--Written by and photos by Hilary Cadigan
Forecastle Music Festival was a success. Particularly for me, having managed to snag a bed at a friend’s parents’ condo, conveniently located directly across the street from Louisville’s lovely Waterfront Park. We could see the main stage from the balcony, and that made us feel important. But we still had to use the porta-potties, and that kept us from feeling too important.
This was Forecastle’s 9th year of existence, but the very first year the festival has taken place at Waterfront. The park turned out to be the perfect venue for this light-hearted weekend of music, art, and activism, providing a welcome breeze off the water in the daytime and a gorgeous sunset at night. Plus, while it seemed a little weird to have a festival going on under a highway bridge, there’s something to be said for a built-in source of all-day shade, and something even better to be said for the brilliant individual who came up with the idea to position a row of porta-potties right under this all-day shade source. Today we salute you, Mr. Porta-Potty placement picker. Because it’s much easier to go when the horrifying concoction you’re left to hover over hasn’t spent its day caramelizing in the sun. Am I wrong?
This festival also had music.
We missed the first day altogether due to the fact that I now have a real job and can’t go gallivanting all over the country on weekdays anymore unless I get time off. Sad. And my friend’s dad said Widespread Panic was a religious experience. So there’s that.
Saturday began with listening to Modern English from the condo’s balcony—and that was nice. “Melt With You” is always a good way to start your Saturday afternoon. By the time we ambled over to the festival, Ocean Stage, the relatively small grassy basin ironically situated furthest from the water, was already throbbing with electronic music. This was the place where the festival’s most colorful characters could usually be found, and I was wearing my go-to festival ensemble of fairy wings, bubble wand, and an unnecessary quantity of beads and glowsticks, so while I felt a bit judged at the press entrance, I fit right in here. Onstage local DJ Amtrack—flanked by two uncannily identical blondes in stripper gear gyrating like their lives depended on it—spun out an infectious blend of beat-heavy electronica as we danced in the whirl of flailing limbs and flying colors below. Things were off to an excellent start.
We meandered around West Stage, the largest of four (East, West, North, and Ocean—apparently Forecastle functions under the notion that the South has already seceded, and been filled in with water), where the rootsy blues-rock of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals floated out onto the sun-soaked field and into the alcohol tent. There was one of those rather annoying systems in place where you have to go to a separate station to buy non-refundable drink tickets and then trade them in for beer and Maker’s Mark whiskey drinks. Which would be a genius system if it hadn’t already been invented. It’s called cash. My only other logistical complaint was the lack of accessible drinking water—apparently there was a fountain somewhere within the festival grounds, but I never found it, and when you have thousands of people in an enclosed space with temperatures in the mid-90s, $3 Dasanis and empty souvenir water bottles (while a nice touch) don’t cut it.
As we continued to meander, I noted the multitude of non-profit booths, with an overarching environmental theme, stationed around a glistening serpentine art installation sculpted out of recycled plastic bottles. Forecastle is a festival that has not relinquished its philanthropic spirit to the evil clutches of capitalism. On the green grasses of Waterfront park, the activist spirit remains alive and well, and while it’s hard not to be cynical about such efforts in this day and age (especially if you happen to look over the shoulder of the Avatar manning the sustainability booth and see one of those oil tankers chugging down the Ohio River behind him) it feels good to be surrounded by people who care, especially when there’s music involved. And you realize, man, if everybody just quit bitching and treated themselves to a good old-fashioned music festival, the world would be a far better place.
Next up, Cake. I’ve liked Cake for awhile and though the peak of my fandom has passed, I was still hoping for a great show. Alas, speak-singing frontman John McCrea spent far too much time just speaking, trying to engage with the audience by blathering our ears off rather than doing what we, or at least my companions and I, wanted him to do, which was generate music. Maybe, ultimately, this was exactly what Cake was meant to do. Maybe the true fans appreciated it. Maybe I’m just too far gone to appreciate their brand of 90’s geek-rock anymore. But once McCrea started rambling about “which is more powerful in America today, anger or escapism?” and how the party hardy city of Louisville “must get its protein, hells yes” I grew restless. And once he split the audience into sections and started yelling out instructions (“All the girlsssss on the siiiiide, say duuuuude”) I grew irritated. And they didn’t even play “Mahna Mahna.”
So, we wandered into the food area. Here, I was impressed. Not only were the prices extraordinarily fair for a festival, but the options were abundantly varied, uniquely local and absolutely delicious. And they had free samples! In fact, I must announce that Forecastle Music Festival is the current titleholder for my ongoing, unofficial “Best Festival Food” competition, with J. Gumbo’s $6 trifecta of mouth-watering Cajun chicken and veggies served over rice coming in big for the win. Plus they had Coldstone ice cream, only $3.50 a pop! My over-eager friends got stuck with some dried-out chicken on a bun, but that’s because they were impatient, and impatience never pays. Sampling pays. This much I know for sure.
Feeling proud that I had for once made the best food choice of the group, I marched back over to the main stage and settled down contentedly behind one of the many middle-aged, folding-chair-touting contingents stationed on the lawn. In fact, I think this was \the first time in recent memory where I fell outside the median age range at a music festival. Saturday was a day for Gen X, with Cake and DEVO and Smashing Pumpkins providing a nostalgia-ridden journey through the 80s and 90s for those whose tastes went beyond Punky Brewster and Fraggle Rock during that time. I felt uncharacteristically out of the loop at a lot of these shows, not because I wasn’t around when these bands had their heydays, but perhaps because I was, yet didn’t have the deep-seated appreciation for them that the Gen-Xers did.
I have to hand it to Devo though—they’re a pretty spirited bunch of old dudes. And ultimately, their Forecastle performance reflected their latest album, Something For Everybody, which falls into the positive middle ground between death rattle and comeback. It’s more like a last hurrah, but the kind that could go on for a while, as Devo seems determined to ride this wave as long as they can. As their “Song Study” method of fan-driven track selection for the aptly titled album illustrates, second-wave Devo is nothing if not crowd-pleasing. (Apparently they even changed their trademark red bucket hats to blue because, for whatever reason, that’s what their fans preferred.) And considering the band’s strange history, to which many of us teens and 20-somethings may be blind beyond the ubiquitous Totally 80s! compilation regular “Whip It,” that’s something new.
So, while my brethren and I may have been a bit confused and exasperated by the 15-minute sci-fi history digression, and the equally long and a-bit-too-soon-for-comfort Michael Jackson impersonation (at least I think that’s what it was), it’s only because we didn’t know that Devo actually had this whole 1970s-spawned theory of de-evolution derived from some book about humans evolving from mutant, brain-eating apes. And while they’re certainly not trying to make us take it seriously anymore (were they ever?), there’s something to be said for their power of foresight, in hindsight. Looking at our own postmodern world, does de-evolution seem so far-fetched? And regardless, we certainly cannot deny the irreparable influence Devo’s music has had on the today’s deluge of popular electronic music. And for that, I thank them.
Case in point, the next act to take up residence on the West Stage—Bassnectar. Back in the loop and into the fray, my fellow Gen Y-ers and I rushed toward the stage as the sun slipped behind it. Soon, the sky turned black and the glow sticks emerged, blending with the electrifying visuals and pulsing lights onstage as the honorable DJ Lorin Ashton, engulfed in his signature mass of waist-length hair, pumped out face-melting break-beats over a rippling sea of sweaty dancing bodies.
Literally soaked in perspiration and exhausted from a solid 75 minutes of pure adrenaline, we decided to head back to our temporary abode for cold (free) drinks and the opportunity to experience Smashing Pumpkins from the balcony. I will not deny that this was a bit of a cop-out. I’m well aware of the Smashing Pumpkins’ cult following, and I, like most people, do own a copy of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, but I’m going to confess something here: I bought it because I was in middle school and it seemed like the cool thing to do for the emerging music connoisseur I imagined myself to be. In fact, beyond admittedly poignant gem “1979,” I never really got that into it. And as I sat out there on that balcony in Louisville looking down at the vaguely defined top of the shimmering West Stage, I kept listening for “1979” but never heard it, not necessarily because they didn’t play it—they must have, right?—but because to be honest we really couldn’t hear very well from up there, and were lingering more on principle than anything else.
Sunday began, of course, with the World Cup final. I cheered for both the Netherlands and Spain, so I feel like I came out a winner. My reward? She & Him, Spoon, and The Flaming Lips, back-to-back on the main stage. I could hardly contain myself. But on the immediate forecast, what I was most excited for was a little band called Greenskeepers, that sing a little song called “Lotion,” based on a little scene from Silence of the Lambs that you may recall. Let me enlighten you with a brief lyrical sample: “The night is very cold, I'm feeling kind of weak/I think i'll make myself a cap from your right buttocks cheek/And then I will go walking with my little dog/and then I'll bury you underneath a log.” Let me continue, with the chorus: “It rubs the lotion on its skin/Or else it get the hose again/Yes, Precious, it gets the hose.” Imagine these lyrics oozing over what may be the catchiest hook of all time, combined with a particularly magical 3-year-old memory of seeing this very band cavorting around the stage in kung fu ensembles at my first-ever music festival (R.I.P. Echo Project) and you can imagine my excitement about seeing Greenskeepers on the Ocean Stage on Sunday.
Now imagine this: madly hustling the more dedicated soccer fans in my group out of a local bar, charging through layers of traffic, elderly bystanders and sustainability pushers and reaching the Ocean Stage just in time to find… what? To my horror, rather than the four vivacious droogs I was expecting, there was a lethargic-looking chubby guy in discomforting skinny jeans mixing dated samples for a nearly empty basin. Not even the two Kubrickian blondes, gyrating rather dolefully behind him, could save this show.
I marched backstage (that’s how deserted it was), and asked the stage crew about the identity of this Greenskeeping imposter. “It’s Greenskeepers, he’s a DJ,” was the grammatically-suspect response. Baffled, I returned to the stage. Had I hallucinated the whole experience 3 years prior? Impossible. This was not my Greenskeepers. This guy was a fraud or a last-minute replacement, or both. After a few minutes of doubtful lingering, I accepted defeat and moved on. It wasn’t until I returned home the next day and did some in-depth internet research that I realized this guy was, in fact, James Curd, one of the 2 originators of the band I loved so well. Oops. But frealz James, toting your lame solo DJ efforts under the name of your infinitely better band is uncool. Especially when you’re not even the vocalist. And why were you mixing up samples of “Paper Planes” when you had “Lotion” to work with?
I guess I’ll never know.
Disappointed, we headed over to the East Stage, where I was pleasantly surprised by effervescent psych-rock newcomers Morning Teleportation, who provided some much-needed musical uplift after the devastation wreaked by the lone Greenskeeper. Morning Teleportation is currently touring as Modest Mouse openers, with their Isaac Brock-produced debut slated to come out soon. I’ll be sure to check that out.
Post-Teleportation, with nearly an hour to kill before She & Him were scheduled to begin, we wandered. Eventually settling in at the Cirque Bezerk tent, we watched a group of powder-faced men jump over and around a wall and two contortionists writhe around like human snakes. A lovely distraction indeed, marred only by the puke-flavored not-so-mint julep Maker’s Mark beverage I made the mistake of ordering. But winners never quit, so I sucked it down and trotted over to the main stage to watch my girl Zooey rock out 50s-style with M. Ward. She & Him is one of the most refreshing musical acts I’ve heard in awhile. Zooey Deschanel trills with her own soulful style while returning us to the kind of retro charm that feels familiar even if you weren’t born until 1987. The perfect soundtrack for a sun-drenched Sunday afternoon in the park.
Eventually though, we were ready to return to our beloved Ocean Stage, where the aptly-named Heavyweight Dub Champion ensemble was spinning. Their scorching beats got us dancing again, and we didn’t stop until we left Waterfront Park. What happened in between were the two best shows of the weekend: Spoon and the Flaming Lips.
Volatile, visceral, and utterly on top of their game, Spoon rocked the shit out of us all—it was the third time I’ve seen them in concert and absolutely the best, confirming Spoon’s spot in my hallowed list of top ten favorite bands. There’s just something about their candid lyricism and uniquely infectious sound that really gets to me. And I find pasty frontman Britt Daniel extremely sexy.
Spoon played an ideal mix of tracks, mostly from their past four albums, including my personal favorite, which I’ve never heard live before, the seductive, idiosyncratic “Stay Don’t Go,” from 2002’s Kill The Moonlight. It lacked a little in the beat-boxing department, but found redemption by subbing in a seriously sweet horn section made up of local Louisville blowers. As the sun set, the sky awash in seashell colors, Spoon reaffirmed everything I love about them, and definitely acquired some new fans as well.
Now, the grand finale. Another band I’ve seen thrice, another top ten favorite, and architects of perhaps the greatest live show I’ve ever witnessed: The Flaming Lips. I think what it comes down to is that the Lips and I love the same things: over-the-top sparkles and lights and colors and madness—in other words, pure, bedazzling spectacle. The way I see it, this is how great music makes me feel, so why shouldn’t it be matched with its visual equivalent? The Flaming Lips’ music, particularly that of their most recent efforts, Embryonic and the startling, slow-burning celebration that is The Flaming Lips (with Stardeath, White Dwarfs and, against all odds, Peaches) covering Dark Side of the Moon, is all about layers and layers of sound and meaning. I witnessed what may have been a one-time-only performance of Dark Side at Bonnaroo and will never as long as I live forget it, but its essence lives on in all Lips performances.
The Flaming Lips revel in swirling textures—sonic, visual, spatial and psychological. They blend cerebra with kitsch, dark with light, solemnity with mirth. But the magic doesn’t come from attaining perfect balance; in fact, sometimes they go completely askew. Wayne starts babbling about legalizing marijuana in the middle of “Any Colour You Like,” keeps doing his old war-protesting bugle number even as we groan and wait for him to get back to the good stuff, comes out in his giant plastic bubble every show regardless of bodily injury. But he’s nothing if not consistent, and he’s consistent because of the joy these little heady indulgences so clearly bring him. You see Wayne with his giant laser hands and know that one day he just said, “Hey, you know what would be sweet? Giant laser hands.” The Flaming Lips perform their hearts out for us because they love doing it. Their magic comes from the ecstatic totality of the experience they create. And ultimately, that’s exactly where the magic of any truly great music festival comes from, too.