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Forecastle-07-17-2015-Sam-Smith-S-1

Photo by Willie MacLean

Once upon a time, in July of 2002, a grassroots-organized neighborhood gathering of music, art and activism took place in a quaint little patch of grass in the Fredrick Olmsted-designed Tyler Park. Located in the heart of the Highlands neighborhood in Louisville, Kentucky, the first Forecastle was comprised primarily of local artists and musicians who all performed for free.  Drawing a few hundred people nonetheless, festival founder JK McKnight made it all work on a budget of less than $500.

Fast forward to today, and this little grassroots festival has steadily evolved itself into a corporate-controlled, behemoth midwest tourist attraction, drawing thousands and thousands of festival-goers from 49 states and 12 countries. Now fully orchestrated by Knoxville’s AC Entertainment (producer of Bonnaroo & Sloss Music Festival), Forecastle Festival will once again take place on Louisville’s Waterfront Park this weekend, from July 15-17th.

The Dwindling Local Element

As an advocate for all things Kentucky, this writer would be remiss to note how our largest home state music festival seems to play host to fewer and fewer “Kentucky” musicians and artists, as each year passes. Sad, but true. In 2015 there were five artists, including My Morning Jacket, who hailed from the Bluegrass State, but this year it’s been reduced to only three, which is another aspect of the festival’s inevitable evolving trend. On the this year’s official lineup of musical artists with Kentucky roots we’ve got 1200, Joan Shelley and Louisville Orchestra Director, Teddy Abrams & Friends, who will likely feature a variety of other Kentucky musicians during his set.

Nonetheless, there’s still plenty to revel about and be excited for as Forecastle Festival maintains its status as Kentucky’s largest annual gathering of music and art. According to official ticket sales to date, this year’s festival is expected to surpass their all-time ticket sales record set last year, with over 65,000 tickets sold. 

Here are some of my personal highly-anticipated on and offstage attractions that I will choose to jabber about, in no specific order. You can even download a FREE set of tunes from a handful of Forecastle 2016 artists.

Ryan Adams

The last time I saw Mister Ryan Adams was in 2007 at Louisville’s Brown Theatre. This was when he had the audacity to only deliver a 20 minute acoustic set, sitting in a dimly-lit half circle with his band the entire time. After about three songs, plus a cover of Alice in Chains’ “Down in a Hole,” he stepped to the mic and uttered the words “Thank you, goodnight,” and then proceeded to walk offstage. Everyone in attendance was infuriated.

Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams

Regardless of that incident, this dude is one hell of a songwriter and live performer, with a 20+ year catalog of songs to draw from. I just happened to catch him on one of those shitty nights where ole’ Ryan just wasn’t feeling it. Chances are I won’t be the only person present at Forecastle this year who last saw him at the aforementioned flub show. That’s why I will confidently predict that his upcoming set at Forecastle will be an enthralling live demonstration of his musical prowess in one of his rare festival appearances. So, how about a total rock-out with your cock-out set there, Mister Adams? Some of us have been waiting a long time for it…

The Arcs

The last time a Dan Auerbach-fronted rock-n-roll machine graced a stage at Forecastle was in 2013, when the Black Keys gave a rock-n-roll sermon for over 2 hours to a rambunctious, yet appreciate drunken mass of fans. I was happily part of that mess.

The Arcs - Photo by Richard Swift

The Arcs – Photo by Richard Swift

Auerbach returns to the Forecastle stage with his newest rendition of psychedelia/garage rock while keeping intact his trademark vocals and reverb-drenched guitars. Also a vital part of the band is bassist Nick Movshon, whose better known for his extensive work with the late, great British soul queen, Amy Winehouse.

Keep an ear out for “Put a Flower in Your Pocket” if you’re a Keys fan. It should be just as a trippy performance as the song’s video. Hopefully. Catch them early on Saturday at 5:15 on the Mast Stage.

Gary Clark Jr.

Gary Clark Jr with his signature Epiphone Casino

Gary Clark Jr with his signature Epiphone Casino

Making his 2nd Forecastle appearance in only 3 years is Austin-based Gary Clark Jr., one the next soon-to-be greatest Blues rockers of our generation. He’s a festival staple across the country and his experience with the Forecastle crowd will lead to another guitar and vocal-fueled battleground experience for his audience.

Just wait till he plays “The Healing” at some point during the set. Who doesn’t need some healing from living in today’s world? Catch him on Sunday at 5:00 on the Mast Stage.

[Read our March 2016 review of Gary Clark Jr. by our own Miss Autumn en Austin]

1200

1200

1200

Also known as Jecorey Arthur, he is a music teacher for a local school by day, and up-and-coming hip-hop artist by night. There’s not much more of a positive role model coming from his west end Louisville roots. But this boy will ignite your senses with his genuine delivery of real-life inspired songs, and heartfelt authenticity. He’s a “real” musician whose capable of reshaping the overall perception of his style within the uninformed popular thought, so make sure you give him a listen on Friday at 3:00 on the Ocean Stage.

The GONZO Bar

You know, not because I’m freaking biased towards Hunter S. Thompson and virtually anything GONZO, but this will be one of the coolest damn spots to get a bourbon or other GONZO libation of choice. Thompson, a Louisville native, and creator of GONZO Journalism, was also a rabid bourbon connoisseur, amongst quite a few other mind-altering substances of choice.

Gonzo Bar Forecastle Festival

Gonzo Bar Forecastle Festival

Celebrate the GONZO spirit while you enjoy a new feature to this year’s bar – a Grant Goodwine curated “traveling madhouse” of inspired art by Thompson and his longtime British illustrator, Ralph Steadman. Great DAZE!!

Anderson East

Rhythm and blues and soul rockers with dashes of country are definitely crowd-pleasers at Forecastle. This year’s festival will feature one of that genre-orgy’s up-and-coming rising giants, with Michael Cameron Anderson, professionally recognized as Anderson East. 

Anderson East

Anderson East

Yep, this little young Alabama lad can sure as hell man a mic and rock a stage with more heartfelt intent than some of the seasoned veterans around him. And when he’s done doing all that, he parks his boots under Country Music Queen, Miss Miranda Lambert’s bed. How about that?

You’ll have to shake off that Saturday night hangover kind of quickly as he opens the Mast Stage on Sunday at 1:45. Oh yeah, make sure you wish him a happy birthday if you’re in attendance because he’ll be celebrating his 28th.

The Bourbon Lodge

The Bourbon Lodge

The Bourbon Lodge

A celebration of Kentucky’s most famous export, other than horses and world-renowned musicians: bourbon, curated by The Kentucky Bourbon Trail, a non-profit organization that promotes and publicizes all the major bourbon distillers throughout the state. You’ll learn about the history and cultivation of bourbon directly from the distilleries who’ve made it a world class export. And of course, be aware this is usually the only non-VIP air-conditioned oasis within festival grounds. So why not give all those sun and heat-relief seekers first class access to Kentucky’s brown hell water? Good call.

Kentucky Landing

Kentucky Landing

Kentucky Landing

This is the corridor where most of the incoming art will be found, along with mixed in festival retailers, many from Kentucky. It’s definitely the calmest and quietest section of the festival ground, and is great place to people watch. Grab a bite to eat. Or drink a craft brew. Or catch a nap. Whatever floats your boat.

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FF2014

Forecastle Festival, 2014 – Louisville, Kentucky

Write drunk. Edit sober.

That’s a debated Hemingway’esque philosophy to writing, and pretty much the context and tactic I used to write this preview under, so consider yourself forewarned, to some extent.

Speaking of writing under the influence, and in honor of Louisville-native Hunter S. Thompson, I figured I’d adopt a tried-and-true gonzo spirit for my 7th edition of coverage of Louisville’s Forecastle Festival, taking place this Friday, July 17 thru Sunday, July 19 at Waterfront Park in Louisville, Kentucky.

Now in it’s 14th year, Forecastle Festival takes place over what would’ve been Thompson’s 77th birthday on July 18, and there should be plenty of reminders throughout the festival of this man’s contributions to the world of journalism and Louisville culture.

Originating in 2002 as a humble grassroots neighborhood celebration of music, activism and culture, Forecastle Festival has now morphed into a corporate-controlled, mammoth-sized festival that has all the usual bells and whistles of mega festivals alike: big-name artists, big-dollar sponsors, big-time ticket prices, big-congregations of festivalgoers, and big-hoorah good times. You get what you pay for, I suppose.

As for the big-name artists, Forecastle-regulars and Louisville-natives, My Morning Jacket, will headline along with British-crooner Sam Smith, and hippie jam band-favorite Widespread Panic. Rounding out the other big-name Kentucky artists, you’ve got Cage The Elephant and Houndmouth set to perform, along with a host of other lesser and better known artists of the like. A full schedule of all performing artists, of course, can be found at Lineup.ForecastleFest.com.

Carrying on with its activism element for existence, Forecastle made one of their biggest activism strides to date by announcing this year’s festival will run on a 100% pollution free electricity. For every kWh of electricity used, a kWh will be produced and put on the grid by a pollution-free, renewable source, according to the press release.

“Forecastle Festival was built on the premise of environmental responsibility and for years we’ve worked to be as sustainable as possible through conservation, recycling, composting and the use biodiesel fuel,” said Forecastle Founder and Captain, JK McKnight. “The partnership is a huge leap forward, positioning us as one of the most sustainable, ecologically-focused events in the nation.”

So, ironically, one of the nation’s cleanest and smallest carbon footprint festivals will take place on the banks of one of the nation’s dirtiest rivers. Maybe some of that activism can be channeled into a future plan to do something to clean up the Ohio River. Moving on…

Can’t we all just get along, man?

The answer to that question through the Forecastle lens, is a resounding “Yes, man! We can!.”

Photo by Jason Ashcraft

Photo by Jason Ashcraft

Of all the years I’ve attended this festival, not once have I ever witnessed so much as even verbal dispute, let alone a physical one, amongst festivalgoers. Everyone really does just get along no matter how much fear and loathing takes place.

In a day and age where news headlines rarely report on thousands and thousands of people flocking to a shared space to just get along, this really is something to be proud of.

Even the local police and law enforcement just usually end up sitting around on their fancy four wheelers, just watching, not having to even worry about getting their uniforms dirty. And even being seemingly tolerant to those who are obviously under the influence of whatever-the-fuck. Imagine that.

Other fairly predictable and typical Forecastle features that will most likely take place this weekend:

  • Louisville’s Mayor will likely show up in VIP at some point – and be un-Mayor-like – for the weekend. He may even bring on My Morning Jacket to the stage since he is quite a well known fan of the band and festival.
  • The Hunter S. Thompson 10’ human-powered mannequin will make another appearance to much audience appeasement and selfie-induced antics.
  • There is, once again, the Gonzo Bar, a tribute bar to H.S.T., and the Bourbon Lodge which showcases Kentucky-bred bourbon and libation culture. You know, so you can achieve an authentic Kentucky buzz.
  • Artists of the non-musical type, will start various creative projects on Friday, finishing by Sunday, sometimes with the help of random passerbyers.
  • And, of course, My Morning Jacket will most likely give their next version of their greatest set ever, I’m sure. These guys always pull out something weird and unpredictable for their hometown’s biggest gig. Remember in 2012 when they sang George Michael’s “I’m Never Gonna Dance Again” while both throwing and singing “bananas” to the crowd?

Yeah, it’s like that.

So, in the immortal words of Hunter S. Thompson, and the final suggestion I made in my 2014 Forecastle Festival review, just “buy the ticket, take the ride.”

Ok?

— This preview also published at PerformerMag.com

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Forecastle Festival 2014 Mast Stage - Photo by Jason Ashcraft

Forecastle Festival 2014 Mast Stage – Photo by Jason Ashcraft

Forecastle Festival did it again. It grew in both size and clout. Swelling from 30,000+ in 2012, to nearly doubling that figure this year, with just over 60,000 who flocked to the banks of the Ohio River in Louisville, Kentucky. Unified by music, art and activism (amongst other things), something is definitely happening here that transcends other festivals like it across the country. What exactly that is, is still annually defining itself, but nonetheless, it’s evolving and happening rather quickly.

Photo by Jason Ashcraft

Photo by Jason Ashcraft

However you see it, by the first time virgin eye, or as one of the Forecastle faithful, it’s just one big gleeful, heartfelt celebration by tens of thousands of people casting their differences aside, and sharing a lot of things together. Conversation. Beer. Bourbon. Moonshine. Food. Left & right-handed smoke-ables. Each other’s significant other. Art. Activism. Everything.

Everyone rushing around to take in the sights and sounds of a 60+ musical artist roster equally diverse.

That said, onto the music. Only a few I’ll make record of. Where to start?

With Kentucky, of course. You know, because I’m not freaking biased or anything. In my show notes for Dwight Yoakam’s performance, I half-drunkly only scribbled “Holy Shit.” Either because of the performance or the number of moonshines he inspired me to consume during it. Perhaps both. Mister Yoakam is a legend here in Kentucly. He’s the closest thing to a real-life living and breathing rock n’ roll honky tonk juke box, if there ever was one. Both his sound and his style is iconic in the world of music.  Only Yoakam can end his career spanning set with a blistering cover of Elvis’ “Suspicious Minds” and make the random virgin-eared bystander believe he wrote that damn song himself. Yep, call me biased, but if you were there that night, then you know it’s true.

Dwight Yoakam - Photo by Jason Ashcraft

Dwight Yoakam – Photo by Jason Ashcraft

Even Jack White felt so obliged to acknowledge Dwight Yoakam’s musical reputation by dedicating a cover of Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky” to the denim-diamond-cladded Kentucky icon of Rock n’ Roll Country. Of course, with Jack’s routine dark twist that only he could belt out in his own rhythmic fashion. In addition to his own solo material, there were heavy doses of past projects; the White Stripes and Raconteurs, a handful of covers, all delivered in pure rock n’ roll perfection, with a necessary dose of bizarro.

Andre 3000 of Outkast - Photo by Jason Ashcraft

Andre 3000 of Outkast – Unknown Photo Source 

Outkast can probably take credit for officially drawing the largest crowd to surround any stage over the entire weekend, as they literally ripped everyone a new, yet familiar, hip-hop asshole. Yes, that was a bonafied compliment for the Atlanta-based alternative trio who enjoyed the largest and most diverse fan-base, blurring the age spectrum. Generation X & Y, along with the Millennials, just couldn’t get enough and all were equally entertained to a brazen 90+ minute set spanning a 20+ year catalogue.

Band of Horses - Photo by Jason Ashcraft

Band of Horses – Photo by Jason Ashcraft

Seattle-based Band of Horses turned in a set that was as mesmerizing as it was entertaining. Frontman Ben Bridwell has a voice that will transcend his band into the ages. That voice embodies the range of emotions and intensity you experience while seeing them live. The downright tight musicianship coupled with stellar songwriting will someday justify their headlining of these festival’s of the like. Period.

The Replacements - Photo by Jason Ashcraft

The Replacements – Unknown Photo Source

The Replacements, who brought an endless buffet of Gibson guitars, also showed they had shit tons of eagerness to perform again, this time with Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong to fill on some rhythm responsibilities.

“God, please write this set for us,” lead vocalist Paul Westerberg pleaded upon claiming the mic and stage. Ask, and ye shall receive, shall we say, for a summation of everything thereafter. Only one cover was logged, which came by way of Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene.”

JJ Grey - Photo by Jason Ashcraft

JJ Grey & Mofro – Photo by Jason Ashcraft

Swamp-blues rockers JJ Grey & Mofro also gave a raucous rock n’ roll performance that was message-filled and loose, shall we say.Ole’ JJ himself occasionally took mid-song instrumental breaks to share what was on his mind with his ever-endearing fan base who praised every word that was uttered from his lips. The most memorable of the night came by way of their set’s closer “Everything Good is Bad.”

Ray LaMontagne and band - Photo by Jason Ashcraft

Ray LaMontagne and band – Photo by Jason Ashcraft

Ray LaMontagne’s psychedelic southern circus of sounds started calmly, but built with intensity and a recognizable progression thanks to a highly talented and multi-tasking band. Ray’s natural vocal rasp is not only immediately recognizable, but grants him his own sound and give’s a meaningful feeling to his music.

Jalin Roze - Photo by Jason Ashcraft

Jalin Roze – Photo by Jason Ashcraft

Louisville’s current hip-hop ambassador, Jalin Roze, amassed what was probably the largest crowd at the Port Stage saw all weekend. The up and coming Roze broke the norm of his fellow hip-hop compadres, and came with a full live band, brass, strings and keys included. Throw in his masterful manipulation of the English language without butchering it, and you’ll understand that this kid is well on his way. Somewhere.

Even Louisville’s Mayor Greg Fischer, apparently taking the weekend off to join the army of forecastle’s growing citizen journalists, took to the Twitter-sphere to document his Forecastle experience. Way to go Mayor on getting in the photo pit, apparently, too. Or were you in VIP all day?

Image courtesy of Twitter

Image courtesy of Twitter

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that on Friday, July 18th, marked what would have been the 77th birthday of Louisville native Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, who was recognized in a sort of mild manner overall, but whose 15’ tall human-powered puppet made it’s return from last year. It’s both a crowd pleaser and selfie-inducer.

Photo by Jason Ashcraft

Photo by Jason Ashcraft

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t point out that – as we consider what Forecastle is and what it will be – good ole’ Hunter once infamously proclaimed, “When the going get’s weird, the weird turn pro.”

In toady’s world, indeed it’s weird. And it’s safe to assume the continued evolution of something like Forecastle is a bit of living proof HST’s proclamation of such, wasn’t just another one of his many rage and substance-laden rants. He was right, again. It’s happening everywhere, geographically, but it’s also happening here with a little more intensity. Right here in Louisville, Kentucky. America’s midwestern heartland. Exactly where his own ideologies first formed. Seemingly ironic.

That said, and jumping ahead to Forecastle 2015, Hunter would’ve probably just said, “Buy the ticket. Take the ride.”

— This review also published at PerformerMag.com

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FF_pic

Picture courtesy of Forecastle Festival

In the world of music festivals, everything changes. Eventually. And Louisville’s annual mammoth-sized music, art and activism mecca, Forecastle Festival, now in its 11th year, is no exception. The festival will once again take place on Louisville’s Waterfront Park, from July 12-14.

What started as a small neighborhood gathering in Louisville’s Tyler Park in 2002 has evolved into one of the Midwest’s largest platforms for musicians, artists and activists alike with tens of thousands flocking to the banks of the Ohio River every summer.

Last year the Forecastle founder JK McKnight, announced a partnership with Bonnaroo producer, AC Entertainment.

“One of the biggest assets AC Entertainment brings to the table is experience, and the relationships that go along with that,” McKnight explains. “In addition, a laser-like focus heavily on festivals, which is different than concerts. Festivals are brands, and have to be approached in a different way.”

That approach has lead to a number of expected changes with the core management shift to AC. The most obvious – perhaps only to the Forecastle-faithful – is the music roster, which is a bit lighter on Louisville area artists as compared to year’s past.

“We’re always going to have a local and regional stage. I think that’s never going to change,” McKnight adds.

“But yes, it’s (Louisville & Kentucky musicians) always been a part of the festival and I imagine it always will be. It’s part of our DNA. I think as the festival grows and expands, we’ll be able to use more real estate, which could open up more opportunity,” says McKnight.

“This year I’ve put together a list of probably 15 to 20 local artists that I thought were really special and deserving of an opportunity like this. These were artists that were really out there, touring constantly, pushing the envelope, building their brand. You can look at numbers and statistics, and see them growing in the market. People are responding, which is what we want to see. We want something that catches our eye. If we see other people responding to it, that’s important. The festival’s not about our personal music tastes. I think that’s a misconception,” McKnight candidly commented.

A few of those carefully selected artists hailing from the Louisville area include; the musically unclassifiable My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James, the up-and-coming folk-jammers Houndmouth, retro-rockers The Pass, the bluegrass-americana sounds of 23 String Band, and the alt-country up-comers A Lion Named Roar.

As for the Forecastle headliners, festival-goers will enjoy Robert Plant and his Sensational Space Shifters (which’ll hopefully turn into a Led Zeppelin affair), The Black Keys, The Avett Brothers, The Flaming Lips, The String Cheese Incident, Outkast’s Big Boi, and Alabama Shakes just to name a few.

Forecastle is also expanding beyond the festival’s official grounds with a number of late night after-party concerts at Louisville Palace and aboard the Belle of Louisville.

“Every year, the late night component of the festival is always something that we think about throughout the whole year,” McKnight explains. “Obviously, this year with String Cheese doing the Saturday night at the Palace, which is the first year of its kind that the Palace has ever done. But yeah, the Belle of Louisville is an iconic venue. I don’t see us ever quitting that tradition of trying to do shows on the Belle. It’s a lot of fun!”

* This article can also be read in Performer Magazine’s July 2013 issue and at PerformerMag.com

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Photo by Jason Ashcraft

You wanna know what Forecastle Festival is like? Ok. It’s a little something like this: Music. Art(ists). Ecology. Louisville-lovers. Dirty hippie dudes. Dirty hippie dames. Beardos. Rollie Fingers’ staches. Dreadlocks. Tye-dye. Bassheads. Potheads. River-bathers. Burlesque performances. Tree-huggers. Socialists. Liberals. Journalists. Hacky-sack circles. Sweaty people drinking PBR. Sweaty people making out. Sweaty people drinking PBRs and making out. Teenage make-shift obstacle hurdlers. Pervasive Mary Jane aromas. Muhammad Ali portraits in the head. The Mayor in VIP.

Yep, this is how it went down on the banks of the Ohio River when more than 35,000 people jumbled together to celebrate Louisville, right below its own skyline in Waterfront Park. And, yes, this was a city government-endorsed event as Mayor Fischer was present to once again welcome My Morning Jacket with Forecastle Festival founder JK McKnight. Whereas some city governments shun music festivals like these, Louisville’s embraces it.

Things have really evolved culturally in this town over the last couple decades, and Forecastle just may be one, if not the main, instigator of said evolution. It’s living, breathing, naked proof that people from many different backgrounds, beliefs and races can coexist together in a way that promotes unity, cultural awareness, activism and freedom with music as the unifying stimulus.

With music being one of the biggest aspects of the festival, here is the rundown of the artists ranked from best to worst in my own opinion.

My Morning Jacket

Jim James – Photo by Kate Eldridge (www.KateEldridge.com)

I don’t have a clue where to freaking begin here. Why? Because last May 2011, when the band released Circuital at Louisville’s Palace Theatre I said that MMJ gave the greatest performance they could ever give. Now here I am, again, both eating my words and again saying, “MMJ gave the greatest performance they could ever give at Forecastle.” Not to mention the best performance – by far – of the entire damn festival. Exactly as they planned to.

In a recent interview with MMJ bassist Two-Tone Tommy, he promised that “surprises” were in store, and the first came only two songs in when the big brass backing of Preservation Hall Jazz Band joined them for a crowd-pleasing version of “Holdin’ Onto Black Metal.”

Keeping the set eclectic, they played songs from virtually their entire discography, opening with “The Dark” and busting out mesmerizing versions of “The Bear,” “Anytime,” “Smoking From Shooting,” “Steam Engine,” and crowd favorites, including“Wordless Chorus” and an Andrew Bird-accompanied version of “Gideon.”

They also logged killer covers of Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” George Harrison’s “Isn’t It a Pity,” The Band’s “It Makes No Difference,” and an encore performance of George Michael’s “Careless Whisper” in which Jim delivered a message from George Michael himself, while tossing bananas to the audience and hilariously adjusting the lyrics to suit the occasion.

I wouldn’t be surprised if that cover perpetuated the sale of a few more George Michaels’ albums on iTunes post-show from all those youngins, who were wondering what the hell they just heard. Hey kids, just like Jim mentioned during a mid-song instrumental break, “George Michaels gets a lot of shit, but he is a fucking genius.” Truer words never spoken.

Once the banana tossing concluded, and with Forecastle’s First-mate saluting the audience from side-stage, former MMJ guitarist Johnny Quaid (of Ravenna Colt) emerged from backstage to play a rambunctious version of “One Big Holiday.” With that, the stage came alive as human-propelled animal and fish props became part of the stage show and provided the last of many “holy shit” moments for the evening.

Sleeper Agent

Now here is a band with a lot of charisma and a seemingly bright future ahead of them — that is — if they keep giving performances like they did at Forecastle. Make no mistake folks, lead singer Alex Kandel is the star in this band as she danced, headbanged and pushed her way around stage with fellow bandmates, flipping her hair from one side to the next every five steps.

Sleeper Agent – Photo by Kate Eldridge (www.KateEldridge.com)

I guess Guitarist Tony Smith figured he, too, needed to get a little wicked, electing to jump offstage and crowd-surf till he was dropped. He quickly jumped back to his feet and climbed back onstage to carry on.

The Bowling Green, Kentuckians logged rowdy live performances of “Get Burned,” “Get It Daddy” and “Proper Taste,” all from their debut album Celebrasion. If these little young Kentucky lads are to have some more big shows in their future, then all they gotta do is keep doing what they did at Forecastle. Their crowd was one of the biggest of the smaller two stages. Next time, they should get a bigger stage because I’m betting they will hold their own on a stage of any size.  

Ben Sollee

Ben Sollee – Photo by Kate Eldridge (www.KateEldridge.com)

Kentucky’s cello-rocker Ben Sollee is a one-man orchestra onstage. Offstage, he’s a seemingly passive, small-framed guy, who almost looks like a scientist or a high school math teacher. But don’t be fooled, because he once again shattered that subtle image the moment he took stage and masterfully blended elements of classical and out-right jamming styles of sound from his cello. He adds in some soulful vocals and sometimes plays with vicious intent and a lot of passion.

Not even a 10-minute late start due to a technical glitch slowed him down on his Sunday evening performance, nor did it decrease the size of his audience, which eagerly awaited him to start plucking and strumming that cello with his bow. Once he started, Sollee quickly captured his audience with his passion in both personality and showmanship. His one-hour set flew by, and I found myself having to cut-out about 15 minutes early to see another equally impressive band getting ready to start.

Clutch

“Hat’s off to My Morning Jacket for their great taste in music!” says Clutch lead singer Neil Fallon, who selfishly joked at mid-set about their invitation to play. But he’s right, especially if you’re fan of good ole’ dirty and stripped-down rock ‘n’ roll, which is a music style that’s not the norm at Forecastle.

Clutch – Photo by Kate Eldridge (www.KateEldridge.com)

Filling the Boom Stage’s lawn with a couple thousand people, Clutch played cuts from their entire catalog. Opening with “Gravel Road” and closing with “One Eye Dollar,” Clutch delivered a set that spanned their 20-year career in music, including high-energy versions of their more popular hits like “50,000 Unstoppable Watts” and “Electric Worry,” yet strangely left out “The Mob Goes Wild.” Damn. Maybe next time.

Ochestre Poly-Rythmo

These Afrobeat and funk pioneers were probably one of the most under-anticipated acts playing in the entire festival. These guys have been playing together for decades but added a hip international flair unlike previous years. Although they’ve been jamming out since the ‘60s, this was only their second trip to the U.S.

Orchestre Poly-Rythmo – Photo by Jason Ashcraft

About an equal amount of time was shared between instrumental play and the soulful French-African vocals of lead singer Amenoudji Joseph Vicky, who spoke to the audience during and in-between songs.

After his performance, I actually had the chance to speak with Vicky on things like the meaning of his music, who some of his musical influences are, and even got a little political, quizzing him on his thoughts on President Obama and our country’s political system.

Speaking in his native French tongue and with a little help from Poly Rythmo’s interpreter and U.S. Manager, Elodie, Vicky was candid and entertaining to listen to. I just wish he had broken out a peace pipe on me. Oh well.

Moon Taxi

This is one band I hadn’t actually planned on seeing, but that I just happened to stumble upon while waiting to see Cabin at the next stage over. I gotta say I’m definitely glad I did, because the guys were totally balls-out rock ‘n’ roll with enough energy radiating off the stage to keep their audience growing through the set.

Now I didn’t recognize any of their original music, but they belted out one mean cover of The Who’s “Teenage Wasteland,” which stopped a few would-be passerbys dead in their tracks as they made their way to the stage.

Cabin

Cabin with Ben Sollee – Photo by Kate Eldridge (www.KateEldridge.com)

One of several Louisville-based indie rock acts took the stage on a muggy Sunday evening to a rather shy and undersized crowd. Lead singer Noah Hewett-Ball has a calm, cool and collected demeanor onstage that seems to carry over with most of their music as a band.

One of their more catchy tunes they played, “A Lie Worth Believing,” just happened to bring out cello extraordinaire, Ben Sollee, for a little eclectic addition to an already catchy song. Much to the modest crowd’s appeasement, Keyboard and Violinist Sarah Beth Welder wasn’t shy about admitting that “I got to knock something off my bucket list by playing with Ben Sollee.”

Lucero

The country punk rockers make their Forecastle return, this time with less bugs up in their grills. Yep, the last time they played Forecastle in 2010 Lucero was swarmed by big river flies that spoiled their performance a little. Not this time, though, instead they were swarmed with a steady fan base.

Frontman Ben Nichols’ gritty and countryfied vocals charmed the couple thousand fans, who weren’t in short supply of being fond for alt-southern sounds that makes Lucero iconic.

Lucero – Photo by Kate Eldridge (www.KateEldridge.com)

Promoting their latest album Women & Work, Nichols and band jammed out the title track to an eager audience. And it wouldn’t be a true Lucero show if they didn’t play “Nights Like These” and “Kiss the Bottle,” which Nichols refers to as his “jaw breaking song.”

Preservation Hall Jazz Band

The pride of New Orlean’s zydeco-jazz music culture stormed into Louisville — almost literally. Staying true to Preservation Hall’s reputation of never hosting a performance in the rain, the day’s storms cleared out of Louisville just in time. Some things never change, I guess.

Preservation Hall Jazz Band with Jim James – Photo by Kate Eldridge (www.KateEldridge.com)

Just as everyone anticipated, Jim James took the stage for a cabaret-like sing-a-long with Bourbon Street’s brass kings. And somehow at the end of that boisterous performance, James was holding a broken mic stand. Figure that one out for me.

Ravenna Colt

Johnny Quaid – Photo by Kate Eldridge (www.KateEldridge.com)

Who would’ve ever known that frontman Johnny Quaid actually had something more exciting in store than his own band’s performance at Forecastle? Not even me. Just a few hours after a bit of a mundane performance with his band Ravenna Colt, Quaid joined his former bandmates in My Morning Jacket onstage for what had to be the highlight of his night.

Ravenna Colt has some decent songs, thanks to Quaid’s obvious ear for sound, but their presentation needs some work. Many of their songs don’t warrant an energetic performance; the band just didn’t seem to be inspired by the music they were playing.

“South of Ohio” is one song they played that warrants a feather in his hat, but a bleak crowd seemed to detract from the performance.

GirlTalk

From Bruce Springsteen to Outkast to Black Sabbath, etc., etc. All laced with a steady backbeat. Ok, this guy reminded me of this loud-mouth, yet like-able, drunken club DJ that I used to work with in college in Richmond, Ky.
This dude pressed a damn button every so often on his laptop, yelled through his microphone “How y’all doing?” a few times and then staggered around like a boozed up ADHD patient all night — sometimes being away from his “instrument” for extended periods of time. Sure, he was a fun guy who “breaks out the jams” and entertains the chemically induced masses. But let’s be clear; I never considered this drunken bastard “talented.” Know what I mean?

GirlTalk – Photo by Kate Eldridge (www.KateEldridge.com)

Final thoughts…

It’s safe to say that this year’s Forecastle Festival topped everyone’s expectations, even my own. I admit that one of my first worries with all the amped up hype was that there would be an equally amped up Police force and security team ready to spoil the fun. As it turned out, however, and much to everyone’s appreciation, that wasn’t the case. They were seemingly respectful of the fans.

Photo by Jason Ashcraft

I mean, let’s face it; you can’t have the police dragging away a bunch of teenage and 20-something potheads for passing around doobies. Not when the Mayor just came off stage from amping them up and hanging out in VIP. That wouldn’t look good, now would it?

In all seriousness, well done LMPD and Axis Security! You see? You guys still brought home the same amount of pay, maintained the safety of all festival-goers and didn’t have to break a sweat or someone’s arm while doing it. Hopefully, you guys now realize that all those pot-smoking, music-junkie hippie kids aren’t really interested in bringing harm to anyone or anything. Nah. All they really want to do is get another polish sausage to suffice their munchies, dance in circles to a My Morning Jacket or Dr. Dog song, and maybe learn how to burn a few less fossil fuels in their daily lives. So, thank you for allowing this to happen. Peacefully.

** This review also published at LouisvilleKY.com and PerformerMag.com

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Leading up to their Forecastle Festival performance on Friday the 13th, founding members of Kentucky’s Sleeper Agent, Alex Kandel (vocals) and Tony Smith (lead guitar) chatted with me on a few things like their influences, what they think of other Kentucky musicians, Alex’s recent nomination into the latest Rolling Stone readers poll, and what their new album holds.

Jason Ashcraft: I’m here with Kentucky’s own Sleeper Agent, Tony and Alex, how are you all doing today? 

Tony Smith: Pretty good 

Alex Kandel: Yeah, we’re doing good. 

Excellent. So here we are at Forecastle Festival 2012, and it’s Friday the 13th. Any superstitions? 

Tony: (laughing) No! 

Alex: No, we’ll watch a horror movie I guess. We’re big horror movie fans as a band. 

Horror movie fans? 

Alex: Yeah. 

Does that have any influence on your music by chance? 

Tony: Only on stuff like “Be My Monster” 

Alex: Yeah, I guess. Then there is our publishing thing called “Sleep-away Camp” which is named after one of favorite movies. 

You guys have been a really up-and-coming band after only being together for just a couple of years, so tell me about your musical influences and your chemical influences? 

Tony: Uh, a lot of beer. 

Alex: (laughing) Caffeine. 

Tony: Musically, if you’d ask me two years ago it’d be totally different….

Alex: Constantly changing. Right now? I mean I will always be influenced by The Ronettes. 

And you also have a likeness for Fiona Apple, who I believe was the first concert you ever went to? 

Alex: Um, yeah it was THE first concert I ever went to. It was like, I didn’t actually know it till I found a journal entry from that time. (laughing)  But, it’s kind of funny how things work out. 

Cool. 

So I like to focus on a lot of Kentucky artists. And since you guys are amongst that group now, I’ve got a list here of other Kentucky based artists. I’m gonna call their names out and the first word that comes to mind when I say their name, just tell me what it is. Whatever your first reaction is. 

Tony: This could be dangerous. 

Alex: (laughing) 

So let’s start off with My Morning Jacket.

Tony: Epic

Alex: Epic, yeah that’s the word. 

Nappy Roots.

Tony: What happened? 

Alex: (laughing) They’re great. 

Tony: They’re great guys, but after their second album they kind of disappeared. 

Black Stone Cherry.

Tony: Metal. 

Alex: I don’t know. I’ve met them a few times. They were really nice. 

Cage The Elephant

Alex: Family.

Tony: Family (laughing). 

Loretta Lynn

Alex: Amazing.

Tony: Up there. 

Days of the New

Tony: Unheard of.

Alex: No idea who that is.

Kentucky Headhunters

Alex: Legendary

Tony: I was going to say that actually. 

Good to know. Welcome to the Kentucky music family so to speak. 

So, Alex. Turning the attention to you for a moment. You were recently nominated in Rolling Stone’s latest readers’ poll “Women Who Rock.” So, tell me. Why do you rock? 

Alex: (smiling) Because I’m actually in a “rock” band. Which, you know, some of the other contestants aren’t. I got that going for me. And because I live in a van, and just like play shows all the time and there is no smoking mirror. I’m just working my ass off. 

Tony: You’ve gotten injured several times. 

Alex: Oh, I have scars. 

Oh, scars. Scars are good. 

Alex: (pointing to a scar on her upper forehead) Can you see it? From a guitar. 

Yeah. What happened there? 

Alex: (smiling and laughing) I broke Tony’s guitar with my head. 

That is totally awesome! If you don’t “rock” for that alone, then I don’t know who does. 

In your own words, you know, with a lot of bands it takes them a long time to get where you guys have already gone. Why do you think its happened so quickly for you guys?

Tony: Well, technically it took us nine years to get here. So what this is, is the dregs of all the other projects plus Alex (laughing). So just nine years of non-stop work. 

Alex: Yeah, they’re is a lot that goes into it too, and you have to be the right sound, with the right path. Our first record was just good timing and the right people believing in us at the right time. A lot of factors go into what makes us a band. It has nothing to do with what we make alone. It has everything to do with what people hear it, and every fan that bought our record and came to our shows. 

Cool. Well looking forward to hearing you play here at Forecastle Festival. And I just caught wind that you guys are writing a new record already. Any thoughts or anything you’d like to share with that? 

Tony: I’m really excited. 

Alex: Even though I’m just hearing the songs in their very early stages where they’re just infants, it’s really cool to know that I am already proud of this record.  

Release date yet? Do you even know? 

Alex: I have no idea. 

Would you say your music is evolving? Are you experimenting? Or staying with your same root sound? 

Tony: Yeah, the first album was more of a sketch. This one is more of a painting. 

** This interview is also posted at LouisvilleKY.com

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