Forecastle Music Festival 2016: A Nautical Paradise

Forecastle Music Festival took over Waterfront Park in downtown Louisville July 15th through the 17th and CelebMix got to experience it up close and personal.  From the media kickoff party Thursday evening where we met Dizzy Fae to being blown away by Death Cab for Cutie Sunday Evening – and everything in between – it’s clear to us now more than ever that Forecastle is more than a music festival, it’s an experience.

A forecastle, by definition, is the forward part of a ship below the deck, traditionally used as the crew’s living quarters. In simple terms, a forecastle is a gathering place where community and companionship happened for the crew while out at sea.  After our experience in Louisville this weekend, we fully understand why the festival is named Forecastle and how when you’re there, you’re at a home away from home.

In addition to music, Forecastle Festival also focuses on art, activism, and true Kentucky bourbon – there’s something for everyone as you navigate through three incredible days of a nautical paradise with a Kentucky twist.

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The Music

In 2015, a severe storm forced Sam Smith quickly off stage and patrons were advised to quickly, but safely, take cover.  In 2016, the weather followed suit and tried to ward off concert goers just before Grouplove took the stage for their set Friday evening, but the attempt was unsuccessful.  Less than two hours later, gates to the waterfront were open once again as the festival continued and acts played late into the night.  The Avett Brothers, Grouplove, and Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals absolutely blew our minds.  Each act had a unique sound, intoxicating stage presence, and they didn’t just perform for you – they made an impact.

On Saturday the sun was bright, the heat was turned up, and the festival was in full swing as the acts took stages scattered across the great lawn and patrons lined up to watch their favorite acts, relax on hammocks, and dance as they moved from place to place, existing in a musical wonderland. We first checked out Jazz Cartier and were swept away by his talent, compassion, and the vibe of the crowd as they sang his lyrics back to him while he danced across the stage. From Toronto, Jazz is an up and coming rapper with more depth to his voice and lyrics than most musicians his age.  Pokey LaFarge caught our attention next as we were taken to a different place entirely with the unique sound that mixes country, jazz, and a bit of ragtime all at once.

Perhaps our favorite part of the weekend entirely was being in the crowd during Andrew McMahon and The Wilderness.  We’ve been fans of Andrew since his time in Something Corporate and watching his music evolution has been part of growing up for us.  We’d been keeping up with his social media photos of his performances and they’re bright, exciting, and interactive – we couldn’t wait to experience it.  Andrew started off with “Maps for the Getaway” before taking us back to Jacks Mannequin with “Dark Blue” – he even treated his long time fans to “Woke Up in a Car” from his days in Something Corporate  before playing more songs from his current album as well as “Fire Escape” – a new song that we got to hear that made us even more excited for what he’s up to next.  Another worth mentioning part of Andrew’s set was during “Holiday From Real” he brought out a young man currently battling cancer who wanted to play drums on stage, and the crowd cheered for him with more volume than any other act received all weekend.  It was a beautiful moment for everyone to experience.

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At one moment, Andrew threw a giant parachute full of colors over the crowd and danced right in the middle of it, his passion for not just singing but for life was so vibrant during his entire performance that we still can’t stop singing his praises.

Doctor Dog, Big Gigantic, and of course Alabama Shakes were other standout acts from Saturday’s incredible lineup.  If the festival had been held indoors, Alabama Shakes would have blown the roof off the place, their set was passionate and drew in members of the audience with ease – their talent truly is effortless.

Sunday brought with it more sunshine and more talent as the stages were filled with the likes of River Tiber, Gary Clark Jr, Blackberry Smoke, Death Cab for Cutie, and Ryan Adams to close out Forecastle 2016.  River Tiber brought a lucid sound to the stage as he sang to an entranced crowd.  Gary Clark Jr. was brilliant as he not just sang but lived a soulful power on stage as his vocals and lyrics left the crowd both awed and intoxicated, in terms of raw talent – Gary Clark Jr. embodies it. Death Cab for Cutie and Ryan Adams were our last two shows of the night and as the crowds began to take in the fact that Forecastle was drawing to a close and the sun set beautifully in the sky – the ambience of the festival was on a perfect display as Ryan Adams closed out the show with his smooth voice.

It was the perfect conclusion to the incredible weekend.

The Art and Activism

Forecastle’ art and activism go hand and hand, and they also go well beyond the festival itself.  Year round, the Forecastle Foundation is working hard to make the world a better place.  The foundation’s slogan is “Protecting the world’s natural awesome” and you can work alongside them to help preserve the world and make it better for our future. The foundation’s mission is to identify 12 areas, also called “hotspots” that are the most threatened, so far, 5 have been found. You can help in a number of ways, from donating to spreading awareness and even volunteering, you can ensure that your footprint on this earth is a healing one.

The Forecastle Foundation recruits both Oarsmen and Sustainers, and you can find out how to become either here.

Forecastle also helps Kentucky by featuring local food and drinks – from tacos and pizza sandwiches and burgers – there’s something for every taste!

Forecastle’s art aids in activism too, you can donate to the festival and leave your legacy on some canvases (and a boat) around the festival as well.

The Bourbon

Did you know that 95% of the world’s bourbon is made in Kentucky?  Forecastle did, and each year they play on that by providing businesses around the state to provide those who come from all around the globe to Forecastle to experience the local flavor!  From Four Roses to Jim Beam and Makers Mark to Woodford Reserve – there is no shortage of bourbon as you make your way around the great lawn during your Forecastle experience.

We got to try different types of Four Roses as part of our experience at Forecastle and we can only speak with incredible gratitude to the knowledgeable staff who explained the type of bourbon in our drinks to the goodies they provided and the hard work they put in during the festival and in preparation.

There’s also a bourbon lodge for all festival goers to enjoy where you can learn what makes a good bourbon a good bourbon among many drink recipes and other fun facts.  It’s a great addition to the Forecastle experience, and we were wowed by it.

The Difference

While we didn’t spend much of our weekend off of our feet – there was just too much good music and too many exciting places to explore – there were many opportunities to take a load off and relax in the midst of a wild weekend and that part of the experience was one of the best.  At some festivals, there are no places to really find comfort, long lines at port-o-potties, and 8 dollar bottles of water – Forecastle is different!  We mentioned earlier, the relaxing hammocks placed throughout the festival, and in addition, there are a few ‘lounges’ where you can sit under the shade on nice patio furniture, and enjoy the environment.  There are also water stations placed all through the festival that allow you, for free, to refill bottles so no one gets dehydrated and with drinking all that water, there are a number of port-o-potty stations where the lines are never long and the area is kept up very well.  The staff at Forecastle truly work hard to make sure no area of the festival, from the libations to the music, are uncared for.

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So from the incredible music, the nautical theme, the feel good vibe that surrounded the weekend, and the opportunities to make a difference while enjoying yourself – Forecastle has to be one of the best experiences we’ve had, ever, and we will certainly be in attendance for years to come.

Andrew McMahon embodied Forecastle best when he sang Holiday From Real.

‘But if you left it up to me
Every day would be
A holiday from real
We’d waste our weeks
Beneath the sun
We’d fry our brains
And say it’s so much fun out here
But when it’s all over
I’ll come back for another year’

Written by Ashley

Writer, coffee drinker, mother.