Words: Aaron Weaver
Photos: Brian Bruemmer (Rubatophoto)

Forecastle Festival, a celebration that is equal parts music, art, and activism, returned to Louisville’s Waterfront Park this past Memorial Day Weekend for the first time since 2019. Like many music festivals, Forecastle was forced to cancel their 2020 and 2021 plans due to Covid-19 restrictions and precautions. Fortunately, life was able to get a little closer back to normal just in time for the 20th anniversary of their inaugural festival in 2002. Much has changed since then; Forecastle has had to relocate a few times to accommodate growth, now drawing over 75,000 attendees over the the 3-day festival, and its performers have changed from local and regional talents to national and international alumni such as LCD Soundsystem, Jack White, The Black Keys, The Avett Brothers, and The Flaming Lips. Back after its hiatus, Forecastle continued it’s legacy of bringing great performances to Louisville with this years artists including Jack Harlow, Tame Impala, Tyler, The Creator, Porter Robinson, Phoebe Bridgers, RÜFÜS DU SOL, 6lack, Black Pumas, Clairo, and many others.

What has changed since 2019? As any good festival should, Forecastle has adapted with the times, focusing on building its lineup to draw fresh faces interested in current trends. The world has changed since Covid forced many of us into our homes for months or longer, to work or study from home, and to draw our circles tighter. But as we quarantined, we also looked for ways to connect with those outside these circles. We were already indoctrinated by social media and digital communication and were primed to expand our use of Zoom, Skype, Twitch, Youtube, and TikTok. The explosion of the latter forced Instagram and Facebook to respond by integrating Reels into their platforms. People found they had many options to not only communicate with others but also to express themselves to people globally. If we were going to have to live at home we were also going to experience and share the world through our phones and computers.

All of this had an impact on the music industry. Besides the festivals that had to cancel, entire tours were put on hold, artists returned home, many to live in solitude during the months of quarantine. While some took the opportunity to rest, write, and recharge, many turned to this technology to get their work out. Artists live streamed concerts, entire festivals appeared on virtual platforms, and many musicians released their new material one song at a time on the various social media platforms available. Viral content is nothing new in promoting an artist – just look at 2022 Forecastle performer Oliver Tree to see the impact interesting digital content can have on an artist’s career – but when live performances went away and digital became the only game in town – the importance of these platforms became even greater. Tai Verdes was sleeping on a friend’s coach and working at Verizon store before his music going viral on TikTok led to him being signed to a global recording label. Only 15 years old at the time, Glaives was signed after a string of songs he released on SoundCloud at the beginning of the pandemic developed an immense and dedicated following.

Another impact of Covid on music was how it was created. Those with collaborators could connect over Zoom or other meeting apps, but it is hard to start a band when you can’t connect in person. This led many artists to creating music alone. In another time, this might have meant working on a tune with a guitar, a piano, or a synthesizer, but in the 2020s, with technology and software becoming ever more affordable, this also meant producing music on a laptop which allows the artist to create all the parts of the song without the need for another musician. And if you don’t know how to make music with a computer, there is a Youtube video that will teach you. Many of the performances this year represented this DIY concept, with solo performers on stage with only a laptop, or a front person with a producer with them mixing the music as they sing. Music is always changing with the times – new technology and new needs shape the creation of the soundtracks of our lives. While some may scoff at the idea of TikTok and Youtube stars taking over popular music, is it really that different than how television changed the industry in the 50s and 60s or the effect music channels on cable changed the industry in the 80s and 90s. Personally, I am glad that Forecastle chooses to reflect the times we live in.

Day 1:

It rained hard early in he day and the occasional shower or mist would persist throughout the day. As a result, the temperature may not have been high but the humidity was, and it felt like walking through a swamp at times. But everyone was so excited to be back at Forecastle it didn’t matter. After finding our way around the festival – there had been several changes to the layout including the addition of a new large stage replacing the stage under the overpass from past years – I needed to cool down. A couple of ice cold Sierra Nevadas did the trick and I headed off to watch some music. The festival was well organized; there never seemed to be any trouble getting in to the gates, the food lines seemed to move quickly and there were plenty of water stations and beverage stands to keep people hydrated. I noted that while I had gotten a couple years older since the last festival the average age of the crowd on Friday seemed to had gotten several years younger. Many dressed as though they had taken their fashion cues from photos and videos of the previous month’s Coachella, and seemed dressed more for the dessert than the banks of the Ohio River, but dressing up for an outdoor festival is a youthful right of passage, so no judgment. Everyone was having a good time.

Highlight of the Day

Hometown hero and first day headliner, Jack Harlow opened his set with ‘Talk of the Town’ from the top of the 75’ high upper truss of the Mast Stage. For many in attendance, Harlow was who they had come out to see and he did not disappoint his fans with his performance. Harlow fed into the local angle, dressed in a Louisville Cardinals basketball jersey and spoke at length about how excited he was to be back in Louisville and speaking for his love of his city. Not wanting to leave out the Kentuckians not from Louisville, he also dedicated a song to all the UK fans in attendance.

Favorite Performance of the Day

I’m a sucker for a singer with guitar, and singer-songwriter Clairo stood out as one on a day filled with DJs and producers. Her lo-fi dream pop seemed slightly out of place for the day and provided some contrast to the other acts.

Other Performances

Wale with DJ Money had a large crowd gathered well before their set began. Money got the crowd started and had them singing along to track before Wale hit the stage wearing a shirt depicting stained glass depictions of African-American saints, but once he did they erupted into dance and callbacks to his songs.

Earl Sweatshirt, the other member of Odd Future playing the festival, kept the crowd going as well. Young men in matching floral shorts and button up shirts sets and throwback jerseys began crowd surfing during the rapper/producer’s performance.

COIN, the only rock band of day, put on an energetic set that both fun to watch and dance to. Lead guitarist Joe Memmel seemed to be channeling his inner Indie Pop Angus Young.

Still Woozy and his touring band looked like they were having as much fun as anyone else at the park that day, giving a laid back performance that seemed perfect for the day

Day 2:

The weather was much different that Day 1; the sun had come out and dried up the riverfront, and a pleasant breeze moved through Waterfront Park for most of the day. I had been looking forward to seeing Paris Texas open the day, but unfortunately they had to cancel due to travel complications. This gave us time to wander around downtown Louisville and catch lunch before the festival. I had delicious “barbacoa” jackfruit tacos at Merle’s Whiskey Kitchen that had a surprising kick to them. I love trying local places and trying new things when I travel. Back at the festival, the crowd was starting to filter in – still well organized. The concert goers seemed slightly older that the day before, but still mostly young and excited, likely attending their first festival every. The temps would rise as the day went on but Forecastle was well prepared. I decided against beer for the day, instead slaking my thirst with several cans of Coastal Spritz. I didn’t know wine spritzers in my life but they were perfect for the day.

Highlight of the Day

I feel like Phoebe Bridgers is probably the highlight of the day for anyone who get to see her perform. If you did not get to the stage early, you were not going to get close, but that did not stop people from trying and the crowd pulsed as she took the stage. Phoebe was joyful and looked to be enjoying herself during the performance – all big smiles and rockstar poses. While she did forego her iconic skeleton onesie for the event, her band did not, and I pondered if this was the way she would ease her way out of a costume that she had become so identified with her performances. Her set left me wanting to see a full performance and checking my phone for her upcoming touring schedule.

Highlight of the Day that was not Phoebe

Any artist that names Pavement, Mazzy Star, Daniel Johnston, Elliot Smith, the Moldy Peaches, and the Beatles as their influences has my attention. Beabadoobee delighted me with her hazy distortion and interesting syncopation.I was not familiar with the Filipino-British singer song-writer prior to Forecastle, but I am excited to become so now.

Other Performances

Léon stepped out on stage in a bright yellow jumpsuit that made me think of the Bride from Kill Bill – maybe more so after she kicked off her heels in the middle of the first song and performed barefoot for the rest of her set. The first artist of the day, the crowd was still light but became enthusiastic once she started to perform. Léon performed with a full backing band, something I was glad to see kick off the day after so few instruments the day before. The Swedish singer announced that this was her first live show since 2019, which made this the first time she had performed to support both her 2020 album ‘Apart’ and her new album ‘Circles’ released in March.

Flamingosis appeared onstage with laptop, a mixing board, and a sick mullet. The sticker on his laptop said “Very Relaxed” which describes his music perfectly. The music the man produces makes you want to dance, but in a laid back sway kinda way. It was a beautiful background to a lovely Spring Day.

I overheard someone at the festival say that Chelsea Cutler gave off youth paster vibes, which may be the best possible way to describe her enthusiastic stage presence – her passionate movements around the stage, the dance she did on the drum riser, and the affirmations she gave to the audience. I wouldn’t mind have weekly sermons delivered by Cutler to get me motivated.

Quinn XCII stated that he had lost his voice the last time he had been at Forecastle and was determined to make up for the past performance. If the reaction of the crowd was any indication he completely made of for it and more. I did see some confused faces when he said he was glad to be back in the Midwest, but I guess Kentucky can be a confusing place to someone from Detroit.

Day 3:

By far the hottest day of the festival with temperatures reaching close to the 90s, but spirits still ran high. The water and beverage lines were longer, the food lines shorter. I decided not to drink anymore alcohol for the weekend out of a sense of precaution and switched to Liquid Death mountain water instead. Which leads me to bringing up…

The Unsung Heroes of the Day (and Weekend)

Festival Security. I watched security genuinely take care of the people at the show. I grew up around venues that if you passed out at a concert, staff was going to toss you out the door – one time in Cincinnati I watched a group of security throw a kid over a 12’ tall fence for kicks. Instead, security of Forecastle rush to grab anyone who went down from the heat of the day (or other reasons possibly) and got them to safety, offered them water and a spot to rest for a few minutes and EMT service if necessary. I watched one security person go and get a Nutrigrain bar from her personal backpack to help get an overheated teenager back on his feet. The were not just reactionary either; during the hottest parts of the day they handed out waters to anyone that looked like they may be getting overheated before they even had a chance to get dehydrated. I love a festival where everyone involved understands that we are all there to have a good time and cares about taking care of each other.

Highlight of the Day

Black Pumas are everything I look for in a band. Thoughtful lyrics – check. Soulful guitar – check. Genre bending music that just sounds good – check. Musicians that bring an enthusiasm to every part of what they do – check. They check all my boxes and give me all the feels, especially with the sun is going down in the background of the show.

Showstopper of the Festival

Literally. Tyler, the Creator closed out the final night of the 20th anniversary Forecastle with an energetic and visually stunning set of music. Tyler firmly announced that while some in the audience had just discovered him via social media, “he has been doing this for 12 years”. Longer than that actually. It is strange to think of Tyler as the establishment, but he has paid his dues, and many of the other artists at the festival grew up on his music have been heavily influenced by him over their years.

Other Performances

Every music festival I look for the one musical discovery that I think will be taking away with me long term. Kirby is my selection for the 2022 Forecastle Festival. Somehow simultaneously sounding like music from another time while remaining modern and contemporary, Kirby should be listened to every Sunday afternoon for the rest of time. Her solo album is only 2 years old, but she has a history of collaborations with others: Kanye West, Paul McCartney, Jennifer Lopez, Rihanna, Beyonce, and Ariana Grande to name a few.

KennyHoopla could almost be neatly defined as a pop punk artist, however his interesting use of new wave and dance influences made it hard to shoe horn him neatly into that box. And not all of those punk sounds are that poppish, with hints of grunge and hardcore mixed in as well. His frenetic performance was a breath of fresh air, as was his very honest statement, “I’m bad at talking so I’m just going to go into the next song”.

Sloan Struble’s Dayglow played pleasant indie pop music, all reminiscent of a song on the tip or your tongue that you can’t name, but remember liking very well. Maybe MGMT. Maybe Phoenix. Maybe Billie Joel or Christopher Cross. You just can’t be sure.

Singer-songwriter Fletcher gave us a set of highly personal lyrics backed by familiar and comfortable pop arrangements.