Taking its name from the superstructure at the bow of a ship, the Forecastle Festival is a three-day celebration of music, art and activism. Forecastle has grown exponentially since its founding 12 years ago in Louisville’s Tyler Park by River City native JK McKnight. The first festival catered to an audience of less than 150; attendance at 2014’s festival came in at over 60,000. Much of this astronomical growth is due to McKnight’s recent partnership in 2011 with AC Entertainment, a Knoxville, Tennessee-based music promotion company that also puts on Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, Big Ears Festival, and Mountain Oasis Electronic Music Summit. With AC Entertainment in charge of securing the music, McKnight was free to focus on the rest of the festival, curating vendors and creating the rest of the programme.
While the music is the main attraction for many of Forecastle’s attendees, the two other focuses are art and activism. Entering the 2014 festival near the Boom Stage, one is greeted by the Lifeguard On Duty, one of the many Forecastle ‘characters’ wandering around the festival in a cheeky bit of performance art, playing off the nautical theme. Wandering to the left, after visiting the Kentucky Craft Beer stand, one finds the American Poster Institute (API) Poster Show. API is a California based non-profit that is dedicated to promoting and supporting poster artists and has been around as long as Forecastle. Exhibitors include Kentucky natives Cricket Press and designers of the official 2014 festival poster, Status Serigraph. Poster enthusiasts can purchase limited edition prints and other art.
In addition to the API Poster Show, the art continues across the Great Lawn near the Mast Stage at the Forecastle Foundation booth. A giant mural to commemorate the festival is being painted all weekend long; painters pay a fee that goes directly to support the environmental preservation efforts of the Forecastle Foundation. While the Foundation and environmental activism have always been a part of the Forecastle Festival from the beginning, the Foundation was not formally incorporated until 2010 and now operates independently of the Festival year-round. Current major projects include working with the Kentucky Natural Lands Trust to protect the Pine Mountain Wildlife Corridor in southeastern Kentucky and the Guayaki Foundation to support rainforest regeneration in South America.
The festival itself is highly organised, to a surprising degree. Queuing for the loo never took more than two minutes for use of some of the cleanest facilities ever seen at a festival, complete with hand washing stations—also remarkably tidy. The queues in all other areas of the festival were equally reasonable, from the mobile cash points to the merchandise booths and food vendors. Forecastle’s organisers also concocted a clever solution to the perennial festival bane of litter: the Clean Vibes Trading Post. Festival-goers willing to scour the grounds were provided with gloves and bags to collect bits of litter they could then exchange for merchandise, everything from festival posters to yoga mats and camping gear.
Of course, Forecastle’s main attraction is its musical acts. The 2014 headliners were a newly reunited OutKast—touring for the first time in seven years—Jack White, Beck and punk rock legends The Replacements. An eclectic blend of musical styles is one of the hallmarks of AC Entertainment’s festivals. Other acts included the always-energetic Band of Horses, Local Natives, Sharon van Etten and many more with performances across four stages. Louisville natives and post-punk legends Slint put on an incredible show at the Ocean Stage underneath the interstate bridge. Several of the festival’s artists, including Jason Isbell, turned out for the rare live performance from the understated but masterful musicians.
Past festivals have included some equally big names. Forecastle X, celebrating the festival’s tenth anniversary in 2012, included Bassnectar, The Head and the Heart, Wilco and Louisville natives My Morning Jacket. Last year’s headliners were The Avett Brothers, Robert Plant, The Flaming Lips and The Black Keys. Before the partnership with AC Entertainment, McKnight also booked nationally known acts, including Girl Talk and Widespread Panic. Celebrated poster and album artist Jeff Gaither, who also happens to hail from Louisville, designed the official festival poster on and off from 2003 to 2012. This year, his studio was represented with a booth at the API Poster Show.
In addition to supporting local artists and musical acts, the Forecastle Festival also promotes Kentucky cuisine and the bourbon industry. The Holy Molé Taco Truck was one exception to the short queues, selling thousands of tacos over the course of the weekend. The Kentucky Bourbon Lodge represented the state’s native spirit with pride, offering tastings, celebrity cocktail concoctions, and even a few Fireside Chats, with industry speakers offering a behind-the-scenes look at the distilling and merchandising process. The Lodge also housed a pop-up gourmet restaurant offering cuisine from Louisville chefs Adam Burress and Chase Mucerino.
Over the years, the Forecastle Festival has evolved into the largest music festival in the Midwest and a yearly celebration of Kentucky culture, art and environmental activism. Louisville’s beautiful Riverfront Park provides the perfect setting for both its nautical theme and environmental causes. Named by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the coolest festivals in the country in 2012, Forecastle only continues to grow bigger and better each year. As it grows, the festival has stayed true to its original commitment to activism and supporting local artists of all sorts, living up to its namesake as a place to unwind and enjoy the spoils of work well done.
By Michelle Combs