By Roy De La Rosa, Bill Foster, Matt Miller, Rusty Odom and Matt Rankin
All photos by Bill Foster
A great music festival is, above all, about community. It’s about the personal community that brings a group of friends together to link arms, drink and dance as Arcade Fire plays “Reflektor.” It’s about the community that leads folks to share umbrellas and shelter during a (thankfully short) sudden summer squall. It’s about the community that lets 500 kids crammed against a metal barrier as Vic Mensa goes insane not only tolerate each other but have the time of their young lives. It’s about the friends you meet standing around waiting for a show or in line at the (thankfully well cleaned) port-a-potties. It’s about the kind of community that leads local bands like White Reaper or Houndmouth to play to huge crowds or that leads Ben Sollee to be such a prominent advocate for his town. Forecastle is expansive and wide-ranging, but it is also intensely local, more so than any other festival I have ever seen. I already loved music, but Forecastle made me love Louisville. Forecastle made me love my friends even more. A great music festival is about community, and make no mistake: Forecastle is a GREAT festival. – Bill Foster
In all my years of attending festivals, I never have had a 3:15 p.m. performance on the final day end up being in contention for the best set of the weekend. However, Dan Tyminski and his five-piece backing band took us to a different sort of church on Sunday. The band is touring off of last year’s “Southern Gothic” LP, and the show began nicely enough underneath a lightly overcast sky. At first, I figured it would be a pleasant-enough show for us to coast through the afternoon in anticipation of the night’s headliner, Arcade Fire. Then as the first song kicked into full gear, it was clear that Tyminski’s voice has secured his identity as a leading man, proving that his solo career has officially arrived. We were treated to a rollercoaster ride that led us in and out of emotional darkness.
Having not been much of a fan of the last 30 years or so of country music, I’ve been enjoying this resurgence over the last couple of years of the hybridization of Southern rock and country music, which has been seen by the repeated festival billings of artists like Chris Stapleton and Sturgill SImpson. Tyminski took their sound in many different directions throughout the show, touching various genres along the way. If folks take proper notice, Tyminski will be finding their way up the billing on some of these festivals.
To that point, the band made its first excursion off the well-worn path as we were introduced to a song from the recently deceased Swedish DJ Avicii titled “Hey Brother.” Tyminski lent his vocals to what ended up being a hit song in over 15 countries. Though initially having an EDM vibe to the song, the band played it completely live, showing a new range in the chances Tyminksi is willing to take after his previous solo outfit (The Dan Tyminski Band) had a much more traditional bluegrass sound.
The band was able to connect the audience to the alternatively somber and hopeful themes of Tyminski’s latest record by bringing in a cover of The Allman Brothers’ “Come and Go Blues.” It was in the first bridge of this cover where the individual band members began to express their identities, as the keyboardist provided the spark that ignited a shift that found the band suddenly playing with true purpose. The second bridge gave the lead guitarist a chance to show off some of his chops. At first, he seemed a little out of place with this outfit, but he laid down some solid licks, and before you knew it, we were on our way out of The Allman Brothers and into a selection from “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” the film whose soundtrack popularized Tyminski’s voice.
Before his band jumped into “Man of Constant Sorrow,” Tyminski asked the crowd, “We have any soggy bottoms out there?” (The question garnered a loud and resounding response from the crowd.) As the vocals had been on point all show, it was now a chance for his acoustic sideman, Tony Wray, to show off his skills. Throughout the set, Wray would bounce between playing acoustic guitar, banjo and reso-guitar, sometimes changing instruments in the middle of a song. Years prior, Wray was a staple of The Dan Tyminkski Band, and his very skillful playing was not only the soul of this group, but was also the tether to Tyminski’s solo past.
After getting the crowd cheerin’, dancin’, hootin’ and hollerin’, the band casually slipped into the titular song “Southern Gothic,” and, man alive, did this song live up to its name. Detailing the struggle battling with deep Southern traditions, the live version of this song is even better than the studio recording, having a menacing bass line reinforcing the gravity of the subject matter. From this point on, the band carried through the rest of the set with a wall of sound the likes of I’ve never heard before in a country music show.
That massive sound got a chance to really shine as they covered the Alison Krauss and Union Station arrangement of Peter Rowan’s, “Dust Bowl Children.” Dan obviously was familiar with this song, as he’s just entered his 26th year as a member of Union Station and provided vocals on the 2011 recording, but they really opened this song up with the electric guitarist leading the way into the bridge with some finger-sliding before throwing it over to a jam between the keys and banjo.
This set was easily among my top three of the weekend, and Dan Tyminski now joins two of my favorite artists and Forecastle alums, Andrew Bird and Father John Misty, as a viable solo musician able to carve his own identity out of the shadow of being a background player for a successful band. If you weren’t able to make it to Forecastle, you’ll have a chance to catch Tymisnki this September in Franklin, Tennessee, at Pilgrimage Festival. – Roy De La Rosa
White Reaper is fun. Wait, let me rephrase that. White Reaper is FUN. Fun in the old-fashioned, silly-kids-with-loud-guitars kind of way, the jumping-off-everything-in-sight and having-the-time-of their-lives way that was once all that was expected of rock musicians. The garage-punk band is based in Louisville, so they had an impressive turnout for their early afternoon debut on the main stage. To date, they have released two albums, both of which are chock-full of the kind of riffs and cheeky lyrics that would power your dad’s Taurus down a back road at midnight while you and your buds were drinking Bud and looking for cows to tip. Onstage, keyboardist Ryan Hater spends as much time dancing as he does playing his instrument, singer Tony Esposito snarls like the best possible mixture of Joey Ramone and Billie Joe Armstrong and brothers Nick and Sam Wilkerson hold down the rhythm as Sam imitates every move Pete Townshend ever invented. It’s a mark of the quality of their songwriting that a late cover of The Greg Kihn Band’s “The Breakup Song” (one of the catchiest tunes ever recorded) fit seamlessly into the set. White Reaper titled their most recent record “The World’s Best American Band.” They aren’t there yet, but I wouldn’t bet against them. – BF
The Ocean Stage was home to various offerings of electronic music throughout the weekend at Forecastle, but Khraungbin’s atmospheric rock fit right in on the festival’s final day. Its music is moody and at times quiet. It’s the kind of thing that fits perfectly while cleaning the house but sometimes leaves a bit to be desired in the live setting. However, the Texas three-piece is starting to find its stride, and they even added a medley of Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Warren G and Nate Dogg and Snoop to the mix to engage the crowd. It’s not for everyone, but for those who dig relaxing, almost therapeutic noise rock, this band is worth a listen. – Rusty Odom
Trampled by Turtles
Over the last couple of years, I have grown increasingly frustrated by bands hailing from outside of Appalachia that appropriate the region’s music in order to flesh out their own respective sounds. Even a handful of artists at this year’s Big Ears irked me in this regard. It may be a petty, personal sticking point, but it’s a real concern of mine. As a result, I naturally was skeptical about how a group from Duluth, Minnesota, that includes bluegrass in its repertoire would come across to my admittedly snobbish and discerning ears. Well, in my estimation, it was hardly groundbreaking stuff, but it still turned out to be a rather great experience – especially on an overcast, lazy Sunday afternoon at a waterfront festival.
Breaking down some of my reservations with excellent musicianship and further eroding any lingering doubts about their legitimacy with solid songwriting and faithful delivery of their messages, Trampled by Turtles put on a show worthy of their slot on the main stage. “Victory” was particularly moving, and a cover of The Band’s “It Makes No Difference” was sweetly rendered. Lead singer Dave Simonett’s voice seemed slightly strained throughout, but it only served to add a welcome gruff edge to the group’s otherwise easily digestible fare. Overall, it was a pleasant set that succeeded in its intended purpose: to send attendees on to the next show with smiles on their faces. – Matt Rankin
Upon entering Waterfront Park a couple hours after the gates opened on the final day of action, I didn’t have much of a set itinerary until Jason Isbell went on later in the evening. That freedom allowed me to bounce around for much of the afternoon, catching shows at all four of the park’s venues. Completely shocking to me, I spent the most time at the Boom Stage listening to track after track of surprisingly engrossing material from this electronic-tinged, R&B-influenced pop act from London.
The duo of Josephine Vander Gucht and Anthony West, along with a backing band, emanated optimism and radiated positive energy throughout the group’s spirited, hour-long set. I had no intention of attending this show, but sometimes in a festival environment the least likely of artists on the bill will grab your attention at just the right time and in the right kind of way. It took three full days for it to happen this year, but that’s exactly what Oh Wonder did to me on Sunday. Even though I was confused by the type of music that was the culprit, I nevertheless was touched by the performance and felt all the better the rest of the day because of it. – MR
The Punch Brothers are an unusual sort of beast. Technically, they are a bluegrass quintet, adhering to all the strictures of that genre in clothing, instrumentation and – most importantly – an acoustic sound centering around five people playing into two mics. However, they are “bluegrass” in the same sense that Evel Knievel’s rocket across the Snake River Canyon was a “motorcycle.” Sure, it might be technically true, but every member of the band is either one of the best in the world at his chosen instrument or, in the case of mandolinist/bandleader Chris Thile, the undisputed champion. As a band, they are equally as capable of a blazing Led Zeppelin cover or a complete rendition of the “Brandenburg Concertos” as they are of covering a Ralph Stanley tune.
All that virtuosity made Sunday’s afternoon set on the Boom Stage a near perfect experience. Playing mostly songs from their new album, “All Ashore” (to be released this week), every single song featured a spellbinding break by at least one member. The acoustic sound was the best I have heard at an outdoor venue. However, the highlight to me was Thile’s voice. Previously, I have found it to be a bit thin, but his recent gig hosting APM’s “Live From Here” seems to have led him to explore his vocal potential, exemplified by the stunning rendition of Josh Ritter’s “Another New World.” – BF
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
Jason Isbell’s voice has become the most powerful instrument in music today, equally capable of a sensitive whisper or a breathtakingly powerful octave leap. It always remains melodic and expressive, though, carrying every nuance of his carefully crafted lyrics. At 11 songs, Sunday evening’s performance at the Mast Stage was too short, but the length of the set was offset by the power of every moment of the spellbinding show. Isbell was charming throughout, complimenting his “favorite festival” and recalling seeing Slint play “Spiderland” (“If y’all don’t know that, you need to learn”), talking about how great Arcade Fire would be and looking forward to taking his daughter to see Courtney Barnett once offstage.
The set opened with “24 Frames” and a fine Sadler Vaden slide-guitar solo. “Hope the High Road” followed, and one song later came a beautiful version of “Codeine,” with Isbell joking that, “Normally, we run around a lot during this one, but, man, Arcade Fire has a lot of s*** up here.” “Cover Me Up” debuted a stunning new arrangement, a solo-acoustic beginning during which one could hear a pin drop and ending with a powerful, guitar-driven coda. The main set concluded with the best version of “Never Gonna Change” I have ever heard, as Isbell took an extended solo in the middle, and Vaden took one on the outro before the two joined for an old-school, call-and-response joint solo. The band returned for an encore of “If We Were Vampires,” about which our BLANK colleague remarked, “If you don’t cry and grab your spouse during this song, you probably shouldn’t be married.” That’s the kind of emotion Isbell’s songwriting evokes these days. He somehow is able to combine gravitas, humor and poignancy like a combination of Guy Clark, Flannery O’Connor and Barry Hannah. He’s an artist at the absolute peak of his game, and the only complaint that could be lodged about this show is that it didn’t go on for another three hours. – BF
Teddy Abrams & Friends
In case you haven’t caught on from previous days, Forecastle Music & Arts Festival is dedicated (possibly more than any other festival) to promoting the local music and arts culture of the surrounding area. Teddy Abrams has become a necessary staple of this festival and was given more control than ever to curate the Port Stage each day, showcasing the best talent Louisville has to offer. Each year, Abrams assembles his favorite artists for a superjam of sorts. This year’s “Teddy Abrams & Friends” including a set full of unique and often unexpected covers, featured Matt Myers of Houndmouth (pictured above). Myers and the group covered Neil Young, Tom Petty and even Billy Ray Cyrus before handing over the stage to incredibly powerful spoken-word poets, with the group improvising music alongside. Within a five-song span, we saw a terrific version of Childish Gambino’s “This is America,” Ben Sollee joining the stage for Sting’s “Fields of Gold” and Des’ree’s “You Gotta Be,” a classic opera tune and Mayor Greg Fischer delivering his favorite quotes along to Bob Marley’s music. What made this performance so great is that it combined every element of the festival that makes us love it so much: the most talented artists, incredible planning and having genuine fun with those around you. – Matt Miller
There are many things about Courtney Barnett that have earned her the success she unquestionably deserves. Both musically and lyrically, she’s one of the best in the business, using foot-stomping rhythms to build to massive choruses, along the way telling interesting stories of this crazy world and the people in it. Barnett has a way of telling mini-stories within her songs, and her ability to deliver those to a festival stage is impressive, to say the least. Watching her perform, it’s hard not to compare her to the likes of Joan Jett or Chrissie Hynde, as she commands the stage with her infectious enthusiasm, all the while displaying just how truly great of a guitar player she is. Songs such as “Nameless, Faceless” and “Elevator Operator” energized the late-evening crowd, and fans obviously love her newer material. Barnett seems to excel in creating music and performing it, putting her in the top tier of this year’s Forecastle. – MM
The above photo captures a moment immediately before Arcade Fire commenced their headlining set to close out what might just be Forecastle’s best year yet. It’s incredible to think about the multitude of amazing moments that occur at a festival like this one that focuses so heavily on bringing in the most talented artists in their respective genres. This is not an event to just walk around and check out things (with the possible exception of all the great bourbon to be had). People come to this festival with the primary aim to see music being performed live, to affordably experience some of their favorite acts and to discover new ones. It’s the power of these moments that sticks with you. Quite often, the beginning of a headlining festival performance is underwhelming, with the first song often used to get the sound right or warm up the crowd. Not Arcade Fire, though. Not even close.
Walking through the crowd and onto the stage, the band burst into “Everything Now,” one of the best tracks the band has penned in their storied career. The amount of energy this song emits is incredible, and the diverse crowd was hooked immediately. Following the opener, “Here Comes the Night Time” and “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)” heightened the show’s vitality even farther, resulting in one of the best opening trios we at BLANK have ever witnessed. And it only escalated from that point, with every member bringing to the proceedings a unique, dedicated combination of talent and individualized style – whether it was running out into the crowd, climbing scaffolding or madly jumping around – while never failing to stay cohesive and loud. Win Butler and Régine Chassagne vocally were as strong as ever, but the collective, full-band effort was the most powerful aspect of the performance. A visual and auditory explosion, the spectacle was almost too much to be taken in as a whole; it was easier to focus on those individual parts and movements to understand its overall impressiveness. As our very own Bill Foster said mid-set, “There’s so much to look at that it’s overwhelming.”
Highlights included “Half Light II (No Celebration)” (a rare song to appear on a setlist), “Put Your Money on Me” and selections from the Grammy-winning album, “The Suburbs.” However, songs from the last two albums surprisingly seemed to steal the show and surely will become staples moving forward. The outdoor environment allowed a track like “Creature Comfort” to breathe and unfold naturally; it sounded momentous on the night, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see it eventually replace “Wake Up” as the traditional closer. Requisite stunners included “Rebellion (Lies),” “Intervention” and “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels),” and “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” was immaculate in its grandeur and execution. To be honest, we barely noticed that they didn’t play “No Cars Go” or “Keep the Car Running” (included at Sloss the night before), but they didn’t need to; their catalog is so full of pure quality that it allows them to have different setlists each night. The entire performance was engaging, exciting, inspiring, beautiful and deserving of every effusive descriptor in between. Arcade Fire continues to prove that they are not only a festival headliner, but contenders for the title of the best band going these days, as well. Sunday night was the perfect slot for them, but we’re not sure there’s any other choice. Who wants to follow that? Who can? – BLANK staff