Words: Aaron Weaver
Photos: Brian Bruemmer

WHY DO WE GO TO MUSIC FESTIVALS?

I spent a lot of time thinking about that question over the past weekend while wandering Waterfront Park in Louisville during  the Forecastle Festival. Most go for the music obviously – we go to see that long loved band we have been dying to see, or alternately we go to find our next musical obsession. For years, I have relied on festivals to discover new acts, arriving early and paying close attention to the undercard; often I’m more excited to see the bands I barely know than the ones I already enjoy. But music isn’t the only reason people hit the festival scene. There are always more than a few at every festival that have come to see and be seen, those who came for nothing more than an opportunity to hang with their friends, show of their outfits cribbed from photos of #Coachella, and prove they were there, alive, and cool with a healthy dose of selfies posted on social media. I laughed a little as I watched them scurry about the grounds dragging their friends along, seemingly oblivious that there was a concert going on, but only because I remember that was once me, heading to a big show I knew little about, but all my friends were going and I had the FOMO bad. Then there are the outliers, the one who dig the music but seem to spend more time checking out the obligatory art displays, the latest food truck vendors, the atmosphere acts, and the merch booths. I’m showing my age, but I used to love escaping the pits at the early days of Warped Tour to go watch the skateboarders perform on the half pipes for a couple hours each year. I’m sure I missed out on some great music but when else was I going to see world class skaters perform in my city. So why do we go to music festivals? And why are they so popular right now? The answer is obvious yet easy to overlook. We go because they are fun. Whether you are there for the music, the art, the people, or the scene, you expect to have a good time. For two or three or four days, we can run off to the circus and forget about our regular lives, let loose, and enjoy ourselves.

Yungblud on the Ocean Stage. (Brian Bruemmer/Rubatophoto.com)

So why do we go to Forecastle Festival? Because it is an absolute blast. And it hits all the right notes. Every year the planners put together a festival lineup that transcends genres and brings together some of the best national and regional acts for three days of entertainment. With four band stages and one dj stage, there is never a lack of musical options to be found; indie pop, rock, hip hop, Americana, EDM, some that defy categorization, and because this is a Kentucky music festival, a little more country than you might find at other festivals mixed in. Need a break from the crowds at the stages? Take a stroll down by the river and check out the Ferris Wheel and the Sea Dragon swinging ship ride. Or head over to one of my favorite parts of Forecastle, the API Poster show, and marvel at the bright colors and interesting designs of all the posters for sale from other shows to which you wish you had been cool enough to have gone. Not done shopping? There are plenty of other craft vendors and merch booths to distract you. And if you are lucky enough to be 21 years of age at Forecastle, you are in for a unique Kentucky experiences you won’t find elsewhere. The Bourbon Lodge hosts tastings from some of the best distilleries in the region – and when you are this close to Bourbon County, that means in the world. Each day provides tastings hosted by representatives from Four Roses, Heaven Hill, Old Forester and others. Whiskey not your thing? Check out the KY Craft Beer Bar, this year featuring local beers from Against The Grain Brewery, Goodwood Brewing Company, and Great Flood Brewing Company; regional beers from Lexington breweries Lexington Brewing Co. and West 6th Brewing; and the official Forecastle beer Sierra Nevada Chantey Session. Other fun things at Forecastle? I hope you like a good nautical theme, because pirates, giant floating fish people on stilts, and dancing lifeguards greet you at every turn.

You know what you won’t find at Forecastle? Disposable plastic bottles. Forecastle is a festival with a heart. This year, whether you were looking to hydrate with a soft drink, beer, or even a water, no plastic bottles were to be found, all drinks served in sustainable and more efficiently recyclable aluminum cans. This fits with the The Forecastle Foundation, the activist arm of  festival, “mission to protect and connect the world’s natural awesome.  We do so by shining a light on biodiversity hotspots – the richest reservoirs of life.” Since launching in 2010 the Forecastle Foundation has donated over $550,000 to local and global conservation projects.

If you didn’t make it to Forecastle Festival this year, you missed out. It was a fun time, no matter why you were there. Don’t make the mistake next year. FOMO can be a good thing.

BAND EVERYONE COULD AGREE ON

Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals

Anderson Paak & The Free Nationals on the Mast Stage. (Brian Bruemmer/Rubatophoto.com)

Something about Anderson .Paak has captured the zeitgeist of 2019. His Saturday night headliner set brought together the most diverse crowd of the festival. His soul and funk inspired hip hop brought together fans young and old, hip hop or hipster, pop or rock, DJ or Americana. The Free Nationals were definitely on their game, and .Paak seemed to be enjoying himself as he moved back and forth from the drum kit at the back of the stage to the frontman duties on stage edge. On a hot day, when the temperatures finally cooled a bit, this was one of the few times over the weekend that the festival goers all seemed to dance.

BEST SET OF THE WEEKEND THAT NOT ENOUGH PEOPLE WITNESSED

Sunflower Bean

Sunflower Bean on the Mast Stage. (Brian Bruemmer/Rubatophoto.com)

The first act on the mainstage early Sunday, most people were still arriving at the gate when Sunflower Bean finished what myself and several of my friends agreed was the best set of Forecastle. Sunflower Bean has settled in to become quite the rock band, mixing together their varied influences of punk, heavy metal, folk, and new wave into a sound all their own. Julia Cumming has become an incredible front person, channeling her inner Debbie Harry/Lou Reed/Joan Jett/ Freddie Mercury as she rock star posed around the stage, playing off and drawing attention to each other band members throughout the set. She graciously thanked the audience for showing up early despite the heat, and the band rewarded them with a hell of a show. Nick Kevlin took several opportunities to show off his guitar virtuosity, cutting loose in his delightfully awkward way. In an increasingly post rock era, it is nice to see there are still bands that rock.

BAND THAT KEPT THE PARTY GOING

The Avett Brothers

The Avett Brothers on the Mast Stage. (Brian Bruemmer/Rubatophoto.com)

Final night headliners The Avett Brothers owned the stage from beginning to end. As tired and exhausted as every one seemed, few people could be seen trying to beat the crowds to the exit gates as the band served up a fiery set of old favorites and songs from their upcoming new album. Their mix of bluegrass, country, punk, rock, folk and pop were the perfect tie-together of the weekend to end on. The light show from the thunderstorm on the horizon was a fitting frame to the electric performance on before us.

SECOND BEST KENTUCKY TRADITION SERVED UP

Tyler Childers

Tyler Childers on the Mast Stage. (Brian Bruemmer/Rubatophoto.com)

While you can’t beat the bourbon, Kentucky son Tyler Childers ripped through a set of his bluegrass seasoned country music. Chlders’ songs tell stories of drinking moonshine, taking a line or two, looking for women and life growing up in Eastern Kentucky. The characters portrayed in the songs seemed to strike a chord with many of the fans in the audience, whether from familiarity or yearning.

NOT SURE WHAT I’M SEEING BY I LIKE IT

The Mattson 2

The Mattson 2 on the Port Stage. (Brian Bruemmer/Rubatophoto.com)

I was told by photographer Brian Bruemmer, who had just seen them at another festival, that this was not one to be missed, despite being the first act on the first day of the festival. He wasn’t wrong. The California jazz duo made up of twin brothers Jared and Jonathon Mattson, launched into a strange set of psychedelic jazz music performed as though possessed by the spirits of Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix, John Bonham, and Keith Moon. Get to a show near you immediately.

BIGGEST SURPRISE OF THE WEEKEND

Portugal. The Man

Portugal. The Man on the Mast Stage. (Brian Bruemmer/Rubatophoto.com

I thought I knew Portugal. The Man but I guess I was wrong. I mean, I saw them years ago, listened to their early music, but something has happened since my last exposure to the group from Alaska, a sea change from the indie pop sounds of “Feel It Still” or “People Say” to jam oriented rock band. After showing their sense of humor by starting their set with a video of Bevis and Butthead watching them on video, the band launched into covers of Pantera and Pink Floyd before showcasing their own songs. This was not the band I remember, but probably one I will be interested in once again.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE WEEKEND

Tie – Leikeli47 & Cold War Kids

Cold War Kids on the Mast Stage. (Brian Bruemmer/Rubatophoto.com)

There was a lot of buzz around rapper Leikeli47 and the crowd showed up heavily for her performance, but 15 minutes into her scheduled set time it was announced that the travel arrangements of the musician known for performing in a mask had fallen through and she would not make it to Forecastle. Cold War Kids did make it to their show, however the right side of the sound system went out immediately during the performance and eventually would be turned off. I’m not sure what it sounded like from the right or center because I was on the side of the faulty speaker tree. The band was unphased, and played through the difficulties without stopping or acknowledging them. On a side note, a band with kids should probably leave the word kids of their name, although Cold War Dads doesn’t have the same ring.

OTHER NOTABLE PERFORMANCES

Chvrches

Chvrches on the Port Stage. (Brian Bruemmer/Rubatophoto.com)

The band sounded wonderful but their set lacked the energy that I have seen at other shows. I’m guessing the high 90s are rare in Glasgow as Lauren Mayberry seemed a bit wilted by the heat.

Evan Giia

Evan Giia on the Ocean Stage. (Brian Bruemmer/Rubatophoto.com)

Under the shade of the highway overpass, Brooklyn performer Evan Giia put on an energetic performance, despite the lack of band backing her.

Dawes

Dawes on the Mast Stage. (Brian Bruemmer/Rubatophoto.com)

I’m not sure what happened to this once inspiring folk-rock band, I have seen them many times and have been a fan for years, but as the tequila ran out, so did I.

Andrew Bird

Andrew Bird on the Port Stage. (Brian Bruemmer/Rubatophoto.com)

He put on a great set, always a consummate musician, but felt out of place in the hard, harsh light of the hot, hot day. Maybe Bird should be reserved for savoring in the cool of the night, or at least an air-conditioned theater.

Nelly

Nelly on the Port Stage. (Brian Bruemmer/Rubatophoto.com)

Most of the crowd looked like they could have been conceived to a song from Country Grammar or Nellyville, and likely were. Nelly looks like he is still having fun and so were the kids.

Chromeo

Chromeo on the Port Stage. (Brian Bruemmer/Rubatophoto.com)

This duo made up one of the most interesting visuals of the weekend.

Lucius

Lucius on the Port Stage. (Brian Bruemmer/Rubatophoto.com)

This band made up a second.

Maggie Rogers

Maggie Rogers on the Mast Stage. (Brian Bruemmer/Rubatophoto.com)

My only prior experience with Maggie Rogers was a Saturday Night Live performance that left me cold. I was happily excited to find that it was the small screen that did not fit her music and performance and not the other way around. The singer put on a satisfying show that had old and new fans wanting more.

The Marias

The Marias on the Ocean Stage. (Brian Bruemmer/Rubatophoto.com)

I anticipate that retro mashup of musical styles presented by The Marias will steadily climb the lineup cards at festivals over the next few years. They are the type of band that cross genres and will appeal to a wide range of music fans.

FULL GALLERY