This weekend we’ll be back in America’s Most Underrated and Mispronounced City – Louisville, Kentucky – for our third year of Forecastle Festival. It’s three days of music, bourbon, and general fun beside the river. Louisville itself is a lesser known and therefore laid back smaller city with plenty of music/art/hipster amenities. For a midwestern kid who’s now adopted Dallas, it seems like it sits at the Northern edge of the South, both geographically and culturally.
The festival runs July 15-17th this year, with every day’s performances running to about 11 pm. This year is a weaker lineup for me – of the headliners, I’m disinterested in Death Cab for Cutie; interested in Alabama Shakes but I’ve seen them before; meh on Ryan Adams; and I’ve walked out of Local Natives opening for bands I like at least twice but now thanks to Life is Strange, I want to hear the play one song. But, without much self-applied pressure to keep track of headliner times and get to the front of the right stage at the right time, I can be open to discovering artists I’m not familiar with and in general, bourbon.
If you’re headed to Forecastle, here’s a bit of the good stuff to look for based on past experience… (also enjoy a potential incidental trip through the history of my hair in photos from the past years.)
Yes, you will be able to eat at the festival. Festival food stand standards like corn dogs and funnel cake and nachos are generally available, as well as things like Asian noodles, burritos, and burgers.
Food trucks are also standing by to feed your gluttony. Vendors such as Lil’ Cheezers (grilled cheese) and Mellow Mushroom (pizza) provide meal options that are a little more gourmet.. and may or may not make pot double entendres.
Food lines have been, generally, pretty bearable. Most of the time you won’t wait more than five minutes to order, and most vendors can get the food out pretty quickly. Food stands that are nearest to a main stage just before a headliner plays might be an exception to this.
Another food option to look out for – freebies. One year TGI Fridays had a free food truck set up, passing out samples. To be honest, their sliders made me rethink my personal associations with Friday’s. Turns out, people like free stuff.
Oh, this could be a long section. Of course, just for geographical reasons, we’re going to be talking a fair bit about bourbon…
Like most festivals, there will be beer and cocktail festival vendor stands. Drink prices are pretty fair – somewhere between the prices at your dad’s local VFW and the opportunity cost of baseball stadium beers. Beer lines can sometimes get a little long, but for the most part they aren’t so long as to make you not want a drink.
Then there’s the Bourbon Tent. Entry to the Bourbon tent is obtained by buying a set of tasting tickets, with or without a commemorative metal cup. Once inside, tickets can be used to buy tastings of bourbon from different distillers – these tastings can be transformed into cocktails such as mint julips at a center bar, also for a ticket price.
Bourbon Tent will also have merch for sale, informative presentations about bourbon, and potential photo ops.
There’s also Bourbon Tent-exclusive food options, and a bathroom trailer which is significantly more fun than the regular festival portapotties. Also – the tent is air conditioned. Because of this it makes a good mid-afternoon break in your festival day. So remember kids – bourbon is an important part of heat stroke prevention.
If bourbon and beer aren’t good enough for you, there should be some other booze options around as well. Tito’s vodka (familiar to Texans everywhere) has had a presence before, with a cocktail camper. Four Loko (which I didn’t realize was even still a thing) also attended in the past, complete with promo girls encouraging your participation in various contests of loco-ness.
Smuggling in flasks is also an option to attempt at any gated outdoor activity. Bags are searched at entry, and bringing in your own is not technically allowed. As with most events, the search is somewhat inconsistent. I’m not saying I would ever attempt to bring alcohol into a restricted area, but if I did such a thing. I would do it with a Cool Purse.
Watch the shows. This should be obvious. But make sure to watch not just the ones you came to see, but also wander the grounds, listening for something unexpected that might strike you. When you are hot and on the edge of sunburn, hide in the deep shade beneath the bridge, at the edge of the crowd in front of a stage, and just watch what is there. See if you want to take it with you.
Alternately, wander the vendor stalls, which are set up in a grove of trees. Many of the vendors are local, or local to somewhere else. Original prints are one of the festival’s specialties. Merchants are standing by to sell you a Forecastle festival print, or a particularly striking concert print from another show – expect to find past show prints for many of the artists playing at the festival, as well as other indie/hipster/local favorites. There are also an abundance of non-show prints of art that is just cool in its own right. Many of the prints – music or otherwise – are limited and numbered. Pro tip: ask if the vendor will hold your print until the end of the night. Most of them will.
Jewelry – either handmade or vintage – is another item to shop at the stands. Other possible finds include bandannas, possibly a small selection of breezier clothing in case you regret your choices, or accessories such as weird socks. If you just want to say you went there and got the tee shirt.. the official festival tee stand is near the vendor alley as well. The official shirts are generally a degree above standard concert tee in the art department. The afore-mentioned Bourbon Tent is also a good place to pick up good quality tees to wear primarily to work functions, where its important to subtly let everyone know the breadth of your experience with alcohol.
Alternately, if you’re into gameified public service work, last year’s festival featured a stand where attendees could collect and hand in litter in exchange for prizes such as PBR branded merch. Collecting from the ground, or pre-emptively as your fellow attendees finish their drinks is fair game.
Then of course there is the pop culture festival favorite pastime of play through style. Get dressed up and see if anyone asks for your picture. The real trick is to both look striking, and not hate your life and all your previous choices halfway through the festival day. If someone asks for your picture AND you feel cool and comfortable.. you know you’ve either won… or you look like a singular hot mess that they must send a photo of home to mama.
Watching the outfits of others – and sometimes awkwardly asking for pictures – is a favorite pursuit for me. It also sometimes leads to interesting conversations or encounters, such as meeting Keyleigh Goldsworthy after she played with Young & Sick. Even if its just a quick exchange and the snap of a photo, it pushes me out of comfort and into the possibility of conversation.
Its hard to love anything more about a festival than the sometimes magic of live music. My favorites from the past two years are a mix of headliners that I came to see, and bands I just found along the way. In random order, here’s some of the highlights:
- Watching Alvvays dedicate a song to a kid in the front row who was so excited to be there. What we knew, that they didn’t when they dedicated the song, was that he had carried their record all day, just in case there was a chance to get it signed.
- Dwight Yoakum onstage, sounding just like the record, with Jack White barely visible, standing just off stage watching.
- Jack White being not too bad himself.
- Jeff the Brotherhood.
- Young & Sick playing in the shade beneath the bridge.
- How genuinely happy King Tuff seemed to be to be complimented on their show.
- Accidentally enjoying Outkast while daylight gave up the fight to glow sticks and sunset; and not just for the Ms. Jackson jokes.
- Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings.. sounding like she could wail all night.
- Watching Beck transform from the nostalgic tape deck companion of my youth into a classic artist of our times.. just in front of our eyes.
- The stoners in front of us sharing.. uh.. the love with all takers, while we took shots of Very Old Barton, during Hayes Carll.
- Cage the Elephant, at home, doing the song that anyone who wears a Wub Wub hat to a music festival has been waiting to hear.
But aside from the music.. there’s a novelty to the days spent at Forecastle, the pace that is part wandering and seeing something new; and one part like being home – the culture in Louisville feels closer to the rural Midwest than our Texan city of lights. A river to cool feet in and an overpass to cast shade on your skin, a few friends to pass beers to, and maybe there’s mud over your shoes, or maybe you are gasping in the heat.. but you’re far away from rush and work and maybe even sobriety.