What started as a small, community music fest has grown over the past eleven years to a three-day, full-fledged jamming’ music, arts, and activism fair. The Forecastle Music Festival is held in the awesome city of Louisville, Kentucky in mid July. Festival grounds are located right on the banks of the beautiful Ohio River and extend underneath the I64 overpass. The festival radiates a boat theme with fish, flags, anchors, buoys, and nets wherever you look (“forecastle” is actually the name of the part of a ship where the crew lives and parties) and makes this festival one of a kind.
As a first-timer to the Forecastle music festival, I was extremely excited for the experience, but also prepared to be open to anything unexpected that might arise during this unfamiliar festival. Of course, I packed the festival essentials: Sunscreen, water bottles (full and empty), plenty of cash, travel-sized toiletries, my favorite festival outfits (plus a few warm items) and of course, hula hoops. Also, don’t forget the tickets. There’s nothing worse than getting an hour down road and realizing you still have the tickets stashed in that special spot where you’ve been saving them for months! Other than the essentials, however, I wasn’t sure how prepared I really was.
Once I arrived at the venue, I learned the Forecastle Music Festival is fueled by the Forecastle Foundation, an organization devoted to preserving endangered areas of natural beauty and ecological diversity around the world, or, as the foundation puts it, rebuilding natural awesome. More about the foundation can be found on their website: http://forecastlefest.com/foundation/. That was the first awesome item about the festival. Supporting a great cause by listening to spectacular live music on the banks of the Ohio River? Yeah, I can get behind that.
Speaking of spectacular music, the lineup at forecastle was definitely the biggest draw. The lineup included The Black Keys, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, String Cheese, Old Crow Medicine Show, Moon Taxi, Robert Plant, Alabama Shakes, and The Avett Brothers just to name a few of my personal favorites. Of course, with a line-up this good, it’s inevitable that attendees to the forecastle music fest must make tough decisions when it comes to choosing what shows to see. This year, Moon Taxi and Old Crow Medicine Show played at the same time on opposite stages…what is a girl to do?! Then there are always those instances when you look at the lineup and think “hmmm, I wonder if this band is any good” and then discover they rock your face off! At every festival I attend, I try to make it a goal to discover one new band I like. This year, that band was The Pimps of Joytime from Brooklyn, NY. Their performance was energetic and dance-paced and their sound was soulful and reminiscent of old 1970’s funk, perfect for the person who may feel they may have been born in the wrong decade (like myself).
I would predict that the lineup at this festival continues to delight. Although this was my first year to attend, based on previous lineups, the festival really seemed to step things up this year. Of the six “top performers” Forecastle has featured in the past eleven years, three were present at this year’s festival alone. The attendance of this festival also increased by 10,000 from last year making the total attendance this year around 25K.
Although that may sound like a small festival, the festival really had the feeling of a packed out venue. Part of the reason for this is due to the fact that the festival grounds were surprisingly small. Compared to the other festivals I’ve been to-Hangout, Harvest, Waka- which have stages acres and acres apart from one another, Forecastle had four stages all of which were visible from the center of the grounds. The good thing about a small area is that festival-goers don’t get totally exhausted from walking. There are plenty of other factors that can wear you out at a festival so walking doesn’t have to be one of them. The bad thing about small festival grounds is that they get crowded fast. Even in the VIP area, I found I had to show up really early to a show if I wanted a good spot close to the stage. This was a big downfall for me because one of the best perks about VIP access should be that you don’t have to worry about staking out a good spot, you should’ve already reserved one with that VIP wristband! With that in mind, I would encourage anyone thinking about attending the festival to plan their show schedules ahead of time so you know where to be and when in enough time…even more so than other festivals. Also, because the grounds are right in the middle of downtown Louisville, Forecastle is a non-camping festival. This not only created a different vibe for a festival, but also attracted a wide variety of festival patrons. I observed everyone from hemped-out hippies sporting camelbacks and dreads to women dressed for an evening out with wedges, full make-up, and styled hair. There were young folks there who scraped everything together to buy tickets, and older, wealthy people who came for the entertainment (they were all in the VIP area, as you can imagine!) As a hooper, I always keep an eye out for other hula-hoopers too. Forecastle had it’s small handful of hoopers, but definitely did not seem to attract the throngs of hooper dancers and other performers I’ve seen at camping festivals. But young or old, hooper or not, everyone was united in their love of the bands and the pursuit of a good time. I never witnessed a single foul word exchanged among anyone…only laughing and drinking and dancing.
Maybe what had everyone in such a good mood (beside being in the presence of such awesome musical acts) was the weather. I packed very cool clothes expecting the festival heat to be like the sticky, sweltering southern heat I’m used to. But that was not the case. Everyday was in the mid to low 80’s with low humidity and sunshine. With the exception of one heavy rainstorm that only lasted about twenty minutes, the weather was absolutely perfect. There’s just something about standing in outside air that is the perfect temperature, watching the sunset change the colors of the Louisville skyline, and listening to Old Crow Medicine show sing their version of an old gospel song as an old-fashioned riverboat floats right behind the stage that just makes you feel happy to be alive and proud to be an American. Once the sun went down, however, the evenings actually got pretty cool. I never ended up wearing any of my warmer clothes at the festival, but they came in handy for post-festival bar swarming
If the weather was too hot for your taste, however, the VIP area offered a large, air-conditioned tent and clean, air-conditioned bathrooms. This was about all the VIP area offered however. As I mentioned earlier, I was disappointed in the VIP stage access, especially on the Mast Stage. Not only was it very small but the best seat in the VIP area only got you to the farthest corner of the stage. There were also no free drinks or food included in the VIP ticket price. Not even water or non-alcoholic beverages. On top of that, drinks were extremely overpriced. $10 bought you one small cocktail and $7 bought one 16 oz. beer. I could understand that the festival was trying to raise money for the foundation but there is a fine line between raising funds and gouging customers and that line was crossed for me. The first day, in fact, we actually left the festival to go drink at the nearby Joe’s Crab Shack because the drinks were so much cheaper there. Perhaps previous festival VIP amenities spoiled me, but I expected a little more for paying so much for my ticket.
But the universe has amazing ways to balance everything out. Right across the river on the Second Street Bridge just as you cross over to Indiana there is a small dive bar called The Levee with the cheapest drink prices I’ve seen since the last time I was in Mexico. Although not a part of the festival, this gem of a bar definitely made the entire weekend experience so much more fun for a first-timer and out-of-towner like me. With a friendly, family staff and all the necessities of drinking entertainment- pool table, Bagg-o, Juke box, karaoke- this place was the perfect spot to expend the rest of your festival energy once all the shows were over. And if you go, look for the sunshine I drew on the wall with chalk next to the pool table.
Overall, Forecastle is a festival I’m definitely adding to my summer festival line-up. The top two priorities for making any festival outstanding are the line-up and the weather and 2013 Forecastle Fest knocked both of those out of the park. Although I probably won’t attend as a VIP again (I can use port-a-potties for three days to save $300) I will definitely be back. The surrounding Louisville area was welcoming and great for sight-seeing. The festival grounds were easy to navigate and well staffed. And have I mentioned how awesome the line-up was? I hope everyone who attended this year had as much fun as I did and I hope anyone thinking about attending in the future does and helps support this festival’s cause and makes this festival grow every year. Maybe I’ll see you there next year! Come say hi, I’ll be the girl hula hooping like she’s having the best time of her life.