When you first discover that the festival location is partly under an intersection of the I-64/I-65 curiosity is aroused, but the temporary shade this provides from the burning mid-afternoon sun is heaven sent. It is also more accurate to state that the site is on the banks of the Ohio River and has four conveniently located stages spilling out a range of diverse sounds from lunch time to late night across the three days.
The initial appeal of Forecastle was around half a dozen big name acts with loose connections to the Americana genre. Generally the line-up had the feel of a cool record store, mixing roots music with indie rock, hip hop and a touch of contemporary folk. Unfortunately travel constraints meant that Friday wasn’t attended and thus the opportunity to see the acclaimed Avett Brothers headlining was missed. Anyhow reports on social media were of thunder storms leading to a temporary evacuation of the festival site, so this inconvenience was avoided even if reports of the sets were generally positive.
As three o’clock approached the first clash of the festival emerged. Sarah Jarosz just won the battle ahead of Shakey Graves, although the last ten minutes of the latter’s set was caught after Sarah had finished. She was scheduled to play the Boom Stage which could be construed as the second one; all stages were given a nautical name in common theme with the festival. Appearing in a trio format and with a brand new album in tow, Sarah showed once again how she is a blossoming artist merging her natural talent into engaging songs and an increasingly impressive stage presence. Songs from the new record UNDERCURRENT such as ‘House of Mercy’ and the Parker Millsap co-write ‘Comin’ Undone’ sounded supreme and matched up well against older tunes like ‘Build Me Up With Bones’ and the gospel inspired singalong ‘Come On Up to the House’. Jed Hughes ably assisted Sarah on lead guitar and the appetite was whetted for the new songs to get an airing in the UK when she visits later in the year.
The build up to the main event on Saturday evening gathered momentum as the hot sun dipped and dwindled before the ‘best live band in the world’ arrived on stage at 9:30 in the guise of the Brittany Howard-led Alabama Shakes. Just prior to the band taking the stage, there was a brief civic celebration of local Louisville pride based on the legacy of the city’s most loved citizen – the late Muhammed Ali. To the orchestrated chants of ‘Ali Ali’ and the call and response of ‘Float like a butterfly sting like a bee’ Alabama Shakes uncoiled into action to exhibit their credentials as the most passionate live rock ‘n’ soul band on the planet.
Sunday brought a slight cloud cover but ultimately little temperature respite. While elevating above the Alabama Shakes experience would be tough, it did provide a more extensive offering of music to taste with the impressive Anderson East leading things off as the opening act on the ‘main’ Mast Stage. This Alabama artist has seen a significant rise in profile in recent times and his brand of soulful rock ‘n’ blues pours from the stage in sumptuous portions. Anderson cut a cool figure in his shades and posturing mode, mixing songs from his recent album with classic covers of ‘Stay With Me’ and ‘Rebel Rebel’. The set ended too quickly but raised the promise of an artist that has the potential to be relevant on the Americana circuit both sides of the pond for a very long time.
The Boom Stage was proving the place to be on this Sunday afternoon. Prior to Anderson East playing the main arena, a few minutes of The Suffers was enjoyed with the added frustration of not being omnipresent. Anyhow after the Heartless Bastards, camp at the ‘Boom’ was set up for White Denim, Blackberry Smoke and Brandi Carlile, with the occasional beer, bite to eat and little bit of shade.
The two days at Forecastle were now coming to a close but not before two of the most anticipated moments of the visit – a full set by Brandi Carlile and the last hour of Ryan Adams on the main stage before festival closure. Damn the slight overlap.
A good half hour before Brandi appeared, the front of the stage became packed with fans which were clear in who they wanted to see. This throng grew right up until Brandi and her band kicked straight into gear with ‘Again Today’. The massed gathering at the front was now in Brandi Carlile heaven singing word for word on ‘Hard Way Home’, ‘The Story’ and ‘Keep Your Heart Young’. In fact each one of the twelve Brandi songs on the set list, prior to the band signing off with covers of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Going to California’ and Johnny Cash’s ‘Folsom Prison Blues’.
|Brandi Carlile with Tim and Phil Hanseroth|
If some of the acts were of high quality, but generally straight down the middle, the same couldn’t be said of Ryan Adams. The quality was certainly there but mixed with the usual bout of eccentricity and rambling chat. This heady quirky mix has served him well over many years and the thousands who flocked to the main stage for the Forecastle finale were going to enjoy every minute of it. Joining the set fifteen minutes in meant standing at the back, but even observing most of the stage action via the screen didn’t diminish the experience of catching this enigmatic performer for the first time. Among the random musings was plenty of classic Ryan Adams material with many waiting patiently for the penultimate song and the reference to Kentucky in ‘Oh My Sweet Carolina’. It was pure bliss hearing this song live on a warm summer’s evening and topped a great couple of days at this truly urban festival. Inevitably Ryan had the ‘Summer of ‘69’ heckle and dealt with it superbly with an improvised song of his own designed to provide a suitable response.
Forecastle serves Louisville Kentucky proud each year and its many peripheral attractions and activities celebrate the cultural heartbeat of a flourishing city. The music they present is top class and it was a honour to attend for a couple of days assuming the role of honorary Kentuckian. It also confirmed the status of Alabama Shakes as the best live band in the world and Brandi Carlile as a truly inspiring performer.