the biggest or flashiest event of its kind, and you’ll frequently find its performers at many other festivals, but it excels by not trying to be something gargantuan, focusing, instead, of keeping things lean and well-curated, embracing the spirit and culture of its surroundings, and maintaining one of the best laid out, most organized, and friendliest festival environments we’ve ever experienced.
Now in its 16th year, Forecastle 2018 felt like the dependable, varied, and accommodating event we’ve come to expect, albeit with a few more cosmetic tweaks than usual. The Port Stage, the tiniest of the fest’s four performance areas, moved this year from the port to a corner near one of the festival’s entrances, and was reduced somewhat in programming, largely geared towards specialty local fare (it was a cool use for an under-attended stage, but we did miss it being a sort of a riskier, up and coming, well-curated punk and garage rock slate). In the place of the Port Stage’s former home were a couple of carnival rides (including what appeared to be Bonnaroo’s signature ferris wheel), and an even more decked out area for the popular DJ zone the Party Cove. Nothing radically different, but for a festival rooted in consistency, a few changes were refreshing to see.
Of course, Forecastle’s main attraction is the music, and this year’s slate felt perfectly balanced, making great use of the fest’s limited spots to appeal to a a decently wide audience (though, as is increasingly the trend, attendance skewed pretty young). We particularly loved the Ocean Stage this year, expanding from its EDM and hip hop leanings to include even more pop. As always, Forecastle was, overall, a blast, and each time we visit Louisville, we find new things to love about the city and places to explore with every free moment. Below, check out our team’s rundown on the best of this year’s Forecastle Fest, as well as photo highlights from each day!
Flagship. Photo by Nolan Knight
This is my fifth time covering Forecastle, and each year, I find myself counting down the days. It’s an easy drive from Nashville, always well-organized and set up, and Louisville is wonderful to explore, always offering more great food and local sights to see between three wonderful days of music, leaving me wanting to come back when I have more time to explore.
After rolling in Friday afternoon, enjoying some Royals Hot Chicken and Quills Coffee, and finding a nearby spot (cannot overstate how convenient it is to go to an urban festival with plenty of street parking), we made it in just in time for North Carolina alt rockers Flagship.
Admittedly, I wasn’t super familiar with the band before doing my Forecastle prep, but their catchy, electro-laced sound kept them stuck in my mind and in regular rotation on my festival playlist, and in person, they were every bit as fun, resonant, and catchy. The Ocean Stage has firmly become the electronic, pop, and hip hop zone of Forecastle, offering a younger-skewing, constantly buzzing refugee under the highway overpass, and this year’s diverse programming was some of the best of the stage yet; Flagship set the bar high for everything to follow. [PO]
Lucero. Photo by Nolan Knight
After wandering around the grounds a bit to take in the ambience and get a feel for the slightly altered setup (the former home of the Port Stage, which shrunk and moved closer to the festival’s west entrance, had transformed into a Bonnaroo-esque area with carnival rides, decorations, and an even more involved version of the DJ-centric Party Cove), and, already, needing to duck into some shade to cool off and hydrate, I turned my attention to Memphis country punk mainstays Lucero.
Forecastle doesn’t always scratch my punk itch like more specialty-geared events like Riot Fest (though past performances from the likes of The Replacements, Against Me!, and Bully have been epic), so I flock towards anything I can find, and the tried and true sounds of Lucero did the trick, feeling pretty well-suited for the vibe with their twangier tendencies. I’ve only ever been a casual fan, but I’m obsessed with everything I’ve heard from their new LP, Among the Ghosts, and after this fun, honed, and raw performance, I’m eager to catch them in a more intimate space again soon! [PO]
Rainbow Kitten Surprise. Photo by Nolan Knight
Rainbow Kitten Surprise
Prying myself away from Lucero, I wandered from the Boom Stage to see Rainbow Kitten Surprise on the Mast Stage, Forecastle’s main stage (all of a leisurely five minute walk, which, after Bonnaroo, is a godsend). Though Asheville based, these guys have plenty of Nashville ties, and I’ve been keenly dialed into their impressive rise over the last few years, from dingy clubs to a festival main stage in what, to the casual observer, might seem like overnight.
I’ve always dug what they do (and respect the well-deserved success), but, I’ll admit, I’ve never been a superfan, and haven’t spent as much time as I should’ve with their records. Still, I was blown always by how well they translated to the big stage, performing with a confidence and command and lit up their (shockingly massive) late afternoon crowd. I wasn’t not a fan before, but after this great set, I’m a lot more hot on this band. I get it y’all. [PO]
Kurt Vile. Photo by Nolan Knight
Kurt Vile and the Violators
As much as I love the convenience of festivals, getting to see dozens of diverse and decade-spanning acts of all kinds, festival culture has kind of become a too big to avoid necessity for virtually any popular artist looking to maximize their earnings and exposure in the summertime, who might otherwise have spent a lot longer glued to the club circuit. Kurt Vile, I think, is someone I wish hadn’t gotten sucked into festival world.
Don’t get me wrong, his Forecastle set was fantastic- the indie rocker’s patented cool and disaffected gaze in full force from a strong opening of “Wheelhouse” all the way to fan-geared closer “Freak Train,” but every Kurt Vile show I’ve loved the most has been in a small, enclosed space with a bunch of passionate indie fans and a set time that allowed for things to get weird and spontaneous. The set was great, Vile sounded as honed as ever, and, surely, he was one of the weekend’s highlights; it’s just the forum, I think, that doesn’t play as much into the strength of his vibe. [PO]
Father John Misty. Photo by Nolan Knight
Father John Misty
While, as I said above, Kurt Vile is an artist who sounds great at festivals, but perhaps works best in clubs, kindred indie rock spirit Father John Misty might be the opposite. Misty, the alter ego of longtime scene fave Josh Tillman, has delivered some of his best shows in front of huge, enthusiastic festival crowds, feeding off the energy and audience with all of his signature pomp and flamboyance and lovable ego. It’s hard to tell where Tillman ends and Misty begins at this point, but he’s fully ascended into his lovable, dickish, satirical, and poignant persona in a way that’s primed for big stages.
From the moment he stepped out, decked in his signature stylish suit, despite the sweltering temperature, and with his charismatic, movie star looks, Misty had command of the audience, feeding off of the fervent enthusiasm. When he first broke out, I got the sense he was perceived as a more polarizing figure, but I think a combination of people warming up to his persona plus a string of genuinely phenomenal albums has made him less of a novel meta-commentary and more of a genuine indie rock star.
Covering a pretty even range of career-spanning cuts, Father John hit personal favorites like “I’m Writing a Novel,” “I Love You, Honeybear,” and “Ballad of the Dying Man,” a little less boisterous throughout (though still wryly funny and poignant in his banter), and sounding as great as I’ve ever heard him. At one point, he stopped midway through his hit “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” to help as a fan needed to flag down medical attention, jumping back in as the situation resolved without missing a bit.
I’ve long loved Father John Misty the artist, and appreciated Father John Misty the persona, if, occasionally it felt like it took too much of the focus. At Forecastle, though, Misty felt like the perfect balance between the two, and new cuts from this year’s stellar God’s Favorite Customer, especially showcased the most mature and thoughtful side of the singer we’ve seen yet. [PO]
Louis the Child. Photo by Nolan Knight
Louis the Child
I can dig on some electronic music, but it’s not a scene I really follow or consider myself especially knowledgable of. Still, at our photographer’s suggestion, I wandered over to the Ocean Stage to see a bit of Louis the Child’s closing set between Mast Stage acts. With their huge and engaging light show, double DJ platform, and supremely turnt up audience, it was definitely an impressive spectacle. The duo worked the stage, dove into the crowd, and got everyone dancing, providing the much-needed jolt of energy I needed between two much more subdued rock sets (I’m told their after party on a boat later in the evening was even more wild). [PO]
I wouldn’t call myself a Vance Joy fan, but found myself wandering through some of the vendors on the festival grounds during his set, and ended up at listening to the better part of the his set. Vance Joy have solidified themselves as radio-friendly staples, so it’s not terribly surprising, even though I rarely listen to the radio, that I intimately knew most of the songs. That being said, what I wasn’t ready for was the overjoyed shrieking and screaming crowd response to highlight just how popular they have become. The highlight of the set had to be their slightly tweaked, but pretty much spot on, cover of the sing-along worthy Lionel Richie hit, “All Night Long.” [MH]
Modest Mouse. Photo by Nolan Knight
Somewhat embarrassing admission: I actually kind of forgot I saw Modest Mouse headline Forecastle just three years ago. It’s not that they didn’t leave an impression- thinking back, that was a super cool set- but I saw the group several times over the span of about a year a half, as they mounted a pretty exciting full-on comeback, and with all of the festivals I attend each summer, that one somehow faded a bit from memory. Bonus: I got to be really excited to see them in Louisville all over again.
At their last Forecastle headliner, the band had just released their first album in eight years, ending a prolonged and somewhat frustrating period of false starts and slow reanimation. Unsurprisingly, they’ve yet to follow it up (though are teasing that the next LP will arrive a bit quicker), so the vibe of this outing was a bit different- no longer a prolonged, triumphant return, the northwest indie icons have actually settled into festival regulars and scene elder statesmen in just a few short years. About 15 years removed from their biggest hits though, I noticed the much of the younger millennial and gen-z crowd around me, near the front no less, didn’t seem super familiar with them (to put a small demographic difference in context: this 30-year-old writer first discovered Modest Mouse by Googling a lyric from a friend’s AOL Instant Messenger away message in like 2000).
Opening strong with reliable slow build “The World at Large,” Issac Brock, donning a vintage sailor’s hat, and his eccentric band of indie rock weirdos sounded just as enthusiastic and electrified as they were at this start of this prolonged tour cycle. In a truly career-spanning set, they hit on tracks from every single one of their two decades of full-lengths, taking it back with old tunes like “Out of Gas” and “Dramamine,” mid-career mainstays “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes” and, of course, breakout single “Float On,” and the past decade’s singles “Dashboard” and “Lampshades On Fire.” A fitting and fun end to the first day of Forecastle, Modest Mouse were certainly a weekend highlight (and, had it not been for the massive presence of indie peers Arcade Fire two nights later, would’ve been the most memorable rock act of the fest). [PO]
Photos by Nolan Knight.
Biyo. Photo by Nolan Knight
Arriving a day late, hometown boys Biyo were my introduction to this year’s Forecastle. I’ve been a fan of these guys since Vinyl Thief days, and have been keeping an ear out for them ever since I learned about their new project. At their first show a couple years ago, it felt like a piece of furniture from IKEA. I could tell I would love it when it was all put together, but they were just starting to decipher the instructions. Last fall, Biyo put out “Fantasies,” and, while on a trip, I remember instantly connecting with the song and feeling like they’d found a direction. Fast forward to this past weekend, and it was fully formed. The couch was assembled, the cake was baked, and it was like Rachel Leigh Cook in She’s All That when she descends the staircase and is transformed into a 10. People were singing along, the grooves were deep and felt from the front to the back of the crowd, and the Biyo boys looked comfortable and confidant. From that set and the new songs they played during it, I can’t wait for their record or to see them live again, whichever comes first. Biyo is all that. [AS]
After a really excellent, albeit criminally under-attended, set last month at Bonnaroo (which is considerably larger festival with way more stages and overlap), I was thrilled to see Biyo attract a deservingly larger crowd for their afternoon Forecastle set. Amidst a Nashville block that also included Brent Cobb, Daphne Willis, and Elliot Root, the duo did Music City proud with their stylish, sexy, electropop. Though, recorded, the group are a lot more electronic in nature (even doing remixes and the like), their traditional band background is more apparent live, fleshed out with guitars, keyboards, and an accompanying drummer. I was also impressed that that made use of the Ocean Stage’s massive LED screen to display a massive static image of a parking garage with their name spray-painted, which came to life after four or five songs to mess with perspective and angle. These guys only get better with each show, and seem to be on track to become one of Nashville’s next big breakout acts. [PO]
Hiss Golden Messenger
Hiss Golden Messenger was my first “must-see” band of the weekend. I’ve been a fan of their music for quite a few years now, but it seems like every time they have played Nashville, which is quite frequent, I have had other commitments. In an attempt to find refuge from the midday heat, I settled in under the shade of the overpass, near the air-conditioned medical tent, which turned out to be one of the finds of the weekend. The temperature there was 10 degrees cooler than the rest of the festival, but the sound was captured by the surrounding structures and was sonically impeccable. Finally seeing the renowned North Carolina alt-country standouts was an amazing experience.
Rather than their generally introspective recordings, the live show is a more of an Allman Brothers, guitar forward vibe, and lead guitar superstar Phil Cook definitely showed his chops in that role. However, it was frontman MC Taylor’s vocals that tied the whole set together, and let everyone know that this was the genre bending sound of Hiss Golden Messenger. They are a band that don’t really have “hits,” though I certainly have favorite songs (of which, they didn’t play any), but their sound in of itself is a perfect afternoon festival vibe, and made me note that, regardless of other commitments, I won’t miss Hiss Golden Messenger on their next trip to Nashville. [MH]
PVRIS. Photo by Nolan Knight
I love dark alt pop trio PVRIS, and watching them exlode from tiny club shows to major musical mainstays in just a few short years, propelled by their 2014 breakout White Noise, has been such a cool experience. When they were first announced for Forecastle, it felt like one of those inclusions I’m beyond excited for, though I wasn’t sure how their more punk-scene appeal would translate to a general festival audience (sticking them on the Jimmy Eat World day, I assumed, would help). The answer was mixed. Certainly, there some diehards, but with their early afternoon main stage set, the medium sized crowd seemed to be a lot of curious walkups.
Still, PVRIS brought their A-game, performing some of the most honed and anthemic renditions of standout cuts like “Heaven,” “You and I,” “Holy,” and “My House” that I’ve seen from them yet. While their stop last fall in Nashville might’ve been a bit more effective, as the inside control of ambience and lights and nuance suits them better, it was cool to see the young band adapt to this setup, and, of course, especially given the supreme talent, charisma, and propulsive nature of one of a kind frontperson Lynn Gunn, they crushed it. [PO]
PVRIS were one of those bands I’d heard about, would notice when they put something out, but for whatever reason, never felt compelled to listen to. Post-Forecastle, however, that has definitely changed. There have been comparisons to Paramore, fairly so, but where Paramore have explored ’80s and pop sounds on their recent albums, PVRIS seem to hold true to the angsty, pop punk battleground both bands came out of. Dressed in all black, an impressive feat given the heat, PVRIS had the mid-afternoon crowd jumping and screaming along for an intense 45 minute set. If the energy started to lag, frontwoman Lynn Gunn was quick to order our “hands up!” By the end of it, it felt like we’d just completed a pop punk aerobics class in the blistering heat. We were all sweaty, and we loved it. [AS]
This year’s Forecastle was a chance for me to check of a lot of bands that I’d been dragging my feet on seeing. Nashville’s own Elliot Root fell into that category, and I was glad to see they were playing. Rather than familiarize myself with too much of their catalogue, I was excited to see them with fresh ears. One of the habits I have when I go to concerts is observing the audience. I’m almost as curious to see their reaction as I am to see the band’s performance, and I was pleasantly surprised to see several people singing along with their music, particularly on the anthemic “10,000.” Where I have to give it to Elliot Root is that this year the festival moved the Port Stage from the waterfront to the literal opposite corner of the grounds, and downsized its size considerably. Where a lot of bands may have not felt thrilled with this change, none of the members of Elliot Root reflected this and instead gave a heartfelt performance that I’m sure won over several new fans, myself included. [AS]
Morgan Saint. Photo by Nolan Knight
For every festival, especially when I’m assigning photographers and other writers, I make an effort to go through the entire lineup, both so I can go in informed, and also so that I can make a point to cover a variety of artists of all sizes and backgrounds, rather than just flock to the ones I know. I absolutely love discovering new finds that excite me, and doubly so love when they turn out to be every bit as good as my introduction to them had indicated. New York electropop up and comer Morgan Saint was all of that and more.
Rolling onto stage looking super fly, backed by a minimalist band of a drummer and multi-instrumentalist, Saint, a relative unknown, who only recently released her debut EP, 17 HERO, already has the confidence and swagger of a more accomplished star. Clearly, she’s already finding an audience, as some passionate and young fans were piled into the front, singing along with bangers like “Glass House,” “YOU,” “Just Friends,” and “New Regime.” Inserting personal anecdotes between and even letting slip that her debut LP is imminent, Morgan is both astoundingly real and raw, and also a fantastic and energizing entertainer, able to work the stage and deliver her songs with spellbinding focus.
A lot of pop acts opt to perform with a pretty stripped down setup on the Ocean Stage, and sometimes that feels like it detects from the “full” experience you might get in a different setting. It’s hard to carry a whole show with little more than a mic, but Saint absolutely crushed, thanks to her insanely strong voice, infectiously catchy and earnest material, and instant likability. Not a populist, watered down radio singer, though, Morgan has a sort of dark, no fucks given unpredictability and well-defined identity which makes me think she’ll blow up on a similar trajectory to singers like Halsey or Billie Eilish in no time. This was my find of the weekend for sure, and definitely a top five set. [PO]
I settled back into my shaded chill out spot to catch up with another longtime blog fave: Margo Price. Thinking back, it’s truly amazing to see how far this talented woman has come over the past few years. We first fell in love with Margo during her days with Buffalo Clover, and ran a feature on her as a solo artist near the time of the sad dissolution of that band back in 2014. So, to see her today as one of the faces in the movement to save country music is truly impressive, and her live show these days reflects every bit of that energy and commitment. She thrilled the crowd with hits from her two breakout solo records, All American Made (notably, the same title that we gave to our 2014 interview with her) and Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, and also checked herself into the rock star category with some ace covers of Tom Petty’s “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” and the Creedence Clearwater Revival’s mega-hits “Proud Mary” and “Fortunate Son.” If you don’t think Margo Price is the real deal, you clearly haven’t seen her. If you have, then you understand why she, along with cohorts like Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson, Kacey Musgraves, and Jason Isbell, is the reason that the Americana scene is quickly creeping up on overtaking pop country. Side note, if you are looking to update your wardrobe, this t-shirt, which we spotted on a photographer in the press area, warrants serious consideration. [MH]
Jimmy Eat World. Photo by Nolan Knight
Jimmy Eat World
Jimmy Eat World are one of my favorite bands of all time. Discovering them in middle school after 1999’s masterpiece of a third album, Clarity, it was 2001’s Bleed American that both put the band on the map, changed the mainstream trajectory of emo and pop punk forever (squashing nu metal and wack ass early ’00s alternative in the process), and helped move my musical taste in a direction that would have more significant and long-lasting effects than most any other band. 2004’s Futures, the end of my favorite three album run of all time, was perhaps unrivaled in its importance on my teenage years.
I’ve continued to follow them, though a bit more casually, throughout my adult life, have enjoyed their recent output (downright loved some of it, even), and have even interviewed the band for another publication- however, in my heart and mind, Jimmy exist primarily as an important, cool, and classic emo band from my youth, stuck in time and nostalgia. It’s been bizarre to see them shift to legacy act more recently, but also not surprising given the stale state of the mainstream emo scene (underground, it’s flourishing) and their enduring appeal. While a bit strange to see the band pop up at Forecastle, I bet most people could name more Jimmy Eat World songs than Modest Mouse songs, so it’s not an altogether weird fit, and, as my most-anticipated set of the weekend, I was just thankful they were there.
Having just seem play an absolutely perfect show at The Ryman earlier this year (and highly-anticipating their Live On the Green set), I already felt fulfilled, and approached this just as a fun bonus. Smartly playing to their audience, the band absolutely packed the setlist with recognizable hits, pulling predominately from Bleed American, even opening the show with its title track and closing, of course, with a one-two punch of “Sweetness” and “The Middle.” While the The Ryman’s heavy draw from Futures couldn’t have been more perfect, it made sense that they only stuck to the bigger tunes from that LP this time, even skimping on their newer stuff as well (again, they definitely had a pulse on the crowd). Still, it made for one gigantic, joyous singalong, and maybe my first experience ever in five or six times seeing Jimmy Eat World that I wasn’t surrounded by diehard fans, and got to see people light up at familiar hits for the first time. [PO]
I love Jimmy Eat World, and I know a lot of other people do as well. That said, I was still shocked at the late afternoon crowd they drew. It was kind of similar to seeing Third Eye Blind at Midtown Music Fest in Atlanta a few years back. I’d not thought of them in years, and yet they drew at least 25,000 people to a mid day set. Consistent as ever, Jimmy Eat World bounced us through early aught hit after hit, occasionally reminding me of favorite songs I forgot I had. It is truly remarkable that after a decades-long career, these guys still look and sound like their youthful selves circa Bleed American era, eliciting a remarkable level of enthusiasm from a clearly sunburnt audience. Teenagers to mid-lifers all belted along to every hook and call and response, and the band took it in stride as the confidant, elder statesman they are. [AS]
West Louisville Showcase
As Saturday’s heat continued to bear down, I snuck to the press tent to hydrate and cool off between sets, finding a shaded area near the Port Stage from which I happened upon the West Louisville Showcase. A sort of variety show of artists who make up the nine neighborhoods of Louisville’s west end, Forecastle’s “premiere black arts experience” navigated the waters of gospel, soul, jazz, spoken word, hip hop, and traditional African music. I was resting and listening from a distance, but once a drumline emerged, made up up preteens and young teens, the former marching drummer in me was compelled to find a spot in the crowd and watch the supremely talented youngsters bring down the house with so much groove and soul. [PO]
Jenny Lewis. Photo by Nolan Knight
Jenny Lewis is cooler than you, and that’s ok. The last time I saw her perform was actually at Forecastle a few years previous for her Voyager tour. At that time Natalie Prass, who is currently having a breakout run of her own, was part of an epic, stellar lineup of backing musicians. This year’s performance was much more paired down, akin to a band that might be playing in the bar from the Patrick Schwayze’s classic, Road House, complete with Ms. Lewis wearing an outfit resembling a classic red and black paisley bandana. As to why she is so cool, when a male audience member said “I love your pants!”, Jenny casually said thanks and then off handedly added “I wore them for you.” Not snarky, not pandering, but just… cool. That comfortable laid-back assuredness, in essence, was the vibe of her whole set and at one point I remember remarking to a friend “She’s like the female Bill Murray.” Her team of ace players bounced around her stellar catalogue, cooly cheery picking a mixture of fan favorites and deeper cuts, interspliced with a few new songs that have me very excited for whatever she’ll put out next. [AS]
It was just last month that I got to see Jenny Lewis play Nashville’s relatively intimate Basement East, her first live date of the year, and first since officially becoming a resident of Music City. Debuting a new band (of largely local players), that show felt like an intimate, fresh reset after the half dozen or so dates I caught throughout the last four years of her Voyager (and special Rabbit Fur Coat anniversary) run. Voyager was big, lavish, pastel, and epic; Jenny’s 2018 vibe is more intimate, subdued, and back to basics. And that’s a version of Jenny I definitely love.
While she took her Nashville show as an opportunity to test out quite a few new songs, her shorter Forecastle set time meant Lewis had to focus more on the fan-service, pulling singles from both her solo records, Watson Twins collaboration, and, of course, some Rilo Kiley tunes (no Nice As Fuck at either show, unfortunately). On a smaller stage than her last Forecastle outing (and in front of a smaller crowd too – y’all were missing out!!), this set felt more intimate and casual, more like an improbably cool jam session where everyone knows the words. As Adrien stated above, Jenny Lewis is definitely cooler than you, and she’s probably a lot more talented than you too; every show is a treat, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to have her back (and local to Nashville)! [PO]
Between the magic of Jenny Lewis’s stellar set and the upcoming magical journey of War On Drugs, I set up a camp chair in the VIP overlook of the main stage to watch Louisville local heros Houndmouth perform to an admittedly shockingly large crowd. I would put them in the category of local Nashville breakouts that might include Moon Taxi or The Weeks, and was pretty impressed that they captured the crowd, which was in full sing-along mode. Sonically, they were fantastic, but it’s hard not to state that there seemed to be a missing component with the departure of Katie Toupin. They’ve replaced her with additional horns and her lyrical duties have transferred to Caleb Hickman, so the sentiment is still there, but I found the set overall lacking the wow factor that they had the last time I saw them. [MH]
After seeing a good bit of T-Pain at Bonnaroo, he wasn’t a priority at Forecastle, but after sneaking out of the fest for a few to grab ice cream (Louisville Cream y’all, it’s delicious), I ended up back inside just as he was getting going. After a few minutes of hype, the man himself stepped out, getting things turnt from the jump by opening with “All I Do Is Win,” one of the many songs he features on that dominated the set. Running into some friends in the crowd, I managed to stay longer than expected, treated to hits like “Blame It,” “Turn Down For What,” “Good Life,” and, of course, “Buy U a Drank” (which he played shockingly early on in the set). We thought it was a bit strange that when he plays solo shows, they’re usually smaller and not as well attended, and my assumption is that for a lot of people, T-Pain’s an artist they wouldn’t necessarily seek out, but absolutely won’t miss at a festival they already planned to attend… that certainly seemed to be the case, as this crowd was huge and loving every minute of it. [PO]
I don’t have a ton to write on sir T-Pain, only having caught a handful of songs on the way to War On Drugs. However, I will say I am now thoroughly convinced of his timeless nature. From the youngest among us to people in their 40s, he had the crowd bopping and grooving, sinning and rapping along with him, and a feeling of pure euphoria was ubiquitous. I left convinced of his greatness, and will not snooze the next time I see he’s coming through town. [AS]
The War On Drugs. Photo by Nolan Knight
The War On Drugs
The War On Drugs have always been one of those bands that musicians both love and are infuriated by, because how can they actually be that good. The subtle textures and the precise tones of every instrument and Adam Granduciel’s voice, performed so effortlessly, are almost maddening. Of course one might take comfort in the fact that there’s no way they could sound that great live, right? WRONG! They’re better live. Even with all their well earned acclaim over the last couple albums, I still think the War On Drugs are under-rated and under-valued. Their performance at this year’s festival was one of those sets where you can let your mind go, and just be part of the collective experience. With the summer sun finally setting behind them, the hazy, dreamlike features of their songs blended perfectly into the enveloping night, creating a natural ambience that only aided in further connecting the band and the audience. The band’s playing reflected their enjoyment and when the yelp on “Red Eyes” kicked the song into high gear there was a palpable shift in the crowd. Chris Stapleton was the headliner that night, but War On Drugs were the highlight. [AS]
Like their 2014 breakout album, which made up the bulk of their setlist, watching The War On Drugs Saturday night, I was Lost in the Dream. I love this band, but I’ve only seem ’em a couple times in the past (and not since last year’s stellar A Deeper Understanding), and Forecastle was bar none the best. With a tight backing band, moody lights, and their signature hazy, hypnotic style, the band’s calm, polished cool was just was I needed as a long, fun second day of music began to wind down. Can’t wait to see them again soon, a little more rested and focused. [PO]
I’ve seen Chris Stapleton on numerous occasions, but never, EVER, like this. Stapleton and his stellar band took the stage after a technical delay, and, without any diva-esque whining, proceeded to cause anyone that might have been thinking of “beating traffic” out of the festival to do an immediate 180. There was some magic to seeing a guy that I’ve seen perform in clubs, headlining a national music festival, and he seemed to recognize that same gravity. From the first licks of his Steel Drivers hit “Midnight Train To Memphis” through his mega-smash version of “Tennessee Whiskey,” Stapleton delivered, and he brought me to my knees with the intensely emotional and ultra-bluesy take on “Death Row.” Even though, I’m not the biggest fan of the title track of his breakout album Traveller, I was blown away standing in a crowd of singing fans, and left that incredible, highlight of the weekend, set fully understanding why Stapleton and his band have ascended to playing arena and stadium sized venues across the world. In hindsight, it’s also no surprise that the City of Louisville allowed the festival and their headliner to cruise right past the city’s noise curfew to allow him to perform his full rehearsed set. [MH]
With the intention of cutting out a little early (I love Chris, but I’ve seen him numerous times, and I was pooped), I left halfway through War On Drugs to catch the start of Chris Stapleton. Unfortunately, a technical issue delayed his set a good 20 or so minutes. Rather than wander back, I opted to get a closer look at the glimmering carnival rides and the party cove, which were absolutely bumping… likely the only thing that interested much of the wilder, younger crowd post-T-Pain, as the moody, indie rock band and the country traditionalist brought things home. Chris blew up seemingly over night a couple of years ago, but I’ve seen him on plenty of big festival stages since, and even open for Guns N’ Roses in a football stadium. Festival headliner, especially in the Nashville transplant’s native Kentucky, felt like the logical next step. I only saw a few songs, but man he killed, and left me reflecting on how crazy it is that in 2018, when festival culture is so dominated by electronic, pop, trendy indie rock, and legacy rock and hip hop, that an old school country troubadour could find this level of attention and success… definitely the shot in the arm country desperately needed for crossover appeal. [PO]
Photos by Nolan Knight.
Rallying a final burst of energy for the festival’s final day, and refreshed from an excellent brunch, we braved the internment rain, and arrived just in time to see the tail end of Colony House. Watching from a distance, hanging under the overpass to keep out of the rain and looming hot sun, it was cool to see the Nashville group on the fest’s biggest stage, sounding more honed and anthemic than ever with huge jams like “Silhouettes.” On the way into the grounds, I also walked by the Boom Stage where another local favorite, Ron Gallo, was crushing, and immediately regretted not grabbing an earlier breakfast. [PO]
SAINt JHN. Photo by Nolan Knight
I wasn’t really familiar with SAINt JHN ahead of Forecastle, but in researching the fest, he immediately stood out. Not only did the Brooklyn rapper come up writing for a variety of high profile acts, but his style sounds both modern and refreshingly original, genre-bending and propulsive hip hop without a gimmick. With just two DJs in the back, JHN came out hard, immediately commanding the exuberant crowd’s attention and killing on the mic. Partway though the first song, however, he abruptly stopped, proclaiming that the wet stage had him fucked up and he wanted to be able to give it his all. Removing his boots (something he explained he NEVER does), and then his shirt, JHN took the stage in camo socks, and got the show going once more with increasingly amped up focus.
Remisencent, somewhat, of Duckwrth’s absolutely insane and day-stealing intimate set last month at Bonnaroo, SAINt JHN, a relatively unknown hip hop up and comer with an early afternoon set time, went harder, more polished, and more engaged than any hip hop performance I’ve seen at Forecastle since Outkast. Clearly a number of people in the crowd were already very familiar with his internet-friendly sound, but even more seemed to be standing with their jaws dropped, instantly converted into new fans. His rhymes were top-notch, delivery intense, and crowd work so energized, without deterring from the excellent and faithful delivery of his music. SAINt JHN has all the ingredients to be a huge force in hip hop, and as the first full set I saw on Forecastle’s final day, he set the bar impossibly high. [PO]
Festivals are wonderful places where you inevitably discover someone new that you previously had no idea of. For me, the best discovery of this year’s festival was SAINt JHN. I accept that in some respects I’m older, I don’t always keep up with or know what the kids are into, and this was a textbook case of that. As we waited for SAINt JHN to take the stage, I noticed a lot of the crowd slanted younger, possibly even into high school, and I thought “ok, let’s see what this is about.” The audience roared, SAINt JHN was preceded by two women who looked like models but were apparently his DJs… and then the beat dropped, and everyone lost their god, damn, minds. JHN tore the stage up, frantically moving from end to end, his energy palpable. If you listen to his records you might expect a more chill delivery, but it’s as if for live shows he cranks it to a 10, no matter what song it is. If there was an award for most intense, it’d go to SAINt JHN, and if I had to pick an artist from the weekend that I wanted to see immediately again, it would be him. [AS]
White Reaper. Photo by Nolan Knight
Since the first time I saw White Reaper, at our own rooftop Acme Feed & Seed showcase a few years back (and subsequently obsessing over 2015 full-length debut, White Reaper Does It Again, and last year’s excellent The World’s Best American Band), I’ve been a huge fan. As a lifelong punk fan, I love that that embody the attitude and spirit, while not limiting themselves to a conventional definition of what punk should sound like, instead exploring reals of garage rock, power pop, and even some anthemic and bluesy elements. White Reaper aren’t afraid to bring big hooks and slick melodies, kicking ass while never seeming especially self-serious.
At this point, I’ve seen the group a bunch, including a rambunctious and absolutely packed appearance at Forecastle a couple of years ago. Had I not also seen them inexplicably take the main stage at Bonnaroo last year, I would’ve been caught off guard by their main stage slot here, but, by now, they’ve clearly earned it, and there was something especially satisfying seeing this scrappy hometown band ascend to this level in their native Louisville. To an enthusiastic and sizable early crowd, they rocked through a variety of recognizable tracks, eliciting singalongs, dancing, and banter with their friends in the audience. Coming off the high of SAINt JHN, White Reaper cranked up my energy another notch, and made a great case for Sunday being this year’s most solid block of the fest. [PO]
My second favorite discovery of the weekend was Louisville’s own White Reaper. Similar to my experience with PVRIS, this is a band I’d heard and heard about, but through circumstance, had not checked out up until this point. However, the second they began to play I immediately thought “where have you been all my life”
White Reaper take the classic american traditions of garage and punk, refine them with thoughtful composition and melody, and then seal it up and deliver it as brilliantly un-refined. It’s genius, further punctuated by their live performance which would make them seem like a couple knuckleheads when they’re actually one of the tightest, most skilled bands I saw all weekend. Each member has an energy all their own, with the keyboardist being the most delightfully absurd, which collectively made their enthusiasm undeniable. There wasn’t a moment during their set that I was not bopping my head along and reveling in that kid-like joy you get from discovering something new for you, looking around at everyone else like “are you seeing this?!”
While I loved their music, I will say the best part of their set was getting to witness a hometown band playing for their friends. Even from the perch of the main stage, they’d take time to call out and say hey to all the friends who came to see them, trading inside jokes and not caring that the rest of us had no idea what they were talking about. Endearing, charming, and just a whole lot of fucking fun. That’s White Reaper. [AS]
A definite departure from SAINt JHN, who preceded them on the Ocean Stage, Khruangbin, a predominantly instrumental band, took the stage and instantly became one of the most unique looking bands I saw all weekend. The drummer, a large man in a hawaiian shirt, looked right at home with the festivals nautical vibes, but it was the two front people, a man and a woman with matching long hair and bangs that took my interest before they even began to play. I’ll admit, I spent the first song trying to determine if they were wigs or not. None of that really matters, of course, but it definitely was a visual cue of what to expect for their set. Blending elements of hip hop, world, rock, and jazz, the band were sonically all over the map. Their set began almost as a shoegaze take on a jam band, but towards the end was interpolating Dr. Dre’s “Next Episode” into one of their own. They were the perfect band for a chilled out mid-day set. All vibes and good times. [AS]
Oh Wonder. Photo by Nolan Knight
Sunday was wickedly hot, and after two full days and not enough sleep, it didn’t take long for me to really start to drag. Some time in the shaded press area and a whole lot of water later, I made my way out for a bit of Oh Wonder. Admittedly, I haven’t closely followed the English alt pop duo, but I’ve been keenly aware of them since finding breakout success a couple years back, and have always enjoyed their songs whenever they pop up on playlists. Live, they were every bit as charming and fun as I expected, delivering hook-y, layered instrumentation and pleasant, soaring harmonies. I left wanting to give them so more spins, and catch another proper show in the future. [PO]
Trampled By Turtles
In the past, a bit of random bias based on nothing other than their name kept me from seeking out Trampled By Turtles. However, Forecastle knew better and so I found myself, mid-day Sunday, looking for a relatively quiet place to rest and ending up on a bench overlooking the main stage right as Trampled By Turtles went on. Perhaps I’d just never been in the right mindset to enjoy them before, but on that day, they were the right band for the right time. In my mind, again based on nothing but their name, I always had the impression that they were faux old-time throwback americana; the type of band that threw on some overalls, started singing with a twang and said they were always country. In writing this I’m here to eat crow. Trampled By Turtles were genuine and engaging, even from my perch a hundred yards away. Their simple setup underscored their the honesty of their performance, and drew my ears and attention to them, particularly when they played “Alone.” That feeling of connection we all seek in music was strong on that one, and I felt it deep. [AS]
Maiden Radio Hour
After grabbing some food and finding myself in a block without anything in particular tagged to cover, I looked for a spot to sit and take a breather, landing on a bench near the Port Stage. Much to my delight, it was the Maiden Radio Hour, a sort of updated take on the old-timey radio hour variety show concept, hosted by local musicians Joan Shelley, Cheyenne Mize, and Julia Purcell, who collaborate together on traditional Appalachian and folk music as Maiden Radio. Regretting not having a bourbon in hand, I was treated to some absolutely excellent performers (whose names I unfortunately forgot to write down), playing classic, Kentucky-bred American music with so much skill and fervor. Stuff like this would be easy to overlook, but it’s these small, local touches that make Forecastle so special and unique. [PO]
Quinn XCII. Photo by Nolan Knight
Poor Quinn XCII. The pop singer, who we tagged to cover for some afternoon variety, but who I’m not super familiar with, took the stage at the start of his set to announce that he’d largely lost his voice, and would need the audience’s help. He’d played Sloss the prior day, and two fests in a row could definitely be taxing- still, I thought he sounded pretty cool regardless, and admired him bringing his A-game, working the stage, and powering though. The diehard fans didn’t seem to mind, and afterwards, Quinn promised on Twitter a free show the next time he’s in town. Respect. [PO]
Jason Isbell. Photo by Nolan Knight
Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit
Rain is kind of a Forecastle tradition (though, thankfully, we’ve made it two years in a row without evacuating the grounds); it is, after all, on a waterfront. This year managed to stay mostly dry, but all Sunday, dark clouds were looming, and by late afternoon, we finally got hit by an intense, albeit brief, downpour. Taking refuge for awhile in the media tent, I was relieved that it passed just in time for Jason Isbell, and booked it over to the main stage to catch the Nashville transplant and his stellar band, The 400 Unit.
I can’t overstate how important a figure Jason is in the Americana scene, both for his talent and wonderful musical style, as well as for his unrelentingly compassionate and progressive ideals, which he’s not afraid to share. Kicking off with familiar solo tune “24 Frames,” Isbell and co. proceeded to play a set comprised mostly of tunes from their stellar new record, The Nashville Sound, an essentially timely and essential collection of social and personal commentary and discourse.
Interspersing both thoughtful, meaningful comments as well as his signature lighthearted quips between songs (and plugging Courtney Barnett’s subsequent set, which he proclaimed he’d be taking his daughter to see), Isbell’s laid back cool was magnetic, and his unbelievable musicianship more honed and engaging than ever. The crowd was huge and enthusiastic, and while it might have made more sense to slot him on Saturday ahead of Stapleton, it was kind of cool to see The 400 Unit’s layered, Americana twang as a foil before Arcade Fire’s similarly layered indie rock bombast. [PO]
This year’s Forecastle was mercifully scheduled in a way that did not present a lot of hard decisions for me. The hardest decision I had to make was Sunday night when I had to decide between attempting to stake a claim at the main stage for Arcade Fire or seeing Vic Mensa. I opted for the latter, and turns out, I should have tried to hold a spot for Vic. The crowd was packed so tight under the overpass for the Ocean Stage that it became impossible to discern individual people. I opted not to put myself through that gauntlet, which proved a wise decision as soon as Vic took the stage. Similar to reports of when the Beatles played Shea, the screams were so loud you almost couldn’t hear a thing. Thankfully the bass was on full blast, so you certainly felt it. Even if you weren’t, Vic came out swinging, as if to ensure every single person watching felt his presence. I don’t know what it is about the Ocean Stage, but some of the most packed and intense performances of the festival happen there, with Vic Mensa taking the crown for the weekend. My only “critique” is that I love Vic’s flow so much that I wish I could have actually heard his delivery, but that’s only in hindsight because in the moment I was too busy trying to stay on my feet wildin out. [AS]
Courtney Barnett. Photo by Nolan Knight
I was an early adopter to Courtney Barnett’s quirky, diary-style, lyrical take on indie rock, and actually still get props from A/R folks in Nashville for introducing them to her breakout double EP, A Sea Of Split Peas. From the first time I saw her play at Exit/In (opening for Phosphorescent) in 2014 to the numerous times that I’ve seen her since, I’ve been in love with her live set, but it’s been over a year since I have seen her perform solo (I did catch her and Kurt Vile at The Ryman in support of their stellar duet album Lotta Sea Lice), and it’s definitely the first time that I’ve seen her since she released her amazing 2018 sophomore LP, Tell Me How You Really Feel. I spent the majority of the set thinking back to my first Exit/In experience, where she was performing as a trio, and marveling at the sonic ascension that the Australian songwriter and her totally tuned in band is on. Her sound was tight, her confidence brimming, and she was the perfect early evening interlude to the Sunday night headliners, Arcade Fire. [MH]
Forecastle was so diligently spaced and staggered, that rarely did I feel like I had to make any scheduling sacrifices, but whoever overlapped Courtney Barnett and Arcade Fire is unreasonably cruel. Thankfully, Courtney was given a half hour head start, so I was able to catch a solid chunk of the reigning queen of disaffected indie rock cool’s dazzling set. The bulk of what I saw this year’s excellent Tell Me How You Really Feel (as suspected, her more recognizable older tunes were held for later in the set), which was nice, as I hadn’t seen her live since its release. Barnett’s always been something of a minimalist in style and presentation, but it was impressive to see how she’s subtly ramped things up, with a polished backing band, casually cool production, and a bit more sheen in her delivery. It pained me to duck out early, but knowing she’s slated to return to Nashville soon for a headlining show curbed the sting. [PO]
Arcade Fire. Photo by Nolan Knight
What came first, the indie band or the arena act? In the years since Arcade Fire entered my life (Funeral is that significant record in my life), I’ve seen them three times, and each time their stage show seems to reach for greater and greater heights. For years, they were heralded as an indie band, but if you listen to their catalogue, watch the development of their shows, that moniker seems to fit less and less. All of this is of course no surprise to Arcade Fire, who have been showing us their ambitions since day one. Closing out Forecastle 2018 with the setup reflecting their current Everything Now tour, it has never been more apparent, giant custom LED screens, disco ball and all. Often when an “indie” band makes it big and play larger venues, the intimacy and energy of their shows may not translate, feeling out of place. Arcade Fire, with each tour cycle, create a performance that would be out of place anywhere but an arena or festival, yet feels grounded and connected.
Entering from the crowd and opening with the title track to Everything Now, their set was off to the races in a brilliant, high energy rush. What followed was a nonstop barrage of light and sound, with Will Butler at one point somehow outdoing his usual antics on “Rebelion (Lies)”, climbing the scaffolding like a mid ’90s Eddie Veddar, still bashing away at this drum and egging the audience on, daring us to get on his level. Even the moodier, vibier songs like “Here Comes the Night Time,” “Half Light II,” and “The Suburbs” had an encompassing energy to them that permeated the audience. For a band that are not your traditional Top 40 superstars, the set felt like a parade of hits, with each song being somebody’s favorite. The effect was non-stop euphoria that ping ponged through the crowd, with people hugging, laughing, sometimes crying (pleads fifth*) and at one point, forming a conga line. For all their grandeur, one of my favorite moments of the set was during “The Suburbs” when Win Butler sang about an overpass, only to look up and see the interstate snaking through the park and comment, “Oh hey, there is an actual overpass.”
Little human moments like this are what keep Arcade Fire feeling like “our band” after all these years, and not so unreachable like most bands of their stature become. So, which came first? Arcade Fire’s show screams arena, however, I don’t know of many arena acts who can keep that many people that elevated for that long. If I had to guess what the band’s response would be I imagine it’d be along the lines of “Who the fuck cares? Start dancing!” [AS]
A little over 10 years ago, I was in a band that was heavily indebted to Arcade Fire. I listened to their first two albums, Funeral and Neon Bible, almost daily. It’s not like they were ever particularly obscure in those days (hell, they were getting props from DAVID BOWIE), but in that mid-’00s era of blog prominence, indie rock dominance, and an artful shift in musical sensibilities, they seemed like the coolest band imaginable, a still a bit of a secret to the masses. Winning the Grammy for Album of the Year for The Suburbs felt like a coup d’etat, and when I first saw then live, around that same timeframe, they were in an interesting place of understanding their own greatness and mainstream potential, while still existing as a medium-sized indie act on a quick ascent.
The next time I saw the band, four years ago in Nashville at Bridgestone Arena, on the heels of Reflektor, they were firmly in the midst of being indie rock’s biggest band, and sounded absolutely incredible even if, as the scene had already largely faded from mainstream favor, it seemed like the sustainability of existing at that scale was a toss-up. Festival land, however, will always be a solid refuge for Arcade Fire (and while last year’s Everything Now wasn’t a smash, they continue to play pretty huge shows), and at a smaller scale-fest like Forecastle, they’re a perfect choice to headline (larger events like Bonnaroo are seeming to struggle now to find contemporary rock acts who merit those types of slots, though AF still fit the bill).
Able to snag a close spot just before they took the stage (despite a swelling crowd size), I watched the band enter from the pit, immediately stirring up audience fervor. With huge, glitzy, and breathtaking production surrounding them, the group confidently launched into title track “Everything Now,” sounding, from moment one, as big and epic as I’ve ever heard them. Admittedly, I haven’t loved the last couple of records like the old stuff, but live, Everything Now cuts- “Put Your Money On Me,” “Electric Blue,” and others- really soared and connected, making me regret not giving the album more attention. Fittingly, most of the set came from their first (Funeral), middle (The Suburbs), and most recent (Everything Now) efforts, making the show feel like the career-spanning celebration I hoped it would be (and giving me all of the Funeral tunes I could hope for).
Though they’ve always been flashy, theatrical, and energized, Arcade Fire have continued to adapt and scale to their setup, and were able to walk the line between the intimate, indie club show in meaningful connection diehard fans would crave, and the bombastic, huge arena or festival show their current level of attention warrants, and casual concertgoers could appreciate. Mentioning that they’d played the Waterfront before with LCD Soundsystem more than a decade ago (a little digging indicates that this was before Forecastle had grown to that space, but did in fact happen on the site), the group’s return felt triumphant and urgent, straddling the line of legacy act and modern rockers with plenty of new and creative directions to take.
Driving back to Nashville following the show, I reflected on the weekend highlights- Morgan Saint, Jimmy Eat World, SAINt JHN, White Reaper, Courtney Barnett, Jenny Lewis, Modest Mouse, among them- but nothing quite compared to flashy, crowd-pleasing, enigmatic, and bombastic ending set of Arcade Fire. A perfect finale to another incredible year of Forecastle. I’ll be counting down the days until 2019! [PO]
Photos by Nolan Knight.
[AS] Adrien Saporiti
[MH] Matt Hall
[PO] Philip Obenschain