Highlights From The 2013 Forecastle Festival

The Black Keys perform at the Forecastle Festival in Louisville, Ky. on Saturday, July 13.

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Videos by American Songwriter

Jim James performs at the Forecastle Festival in Louisville, Ky. on Saturday, July 13.

The folks organizing Forecastle Festival really had their work cut out for them this year. Topping last year’s My Morning Jacket-curated rock show was going to be tough, so the festival tapped some of the hottest summer acts for three days of music on the waterfront. Here are some of the most memorable moments from this year’s Forecastle Festival.

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The Forecastle Incident, a jam session hosted by the String Cheese Incident, performs at the Forecastle Festival in Louisville, Ky. on Sunday, July 14.

The Forecastle Incident brings the bluegrass to the bluegrass state

Considering the fact that the String Cheese Incident was formed in Colorado, the band has always had its hands surprisingly deep in the southern sounds of bluegrass. Fans who found the band’s Friday night set lacking in such got their payoff on Sunday evening when the band took to the stage with Kentucky newgrass legend Sam Bush, and a cast of all-star guest musicians, to pay tribute to the Kentucky sound.

Perhaps the most exciting show of the whole festival musically, the band stretched its wings, playing everything from originals to reworked bluegrass classics. But the real star of the show here was Bush, who proves time and again that he is one of the greatest and most innovative mandolin players alive. Hailing from just down the road in Bowling Green, Bush showed fans that nobody does bluegrass better than Kentucky.

Dawes performs at the Forecastle Festival in Louisville, Ky. on Saturday, July 13.

Dawes plays despite the weather

For a few moments on Saturday the Forecastle crowd was feeling pretty glum. Just as Dawes were about to get their set going a team of production workers came on to the stage to wrap the band’s instrument in tarps and announce that the festival was being evacuated due to “inclement weather.” And though the sun was shining brightly, there were some disturbing dark clouds on the horizon to support their claims.

Luckily, the predicted storms manifested in the form of a light 10 minute shower, but the damage was done and the festival was postponed by an hour. Luckily, when the rain let up Dawes were allowed to play the majority of their setlist. It’s really insane to track this band’s growth in the past two years, but since releasing their most recent album, Stories Don’t End, the band has been enjoying a newfound popularity. The crowd’s sing-along to the chorus of “When My Time Comes” was so loud that you could probably hear it on the other side of the river.

Tennis fans brave the heat

“It’s too hot for tennis. Whoever said that?” asked Tennis singer Alaina Moore. Fans of the band, like fans of the sport, braved the sweltering heat of Kentucky Sunday morning to get their fix. Since the group first burst on to the scene in 2010, Tennis, formed by Moore and husband Patrick Riley, have captured the attention of fans across the U.S., including The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney, who produced the band’s most recent album.

According to Moore, this was the band’s first show in Kentucky, and they made it count. The band’s blend of surf-y 50’s rock and synthy 80’s pop is surprisingly seamless, and Moore’s voice is powerful enough to make Zooey Deschanel jealous, but it was Riley’s guitar work that really held it all together. The right mix of energy made this set one of the most enjoyable of the weekend, proving you don’t always have to rock out to put on a good show.

Killer Mike performs at the Forecastle Festival in Louisville, Ky. on Sunday, July 14.

El-P and Killer Mike bring hip hop to the dance floor 

At one point during this set somebody walked by with a t-shirt that read “Sorry, Underground Hip-Hop  Happened Ten Years Ago,” and I couldn’t help but feel the irony. It’s hard for music to feel underground during the age of the internet, but what El-P and Killer Mike are doing, both together and separately, is unlike anything they’re playing on the radio these days.

Killer Mike opened the set, and let audiences at the Red Bull stage (primarily host to DJs) know exactly where he stood with opener “R.A.P. Music”. This wasn’t going to be your typical dance music show. Add in his partner in crime El-P, some dope beats, some guest MCs, and a live band that features everything from guitars to keytars, and you’ve got some idea of how it all went down. Killer Mike and El-P brought something to Forecastle unlike anything else seen there all weekend, though it’s hard to say exactly what. Perhaps there’s no genre for what these guys do because they are the only ones doing it.

The Flaming Lips perform at the Forecastle Festival in Louisville, Ky. on Saturday, July 13.

The Flaming Lips dark new show polarizes the audience

If you haven’t heard yet, The Flaming Lips have completely reworked their famous live show extravaganza to better fit with their dark new album The Terror. This move has been a long time coming, because if there’s one negative thing that could be said about The Flaming Lips show, it’s that it was becoming played out after several years of vigorous touring. And while fans that had never seen the band before might have been disappointed that confetti wasn’t raining from the sky while Wayne Coyne scurried over their heads in a hamster ball, their new show is just as spectacular as the old one.

Coyne, shrouded in smoke, elevated and clutching a baby doll connected to tubes pulsating light, traded in his happy vibes aesthetic for something more abrasive than fans of the band are used to. Even the setlist was bolder, trading in a mostly fan-favorite song selection for newer material and older material reworked; which isn’t to say the band didn’t still play some of its classics, or that fans won’t recognize them anymore. Instead The Lips are doing something they haven’t done in a few years: making a dense artistic statement (as dense as one can be clutching a baby doll connected to lighting tubes).

Though the show was darker, Wayne Coyne seemed reinvigorated (well, he’s always pretty invigorated) to be doing something new, and in that sense it could be argued that their new show is even better than the old one. Mostly though, everyone still misses the hamster ball.

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Photos: The 2013 Forecastle Festival

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