The Forecastle Fest 2013: Full Review + Photo Gallery

The Forecastle Diaries: 2013 – A crew from recently spent the weekend at The Forecastle Fest in Louisville, Kentucky. The annual three-day festival drew thousands to Waterfront Park to enjoy headlining sets from The Black Keys, The String Cheese Incident, and The Avett Brothers.. plus dozens of other amazing acts. Enjoy The Forecastle Diaries, our review of the 2013 event. 

Day 1: Opening Day

7:00 p.m.
We arrive in Louisville and make our way through the gates of Forecastle 2013 just in time to catch Night Beds over on the WFPK Port Stage. Night Beds–or as I like to call them, the Forecastle heart-throbs–play a mellow but captivating set. Two words describe them best: Sensitive reverb.

7:30 p.m.
It’s time for Big Boi over on the Boom Stage and I have a confession to make: at the time of Forecastle I have no idea who Big Boi is. Post-festival research tells me he was part of OutKast which I definitely should have known but my ignorance gives credence to the words of the girl beside me in the crowd who knows the lyrics to every rap and turns to her boyfriend between songs to say, “What’s so great about Big Boi is that so many people aren’t even old enough to remember him.” I clearly fit that mould but the crowd seems to be loving him whether they know him or not. So many hands waving in the air…like they just don’t care.

Hooping : Photo by Ceeanna Zulla

Hooping : Photo by Ceeanna Zulla

8:00 p.m.
Old Crow Medicine Show is about to hit the Mast Stage and because I am in college and “Wagon Wheel” is the most popular song to play at last call or after-hours food joints, inspiring sing-alongs every time, this is going to be my main event for the day. The crowd in front of the main stage is an eclectic and accurate microcosm of the festival itself–you have your festival hippies and hipsters, the drunks, the blanket chillers, the camelback wearers, and the middle agers–and they are all enjoying it. The band spends their first hour celebrating their lesser known catalogue and giving a nod to Woody Guthrie in the form of a “This Land is Your Land” cover that inspires cheers and twirling respectively. But the crowd’s getting antsy–it’s a bit too obvious that they want the boys to play the hit. They do so with about 20 minutes left in their set and the crowd’s response is as expected. It’s a full on singalong. Unfortunately a fair amount of people wander away directly after–both slightly rude and completely unwise. They miss the Tom Petty cover of “American Girl.” Silly play-the-hits types.

9:15 p.m.
Young the Giant follows after Big Boi. We’re a few minutes late to their set making our way from Old Crow and we arrive in the middle of “I Got.” Frat-friendly indie rock for the masses, Young the Giant is catchy and energetic. The sun has set at this point so the light show on the stage really gives the concert experience and the crowd, mostly college age kids, is singing along to the words between sips.

10:15 p.m.
It’s back to the mast stage for tonight’s headliner, The String Cheese Incident. I don’t quite know what to expect but I’ve heard nothing but Grateful Dead comparisons all day and there’s quite a bit of hype surrounding them as they rarely play out much these days. The hype is justified as are the Dead comparisons. The show is an almost 2 hour jam set to a light show aided by psychedelic screen projections that would make the 70s proud. All the festival wookies have come out of the woodwork and are getting down. I don’t blame them, SCI puts on an awesome set to close out the first day of Forecastle 2013.

Forecastle Tip # 1
The easiest way to direct a friend to you in the crowd is to use the talismans–think object on a broomstick–that many festival goers carry around as landmarks. Example: “I’m next to the guy holding the pink flamingo talisman, a few rows behind the dreamcatcher”

Day 2: Feeling Violated

One of the nice things about Forecastle is that the gates don’t open until around 1 p.m., giving festival goers a bit more time to rest and stave off the inevitable festival exhaustion.

Forecastle Tip # 2
If you plan on consuming adult beverages, hit one of Louisville’s pubs before heading to the festival. It’s the difference between a $5 Guinness pint and a $7 can of PBR.

Forecastle Tip # 3
Don’t let your companions trick you into staying at the pub for too long. You’ll miss Shovels & Rope.

4:00 p.m.
MNDR is playing when we arrive at the Red Bull Music Academy Ocean Stage. It’s solid electronica that fits well with the L.E.D hula hoopers.

4:30 p.m.
We’re in front of the Mast Stage waiting for Dawes when they make the announcement. Due to immanent inclement weather, Forecastle will be shutting down for the time being. For your safety, please make your way to the nearest exit and seek shelter. We do so, trusting in our handy Forecastle phone app to update us when the festival is back up and running.

Forecastle Tip # 4
Do not trust the Forecastle phone app to update you when the festival is back up and running.

Kurt Vile - Photo by Allie Levin

Kurt Vile : Photo by Allie Levin

6:45 p.m.
Even though we have not received an update, the weather has been fine and we assume everything will be getting back up soon so we make our way back to the festival grounds to find that the festival has already resumed. We’ve missed Dawes, Kurt Vile is halfway through his set and I for one feel violated. By the time we’re in to the actual grounds it’s best to just wait for Alabama Shakes to begin. The day portion of Saturday is thus somewhat of a bust so far.

7:00 p.m.
Alabama Shakes takes the Mast Stage by storm and improves my mood considerably. Soul-blues-Americana fusion and I’m digging and dancing every moment. Though I wish it wasn’t my first full set of the day, it’s not a bad one to start off with by any means.

8:45 p.m.
Jim James follows up Alabama Shakes. A Kentuckian in origin and a Forecastle veteran–My Morning Jacket headlined Forecastle 2012–Jim James is ever the crowd pleaser. And there’s something oddly seductive about a soulful man in a purple suit. He gives every song his all, throwing in some My Morning Jacket tunes for good measure and ending with a brilliant Beatles cover in the form of “Let it Be.”

10:20 p.m.
We attempt to catch the Flaming Lips but the stage is already packed and the impact of their live show is lost on the fringes of the crowd so we make our way over to the red bull stage instead for Matt & Kim.

Matt & Kim is killing it. I don’t know if free red bull is one of the perks of playing on this stage but they are exhausting just to look at. Take the enthusiasm of any of their music videos, raise that energy level to the 10th power and keep it going for about an hour and you can somewhat get a grasp of their set. That and don’t forget to add in the random bits of Top 40 hip-hop that they keep mashing into their own songs. It’s absurd and wonderful and one of the best sets I’ve caught so far though I only stay for part of it. I need to get over to the mast stage for my boys.

10:45 p.m.
Hailing from Ohio myself and growing up worshiping blues music past and present, the Black Keys are kind of a big deal for me. That being said, before they begin I’m allowing myself to contemplate the possibility that I could be underwhelmed. I am anything but underwhelmed by their set. They begin with “Howlin’ for You” off of the 2010 record, Brothers, but it’s about four songs in before the magic really hits for me. They send the backing band off the stage. “We’re going to play a few songs just the two of us,” Dan says almost apologetically. The Black keys never have to apologize for “Thickfreakness,” in my book. They transition back to the full lineup with “Little Black Submarines,” their epic off El Camino and play a few more from that record. “That’s Pat on drums,” Dan says, as if we don’t know already. They end their encore just like they should, just the two of them playing “I Got Mine.” Yes you did boys, yes you did and both Akron, Ohio and Forecastle Fest are proud.

Day 3: A Quarter’LedZeppelin with Cheese

Forecastle Tip #5
Coffee is essential before attempting to take on day three of a music festival. We recommend Mrs. Potter’s on West Main Street in downtown.

Bombino: Photo by Ceeanna Zulla

Bombino : Photo by Ceeanna Zulla

2:00 p.m.
Do I want to start my day off jamming out to desert blues? Yes, yes I do. Fitting too considering it’s already about 95 degrees. So, I head over to the mast stage for Bombino. The trio of Tuareg musicians lead by Bombino himself, a prodigious guitarist who grew up in the shadow of North African tradition and Jimi Hendrix, is everything I would want to see live this Sunday morning. Despite some pretty horrific sound issues and multiple times when the backing guitarist must unplug from his amp due to feedback, the musicians are clearly giving it all they have. And since what they have is a serious amount of talent and enthusiasm, what they have is pretty great. It doesn’t matter that they’re singing in Tamashek, a language I do not know a single word of, there is something ever accessible about a band that clearly loves what they do. It makes you love them too.

3:00 p.m.
After Bombino, we catch part of Tennis over on the Boom stage. It’s a mellow and modest crowd that likes the indie pop this Sunday morning but it’s a good set and a good way to relax before things really start heating up for the day.

Toro y Moi : Photo by Ceeanna Zulla

Toro y Moi : Photo by Ceeanna Zulla

3:30 p.m.
Toro y Moi is about to take over the mast stage and the crowd is ready to get their dance on. The sound issues that were plaguing Bombino clearly haven’t gotten worked out completely but that doesn’t change the fact that Toro y Moi is a pretty great producer and composer. His set was worth catching, there’s just so many details I can’t describe.

5:00 p.m.
Grace Potter: Killer pipes. Alright songwriting. Decent stage presence. The crowd seems to be digging the country set though.

5:45 p.m.
It’s time for The String Cheese Incident to make a reappearance in the form of The Forecastle Incident, this time accompanied by Sam Bush, Ronnie McCoury and Jason Carter, and Andy Thorn. They’ve titled the incident “Bluegrass and Beyond” which is fitting. There are bluegrass elements, i.e. a banjo, but its Bluegrass as you probably haven’t heard it before. It’s an experimental jam but a different side of that coin as compared to their Friday night set. Yet, it is inspiring a similar reaction–the crowd seems almost entranced by the music and by the heavy wafts of herb that come from various parts of the audience.

7:00 p.m.
I’m about to witness the Robert Plant take the stage with his new backing band the Sensational Space Shifters. I can barely contain my excitement. For someone who grew up worshiping Led Zeppelin, this is kind of a big deal for me. My only hope is that he doesn’t let me down. I don’t want to see anything kitsch. I don’t want to see anything gimmicky. In short, I don’t want to see a has been.

Robert Plant will never be a has been.

Robert Plant : Photo by Ceeanna Zulla

Robert Plant : Photo by Ceeanna Zulla

His set is everything I need for it to be. He begins with “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You,” but it’s “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” as I’ve never heard it before. Not by Baez. Not by Zeppelin. This is a purely Robert Plant rendition and he has the crowd transfixed from the start. He’s still got the stage presence–sultry stare included–and he’s still got the wits. He makes quips between songs about Americans being “newly independent” (as in independent from Great Britain) and about reinstating the 70s. He gives a history lesson about Charley Patton and Howlin’ Wolf before launching into a cover of “Spoonful,” ever the blues enthusiast. And he proves himself yet again an advocate of African music when he brings West African musician Juldeh Camara onstage. The crowd can’t help but sing along when “Going to California” plays but it is “The Enchanter” that does the damage. Plant vows to “bring back the 70s” but what he does in reality is bring on the clouds. Cumulonimbi cumulate as if to his beck and call, casting Plant as a hoodoo witch doctor conjuring the rowdy blues gods of time past. He launches into the classic “What is and what should never be” off of Led Zeppelin II. It will be his closing song as the skies open up and the band and festival goers are forced to take shelter but despite its length Plant’s set could not have been further from a disappointment.

Forecastle Tip #6
rain gear.

9:15 p.m.
It’s time for the closing set of Forecastle Fest 2013 and the spot belongs to folk’s favorite sibling duo, The Avett Brothers. Everyone likes to rant and rave about how good they are live but I am here to tell you that the tales are true. Scott Avett holds his own against Matt & Kim for terms of calories burnt while on stage. He never stops moving for an instant, a bundle of energy constantly working the crowd. Seth is more subdued but equally immersed in the show and the boys along with their backing band close out the festival with a bang. They play the old, they play the new, they play the sinful “When I Drink” and the gospel “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” and the hits “Kick Drum Heart” and when they end their encore with “I and Love and You” it is to an entire festival singing along.

Forecastle 2013 has officially come to a close.

Forecastle Tip #7
The charge for a lost parking garage ticket is $14. We’ll be better prepared next year. See you in July!

Words by Amanda Norris | Photos by Ceeanna Zulla & Allie Levin