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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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Two-Tone Tommy Blankenship – Photo by Paul Wellman

There’s a lot going on these days in the life of My Morning Jacket bassist Two-Tone Tommy Blankenship. When you’re a member of one of the music industry’s most popular live alternative rock-n-roll bands, you tend to not have too much time for things other than music and your career.

With MMJ’s focus on curating Louisville’s Forecastle Festival, the boys are looking at music with a different focus; through their Louisville-lenses, so to speak, more so than other shows they play.

It’s hard to believe that back in 2002 Forecastle Festival started as a small group of local musicians who gathered in Louisville’s Tyler Park for one day of music and community celebration. Now, 10 years later, founder JK McKnight has morphed that little neighborhood gathering into the Midwest’s largest music, art and activism mecca, and now has tapped the area’s biggest musical export in My Morning Jacket not only headlining, but helping plan the event.

Forecastle Festival now boasts more than three stages with a combination of both national and Louisville-area musicians of all music and genre types. Throw in dozens of vendors, sponsors, artists and keynote activism speakers, and all of the sudden you see what I mean when I say “morph.”

Last summer’s “Halfway to Forecastle” event was a show that McKnight conceived on-the-fly to merely hold over the Forecastle faithful while he formed a partnership with AC Entertainment, the company that just happens to produce a little festival in southern Tennessee called Bonnaroo.

“The partnership has been great. AC Entertainment has brought of wealth of knowledge, experience, enthusiasm, and commitment to programming excellence. Everyday is a new adventure, and I’m really glad to be part of the team,” McKnight said.

So with his big guns a blazin’, and a hell of a lot more production power behind him, McKnight has now recruited Louisville’s biggest musical export, and Bonnaroo-four-hour-marathon-set-festival-favorite, My Morning Jacket, to help select the show’s artist roster and a few other details.


Forecastle Festival 2010 – Photo by Willie McLean

I had the chance to talk with My Morning Jacket bassist Two-Tone Tommy Blankenship on this year’s event and how the band has played a role in the show’s “curation.”

So, I’m here with Two-Tone Tommy Blankenship of My Morning Jacket, who is one of the official curators of the Forecastle Festival. Right, Tommy? 

Correct, correct.

So what does that entail doing? What are you doing to building Forecastle to what it’s going to be?

I think the biggest thing was throwing out names of bands, kinda like our dream list of some of the artists we wanted to see this year. As well helping plan a lot of the charities and who was going to be involved with charities. The food vendors, retail vendors. All of it was just kind of just suggestions as you know with the curation.

So does that mean we will see a lot of local Louisville businesses and local Kentucky and Louisville-based bands on the bill? 

Exactly. Yeah, we wanted to really focus on – since there are so many national acts that are already coming in – was to have a dedicated local stage that would really shine a spotlight on what makes the city so special. Especially just having both – the festival as a 10-year anniversary and it felt like something we’ve always wanted to do at all of our shows. Like have the local village, you know? Like have the spotlight on the city itself, because there are so many people traveling in from out of town. Just trying to put the spotlight on everything we love about the city.

Of course Forecastle has a reputation for already doing that. That being said though, who are some of the artists you guys hand-picked and are really looking forward to seeing? 

Geez, they’re are like so many. Dr. Dog, Washed Out, Andrew Bird, Wilco. I mean literally, everyday, there is somebody…

(And all-of-the-sudden my dogs start barking in the background. Tommy and I laugh it off for about 5 seconds until it quiets down again.) 

Who are some of the artists that you guys hand-picked that are like local and independent who are trying to make their way and this show is going to be a big effort for them to do that? 

A big one for me is Cabin. I don’t know, do you remember Shane Thomas that we went to school with?

Yeah, I think so. And I’ve seen Cabin before, and they were good!

Yeah, yeah, they’re amazing. Yeah Cabin, Lydia Burrell, John that used to play in the band (MMJ) is in Ravenna Colt now and they’re playing.

Yeah, yeah I know The Ravenna Colt, and they’re good. 

Yeah, they’re amazing. Wax Fang. I mean like pretty much everybody that was invited was pretty much on our list. Like, a lot of the local artists that are coming in.

In terms of your guy’s own performance, on that Saturday night is when you’re playing, is that correct? 

Yeah, Saturday night.

So, I’m not going to ask you for details or anything, but is there any surprises coming? A simple yes or no will do. 

Ahh, yes. For sure.

Awesome. And – without giving it away – what can we expect? 

Ummm….

(laughs)

Without giving it away…

Without giving it away? 

(laughs, again, because my dog interrupts one more time with the barking) 

“Oh, yeah! It will be a different experience over any shows that we’ve done this year or last year.”

Good to know. Something to look forward to. Awesome.

What would you say is your favorite thing about Louisville and our whole Kentucky-music stomping ground is or what is your favorite thing about our city?

I think – and this might seem like a limitation in a way – what I always loved about growing up in the area, and what I still love about it, is that is has an identity all on its own. I think that it really pushes young artists to find their own voice and their own sound, and really make things happen. Because it really isn’t a destination scene. It isn’t like you said, Chicago or any of the big cities that are around. Or even Indy in a way. It just doesn’t have that…like people aren’t moving to Louisville to start bands.

Yeah, you’re saying that we’re a very homegrown music scene.

Yeah, for sure. It’s kind of insular. I think they’re aren’t a lot of opportunities to play outside of the city; it’s not like if you make a name for yourself in Louisville that will carry you through a bunch of other cities or, you know, get you on a bunch of other cities and festivals and stuff.

Right, right. So what’s your advice to young musicians here in town who are trying to get where you guys are going with your own career? 

I mean, it’s gonna sound kind of clichéd, but as long you just put the work into it, you know, more than anything else. I mean obviously, it’s just passion. It’s having the passion, putting the work into it and not expecting a whole lot in return. Like work and work and work, and don’t expect a whole lot, and then I think you’ll have the biggest reward that way.

Right.

So, circling back to you guys. Jim (James) just recently announced that he was doing a solo project, which is pretty cool, and of course Carl (Broemel) has done his own thing. Do you think that all the side project work that other members do will contribute to a MMJ hiatus? 

Yeah, man I feel like this is the main gig for all of us. And being able to have the freedom in the band to go and do these other projects – it’s like when you come back to it – for all of us, we have this deeper appreciation for our dynamic, the way we work, how easy it is. And then you’re learning something when you walk away from the band who is been in these other playgrounds, these other sandboxes. You get to experience things with other people; then you can kind of bring that experience back with you into this familiar family setting.

So it’s definitely something that fuels your diversity because from one album to the next you guys are never the same. 

(laughing) Right, right, yeah. Yeah.

That’s good. So it’s turned into a positive and not a negative is what you’re saying? 

Absolutely. Yeah.

Awesome. Do you have any side projects or solo things you’re planning on your own? 

Ummmm, nothing so far. No, no.

Yeah, that’s cool. Just kind of enjoying life and living the American dream? Living the dream…

(laughing) Exactly, right. Life is good.

So, let me ask you this, closing out here; you guys have been nominated for a Grammy on several occasions. How important is it for you personally or as a band to eventually bring one home?

Ah, for me, you know, just being nominated is mind blowing and it’s unbelievable. It’s such a rewarding feeling, that whether we win or lose, to have that recognition to have the nomination is way more than I could have ever dreamed or hoped for.

That’s good. So, what’s next for My Morning Jacket? 

Ummm….

After this tour and after Forecastle Festival, is there a new album in the works? 

Nah, you know, we’re just focusing on touring for the rest of the year and then hopefully come next spring we’ll start getting into song-writing and studio work.

Forecastle Festival
My Morning Jacket / Bassnectar / Wilco / Girltalk / Clutch / Lucero / Neko Case / plus many more…
Friday, July 13 – Sunday, July 15
Louisville’s Waterfront Park
$57.50 – $350
All ages
www.ForecastleFest.com 

Listen to the full unedited audio interview:

** This interview and preview also posted at LouisvilleKY.com

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VilleBillies
Appetite for Dysfunction
Island Earth Music
Produced by: VilleBillies

If there ever were a need to record an album that glorifies the art of southern-urban-suburban living in good ole’ Louisville, Kentucky coupled with mass consumption of various chemical substances, then this would be that album.

On their 3rd album (the first being Universal Motown Records), the VilleBillies continue perfecting their original sound of recording boozy, beat-laden, twangy, honest hip-hop music straight from their heart and minds. And they definitely didn’t forget to work on elevating their other nostalgic trait: Louisville-celebrity-living-ness. Or something to that effect.

Appetite for Dysfunction’s first single and track No. 4 “Talk to Me,” a dark, yet catchy tune was released on Youtube in November 2010. Yep, 2010.

Other killer tracks is the twangy-wangy guitar rock n’ roll jam “Pure to the Grain,” and the smooth beats and groove laid on “Rear View.” There’s also the eerie piano & guitar playing on “Pride Aside,” which is candidly humble lyrically speaking. The harmonica and banjo makes its first appearance on “O’Death,” a song that has a backwoods, porch-stomping, celtic feel to it. “Just Yesterday” is something that resembles a ballad, something that hasn’t been a VB regularity, but you’d never know it after listening to it.

Closing out in style, they end with a Weird Al-like parody of “Talk To Me,” dubbed “Tuck to Me” where the lyrics are virtually dumb, sometimes redundant and non-fitting to the rhythm. The VilleBillies. Essentially fucking around while still recording their album and making fun of their own antics. Imagine that. Surprising, I know. 

Track Listing:

1. Midnight
2. Pure to the Grain
3. Worth the Fight
4. Talk to Me
5. Rear View
6. Rocket Queen
7. Alive
8. Side Show
9. Pride Aside
10. The Biz
11. Same Ol’ People
12. O’Death
13. So Goes the Scarecrow
14. Movin On
15. Just Yesterday
16. Tuck to Me

** This review will also soon be published on LouisvilleKY.com


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The Forecastle Festival – Louisville’s nautically-themed summertime celebration of music, art, and environmental activism – has announced that My Morning Jacket will headline and assist in curating the festival’s tenth anniversary. The 3-day event will take place July 13 – 15, 2012, at Louisville’s scenic, award-winning Waterfront Park.

My Morning Jacket, whose original members hail from Louisville and currently reside in the city, will headline Saturday night, as well as collaborate with producers on the sights, sounds and experiences of the entire festival weekend. Celebrating its 10th year, the festival will pay homage to its past, present, and future, highlighting Forecastle’s maritime theme while celebrating the very best of Louisville and Kentucky.

“The stars have aligned in such a way that not only allows My Morning Jacket to headline on Saturday night, but to collaborate on many aspects of the festival as well,” said JK McKnight, Forecastle Founder and Director of National Partnerships for AC Entertainment. “From booking bands and curating late night shows to choosing philanthropic partners and shining a light on Louisville’s special offerings, together we’re sure to craft the best Forecastle experience ever. There’s certainly no group I would rather share this moment with than them.”

Full festival details, including the complete line up of headliners, along with over 75 bands performing on multiple stages, will be announced in the coming weeks.  Separately ticketed late-night after-parties will also take place on the historical steamboat, the Belle of Louisville and at the newly renovated Ice House.

“We’re really excited to join forces with the Forecastle Festival,” said Jim James, lead singer of My Morning Jacket. “It has been great to watch them grow over the years- bringing great music, art, education, and activism to Louisville. The festival is a great vehicle for showcasing the abundance of opportunity, talent, and beauty our fair city has to offer.”

Drummer Pat Hallahan added, “Watching Forecastle grow through the years has been a thing of beauty.  JK McKnight is a forward-thinking, hardworking visionary. It is an honor to work along side the whole Forecastle and AC Entertainment crew.”

Specially priced weekend passes will go on-sale January 27 at noon (EST).  After the initial allotment is depleted, tickets will still be available at regular price. Travel packages will also be available, including accommodations at The Galt House – the festival’s official, waterfront hotel. For those who wish to dock up for the weekend, VIP “Captain’s Club” boat slips will also be available.   For ticketing information, visit www.forecastlefest.com.

And stay tuned to this blog as I will have a full preview and review of Forecastle Festival, which will also be published in Performer Magazine’s July 2012 and September 2012 issues. Online too: www.PerformerMag.com

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Ahh, the Kentucky Derby season in Louisville. That time of year where for two weeks most the city’s population negates work, drink the days and nights away all in the name of horse racing’s classiest two-minute affair. As exemplified below by my little drunken buddy who I found all snuggled up in a concrete nook near the corner of 3rd Street and Muhammad Ali at about 11:30 pm.


At least he wasn’t driving, right?

So, I too wandered about my hometown on its most glorious weekend – a little more coherently than the average Joe, I might add – but nonetheless to see a few random Derby party-spots.

Thursday, May 5th: Kroger’s Festaville at Waterfront Park

Waterfront park took on a new meaning to its name as receding flood waters left much of the ground oozing with river-aroma’d black mud. Now add an inability to get your favorite beverage/cocktail of choice in 20 minutes or less, and you get a disgruntled crowd. Although many were patient enough to bear the wait time, I decided standing in a line for 20 minutes or more for a drink was not something I can do if I’m going to properly review the event. Maybe someday these large waterfront concert organizers will figure out the service staff to guest ratio, because this night they clearly hadn’t. If you wanted a beer or cocktail you had better be patient and be willing to watch the concert from the line. Bummer.


The drink ticket line


One of three stage-area watering holes

Luck-fully the entertainment for the night were a pair of Kentucky’s most popular bands, Louisville’s The Pass, and Bowling Green’s Cage The Elephant. Event organizers hit the nail on the head by booking these two rising musical stars from Kentucky, otherwise I’m not sure people would have braved the mud and long lines.

The Pass initiated the first true crowd roar upon walking out on stage and seemed a little surprised at the audiences gesture. They opened with “Treatment of the Sun” and somewhat initiated a dance party that would carry out for the remainder of their 45 minute set. An 80’s style dance party in mud I might add. The only bummer was they didn’t play, what I think is one of their best songs, “Criminal.”

Cage The Elephant almost didn’t go on. At least that is what I started to think when I saw an ambulance with its lights on drive backstage 30 minutes after The Pass had completely vacated the stage. All of the sudden I started thinking about my phone interview with lead-singer Matt Schultz last March, which I thought he was comatose’d during. There is no way this ambulance is here for any CTE member I thought to myself.

Then, finally, at about 9:45, a whole 45 minutes late, the Bowling Green, Kentucky-boys finally emerged from backstage to a shrieking and impatient audience. They quickly grabbed their instruments and belted out one of their hits “In One Ear.” The opening words to this song; “They say we ain’t got the style, we ain’t got the class…” proved to be oh-so-appropriate at this particular moment. But, musically, they do, and those lyrics really hit home for a home-state audience.

All of the sudden the wait seemed worth it as they opened with a bit of a bang, and then treated the audience to songs like “Back Against The Wall,” “Shake Me Down,” and “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” amongst others. 

The enitre band had quite a rambunctious stage presence the entire night and lead-singer Matt Schultz became reminiscent of how Jim Morrison of The Doors used to drunkenly stagger around stage, dodging his fellow band members. He was crowd surfing by the second song I might add.

One thing was for sure; CTE didn’t have to wait 20 minutes or more for drinks.

Part 2 of 3 coming soon….

Photos & Videos by Jason Ashcraft

** This review also posted at Louisville.com

Friday, May 6th: The Vernon Club

Ok, so let’s recap from part 1 of this review. There were zero beers realistically available for me at the Cage The Elephant & The Pass show the night before on Thursday. That being said, Friday night is going to be different. It’s Derby-eve, and I’ve got the VilleBillies penciled in on my schedule for the night’s festivities. And these damn VilleBillies have built a reputation for having plenty of booze flowing at their shows, their rehearsals, their backstage gatherings, and their post-show parties. Pretty much anywhere they go they throw down so to speak. And given that I’m reviewing their show on this night, there is no way they’re going to allow me to not drink with them.

To no surprise, they packed in the Vernon Club to near capacity. And once they to the stage, the VilleBillies seized their audience from the first song, and had the entire room chanting their lyrics during their entire set.


VilleBillies – Photo by Jason Ashcraft

Celebrating nearly 10 years of being together as a band, the VilleBillies continue to prove they haven’t lost their energy, their onstage swagger, or their ability to keep writing heartfelt, Louisville-loving, country-rock-hip-hop anthems that you can’t help to find yourself chanting, even if only in your head.

Most VilleBillie fans are hardcore fans and know the song lyrics as good as the band does, so it’s interesting to hear the constant echo of a nearby fan trying to keep the vicious lyrical pace of the song being performed. Not surprisingly, VilleBillie fans also drink about as much as the band does, so it made for quite a loud and somewhat hectic environment. But not a dramatic one. Everyone behaved on this night and the security staff didn’t even break a sweat.

Post-show a few people headed upstairs to the bowling alley for a few drunken ball tosses down the lanes…including myself. But after managing to only knock down one pin on one try, I called it a night and drank beer with Tuck and some of his cousins. All’s well that ends well.

Photo & videos by Jason Ashcraft

Saturday, May 7th: The Seelbach Bar, MTV’s “Hottest Derby Party” at Frazier Museum.

The Seelbach Bar inside the Seelbach Hotel hosted its house jazz band The Dick Sisto Trio, with of course, Dick Sisto on piano and vibraphone, Tyrone Wheeler on bass and Jason Tiemann on percussion. Jazz is a good music to sit and space out to when, perhaps, you don’t want to hear or listen to anything else. You can get lost in its composure and random bursts of energy, and the Dick Sisto Trio delivers the total live jazz experience.


Dick Sisto. Photo by John Nation

On this particular night, the Seelbach Bar was brimming with seemingly partied-out derby out-of-towners, along with a few locals here and there, most all still in their Derby attire. The mint julep’s were flowing although I settled for an Espresso Martini. And while the Seelbach has a history of attracting a few celebrities during Derby, this time they were no where to be found. I was fine with that. The last thing I want to be thought of is the paparazzi.

MTV’s “Hottest Derby Party” actually rivaled being the “Coldest Derby Party” if you ask me. Either this event was thrown together way to quickly, or it lacked sufficient Derby-caliber entertainment, or Derby party-goers have zero interest in becoming MTV’s next Snooki, or a combination of all three. There was also no sign of MTV’s Tyrus, no indication of a casting call for a reality show taking place, nor did it even look like any live-performance by breakout artist Jim Phebe was in store.


The main ballroom at 11:30 pm. Photo by Jason Ashcraft

But, on the flip side, at least the event service staff had no issues serving the very few guests (or themselves) a drink in less than 20 seconds. That’s because they far outnumbered any party-goers. 

Given the expensive admission cost of $45+ to get in, an average cost of $15 dollars per drink, and the lack of a high-profile guest list or musician performing, this party never really had a chance. Back to drawing board on how to properly plan a Derby party for MTV I suppose.

**This review also posted at Louisville.com

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Photo from myspace

The Bowling Green, Kentucky-based Cage The Elephant is previewing their up coming new album “Thank You Happy Birthday” for FREE on their myspace site. No word how long this will last leading up to the album’s January 11th worldwide release.

From listening to it today I can tell you they’ve added a little more straight rock into their sound, with a touch of punk on occasion, compared to their 2008 self-titled debut. But, they also remain loyal to their funk style roots.

I’m just wondering when the hell they’re gonna schedule a Bowling Green or Louisville, Kentucky show that being said. Hmm. Once they remember they’re from the bluegrass state, I’ll hit this website back up with some better news. It’ll probably be roadtrip to Bowling Green for all you die hard fans that want to go.

In the meantime, catch the new album while you can or check out their video “In One Ear” now

This review also posted at Louisville.com

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