Saturday morning found the American Songwriter crew on the Indiana banks of the Ohio River, eager for more music. A gentleman named Frank, donning a derby hat and three-piece plaid suit, was kind enough to ferry us across to Kentucky. With full hearts and open minds, we crossed over to another state of mind and set forth on a Forecastle day for the ages.
22-year-old Lucy Dacus ushered in a cloudless Louisville day on the Mast stage, somber over the churning beat of “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore.” Working her way up to a wail later in the set, Dacus channeled a Heartless Bastards garage sound on “Night Shift.”
Celebrity sightings are a fact of life at Forecastle. The Colonel himself and fellow Kentuckian Hunter S. Thompson mingled with festivalgoers in giant marionette form, juggling fried chicken and the iconic TarGard, respectively.
Over on the Boom Stage, Joseph fired up their hit, “SOS.” Big Hassle music publicist Ken Weinstein remarked during a break, “there’s nothing better than sister harmonies.” Their voices blend perfectly, but with syncopated pop and soul you don’t hear from sister acts like First Aid Kit.
As the heat of the day set in, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats’ blue-eyed country soul went to work. Amid sax runs and Hammond B3 swirls, Rateliff paid homage to Chuck Berry with his best duck walk. On “S.O.B.,” he and the crowd of thousands crooned while knelt low to the ground (a la Animal House and fictional Otis Day’s “Shout”) and built to a crescendo before resigning, “if I can’t get clean, I’m gonna drink my life away.”
Mandolin Orange’s bluegrass-forward moniker is a bit of a misnomer. While plenty of McCoury string chops color their set, electric guitar bled into the plaintive “Take This Heart of Gold” at the Port stage. On “Hard Travelin’,” the band could easily be playing lower Broadway with a rockabilly rhythm and lyrics that nod to the Dead, “hard travelin’, down the road/ feeling bad boys, feeling low.”
By late afternoon Saturday, it had become abundantly clear the heat was taking its toll on the Forecastle crowd. Louisville’s Waterfront Park, situated on the banks of the Ohio River, offers very little in the way of shade. The combination of oppressive humidity and day-drinking proved too much for some patrons, as we saw a few tyros being treated for what appeared to be dehydration.
Sturgill Simpson’s early evening set on the Mast Stage was one of the most eagerly anticipated shows of the day. When he took the stage around 7 p.m., the crowd was still baking under a sky of merciless blue, with two more hours of daylight still to go.
The eastern Kentucky native and local-boy-done-good kicked off his set with “Brace For Impact (Live A Little),” a Gibson Les Paul strung across his shoulder. Simpson has now assumed lead guitar duties since Laur “Little Joe” Joamets left the band, a lineup shift that Simpson made a while back, he said, to keep things fresh.
Anyone who saw Simpson play with his old band Sunday Valley knows he can certainly shred, and some of the songs on Saturday stretched out beyond their studio versions and allowed Simpson to showcase his athletic chops.
“Railroad of Sin,” a song from his debut solo album High Top Mountain, offered some tasty chicken pickin’ and led one very enthusiastic fan to wax poetic about Sturgill’s instrumental prowess in a must-see Instagram video.
About midway through the set, Simpson noted with a wry grin that the band was slated to play the Fuji Rock festival in Japan later that month. “You know how many fucking country singers from Kentucky can say that shit?” he asked the crowd.
After playing Willie Nelson’s “I’d Have To Be Crazy,” Simpson closed the 14-song set with “Call To Arms,” the final track on his most recent album, the Grammy-nominated A Sailor’s Guide To Earth. A political screed that inveighs against American imperialism, it was a strong finish from the one-time Navy man.
We then rushed down to the Port Stage to catch the second half of Beach Slang’s set. The Philadelphia band recalls Pleased To Meet Me-era Replacements in all the best ways. Frontman James Alex told the crowd that a fan remarked recently that he looked like the hypothetical love child of Angus Young and Harry Potter. When the band broke into the hard-charging “Atom Bomb,” it was clear that Alex’s kinship with the AC/DC singer and kid magician was spiritual as well.
For the last set of the night, under a massive disco ball, LCD Soundsystem kicked off “Yr City’s a Sucker” with frontman James Murphy pleading, “my city’s in heat/ what we want is sex with movie stars.” Staccato synth and a percussion section with a bit of everything (including cowbell) played over an incredible light show, complete with jellyfish (or spaceship?) totems working through the crowd. From the first unmistakable piano riffs of “All My Friends” to the hazy surge and glockenspiel of “Someone Great,” the crowd was fully on board. An ensemble approaching a dozen, they might be the closest thing going to the Talking Heads, but Murphy’s voice is more Morrissey and his look more Brian Wilson or Philip Seymour Hoffman. And though they will never be mistaken for hippies, LCD inspires a sense of revelry in its fans that rivals the best of the jam bands.
— Written by Alex Shoaf and Caine O’Rear. Check out coverage of Day 1 of Forecastle here.