This year's Forecastle Festival was a success despite extreme weather. Due to heavy rains leading up to the festival, the rising Ohio River threatened the structure of stages close to the water. A windstorm on Friday shut down headliner Sam Smith's performance early and caused a two-hour delay on Saturday. Throughout the weekend, however, the extreme heat was the talk of most festivalgoers. Thankfully, the crew hosting the event was phenomenal. Built-in shade structures and water stations kept the fans safe and comfortable despite the heat. Even while waiting for the gates to open during the delay on Saturday, volunteers where moving throughout the lines bringing bottled water to patient fans standing in the heat. The performances from the artists were incredible, but it was the flexibility of the crew, fans, and musicians that made this year's Forecastle such a memorable experience. Here’s a look at some of the highlights.
Milo Greene was the first act to take the Mast Stage on Friday. Piecing together a set composed of their new album Control and their 2012 self-titled release, Milo Greene demonstrated their ability to bring their intricate recordings to life. While the track 1957 may still be their best, Control is a huge step forward and has helped to fill out their set.
Since bursting onto the scene in 2006 with Robbers & Cowards, The Cold War Kids have kept busy. They have kept up an impressive touring schedule and still manage to write and release new music consistently. Watching their performance, it is clear that this intense work ethic has paid off. While I am personally happy to hear any song off their first release, the depth of their catalog is striking. Their high-energy, fourteen-song set drew on all of these albums including "One Song at a Time" from this year's release titled Five Quick Cuts.
The smile tells it all. Front man, Paul Janeway, who performes under the moniker St. Paul was groomed to be a preacher starting at age 10. When he takes the stage with his band it clear that church is in session. Writhing around the stage performing with his soul band, St. Paul & The Broken Bones is in pure bliss and it is infectious.
One of the many Kentucky based acts of the festival, Cage the Elephant was the first to grace a Forecastle stage. They did so playing an electric "My Old Kentucky Home" that was set to a Jimi-Hendrix style distortion. Diving into the crowd almost instantly, singer Matt Shultz held up his high-energy reputation throughout the set. Showing their depth, the crowd joined in on a sing-along for "Cigarette Daydreams."
Houndmouth, who hail from right across the river in New Albany, Indiana, performed the next homecoming set. Touring in support of their second full-length album, Little Neon Limelight, Houndmouth has a unique country rock sound that is reminiscent of The Band. Houndmouth is versatile; all members rotate lead vocals and harmonize to create a powerful sound that builds. They rock, they roll, they jam, they soul.
Since Forecastle was going to be his first performance since his recent vocal cord surgery, one of the biggest stories coming into the festival was Sam Smith. An outsider to the music festival scene, most fans attending Forecastle seemed split on the multi-award winning artist. Some fans were confused as to why he was asked to attend the festival. How does Sam Smith fit into a headlining slot next to bands My Morning Jacket and Widespread Panic? Some fans were ecstatic to see such a raw and undeniable talent live and in person. Although he may not jam like Widespread or rock like My Morning Jacket, his songs have been held up and praised by the public.
The other buzz circulating was whether or not his voice was going to hold up after his surgery. It was clear after opening the set with his hit "I'm Not The Only One" that Smith's voice had healed and was strong. He paused between songs to talk to the crowd and thank them for being so welcoming and supportive through social media and in person at the festival. He mentioned that he had never been to this part of the country and was blown away by how polite and genuine everyone had treated him. Unfortunately, severe wind and thunderstorms forced his set to end early. The festival site was evacuated due to safety concerns seven songs into Smith's set. Although his voice was strong and he appeared to be truly humbled to be at the festival, his seven song set felt like one long sad song. Perhaps he had something different and engaging to rally the crowd later the set but it didn't happen. Fans headed for cover, still split on Sam Smith and his presence at the festival.
After a two-hour delay due to the 60mph winds the night before that blew over fences and compromised the structure of the grounds, Mariachi El Bronx took the main stage early Saturday afternoon. In severe heat and wearing full black mariachi suits, the band put on a sweltering performance. Mariachi El Bronx's high-energy performance let the crowd know that the festival was back on track.
Bringing their genre-hopping sound to the festival, The Revivalists played a diverse set. Claiming New Orleans as home and touring non-stop since 2007, it is exciting to see an act that can change its sound from song to song. As a seven-piece outfit, The Revivalists create an intimate set with a lot of sound.
Another local act, Dr. Dundiff is a producer and emcee from Louisville, Kentucky. Dundiff blends samples that pull from jazz, soul, and hip-hop. His set on Saturday was littered with emcees from Louisville's underground music scene. Acts Shadowpact, Touch AC, Jalin Roze, and many more packed onto the Ocean Stage for the party. Surprising everyone, My Morning Jacket's Jim James joined the crew to provide a vocal sample from his track "State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.)" as the local emcees took turns rapping over the beat.
John Medeski (Medeski Martin & Wood) + Robert Randolph + Luther and Cody Dickinson (North Mississippi All-Stars) + Chris Chew = The Word. Collaborating as a supergroup, The Word has taken to the festival scene to lay down their self claimed "New World Psychedelic Gospel Rock." They group-blazed through an action packed set that included "I Shall Not Be Moved" and "Call Him By His Name." It is always good to see Robert Randolph standing behind the pedal-steel guitar with a smile.
Hometown heroes My Morning Jacket have been huge supporters of the Forecastle Festival over the years. They even helped to curate the event back in 2012. This year, behind their latest album "The Waterfall," My Morning Jacket played Saturday's headlining set.
They played through a lengthy twenty-two song set with members of the Louisville Orchestra dropping in occasionally to fill out songs such as "Gideon," "Believe (No Body Knows)," and "Like a River." Songs from the new album fit seamlessly into the set as if they had been there all along.
Towards the middle of the set front man Jim James paused for a moment to mention the beauty of the festival. He encouraged fans to celebrate the diversity in performances and performers and turn it outward to each other and celebrate their own differences. Then, Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes) came out to accompany James as they played the acoustic "Wonderful (The Way I Feel)."
Original band member Johnny Quaid joined the current members for the duration of the six-song encore. The encore included the tracks "Steam Engine" and "Run Thru" from the 2003 release "It Still Moves." The set came to a close with the "One Big Holiday."
Jeff Tweedy's newest project is a collaboration with his nineteen year old son Spencer. The debut album from Tweedy is called Sukierae and features songs written by Jeff Tweedy. Being one of the most accomplished songwriters in his class, Jeff Tweedy continues his reign. His voice seems effortless and calming. It is one of the few voices that actually sounds better in person then recorded in the studio. I personally would rather see Wilco, with the impressive discography they have collected over the years, but Tweedy did not disappoint.
Kristian Matsson who performs under the name The Tallest Man on Earth took to the Ocean stage as the sun was setting on the festival Sunday evening. Dark Horse, his latest album released earlier this year, is an exciting and poetic reflection of his early song writing. Playing through a set that consisted of old favorites such as "The Dreamer" and "The Wild Hunt," the only song missing from the set was "King of Spain". He was accompanied on stage by fellow Sweden natives First Aid Kit for the song "The Garden." It was a special moment between the three as they smiled and laughed at missed notes and stage cues.
As Widespread Panic took the stage it was clear the festival was winding down. Most vendors left their posts to enjoy the show and even some of the smaller stages were already being broken down. Playing one long seamless jam, Panic's set list really blended together. The real standout was a cover of The Doors' classic "Riders on the Storm" that surprisingly lended itself well to John Bell's voice. Unfortunately, this was the most exciting song of the set. Widespread closed the festival with a few covers, including Alan Price's "Sell Sell". It was calming end to a long hot weekend.