Louisville’s Forecastle Festival gets bigger, weirder, happier and hippier.

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 – Photo by Jason Ashcraft

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 – Photo by Jason Ashcraft

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.”

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*Jason Ashcraft is a freelance contributor for Performer Magazine. He can also be read at GonzoToday.com, a "GONZO" journalism website that he serves as Music Editor for.

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