For a while now, Cage the Elephant and St. Paul and the Broken Bones have been on my short list of bands I wanted to see. I can now cross them off my list, say I found an interesting new act and I have a new impression of a major star after one day at the Forecastle Festival.
This is why we go to music festivals: to see acts we have really wanted to see, make new discoveries and even re-evaluate our preconceptions.
In its 13 years, I have not made it to Louisville’s premiere music event, and there we some hints that maybe this was not the year. There was nostalgia everywhere for last year’s headliner lineup of Outkast, Beck and Jack White, on Facebook, listening to the radio coming in and even in the crowd.
I struggle to remember what kept me from that edition, but this year, we were going to get our butts out there, and on day one, there was plenty to like.
Taking the main stage at dinnertime, St. Paul frontman Paul Janeway recalled that last year the band played an after-midnight Forecastle show at Headliners and said, “I see a lot more faces out there today.”
He also said that he had a Hot Brown earlier in the day and mused about whether that was the best idea for a pre-show meal before launching into a rendition of Broken Bones and Pocket Change every bit as scorching as the late afternoon heat at Waterfront Park.
Friday featured two of several home state acts on the lineup for this year’s Forecastle.
“We’re going to have some family time,” Cage the Elephant guitarist Brad Shultz told the crowd, before he and fellow guitarist Nick Bockrath played an abbreviated version of My Old Kentucky Home to start the Bowling Green band’s set.
It was hard to tell who was energizing who, between the band and the audience. Fans crushed to the front of the barricade of the main stage were deliriously singing along to every word and kept frontman Matt Shultz afloat during numerous crowd surfing sessions. He must still use a wired microphone so he can be reeled back in from his stage dives. It was an amazingly frenetic set showing the band comes by its live reputation honestly.
The band I have been crushing on all year is New Albany, Ind. — Hi, Robyn — act Houndmouth, which has exploded out of the Louisville scene. As they took the Boom stage, resplendent in colorful, far-from-matching bell bottoms — Should drummer Shane Cody’s American flag pattern be a July 4th staple or no? Hmmm. — it was clear Houndmouth was treating this gig as a special event with rousing renditions of everything from set-opening Black Gold to a plaintive late-set rendition of For No One.
I actually found the discovery of the day while I was stuck in traffic on I-64, listening to WFPK-91.9, when San Fermin driving force Ellis Ludwig-Leone was a guest. He talked about forming the band — in which he is the keyboardist and composer, though not the frontman, those duties going to the duo of Charlene Kaye and Allen Tate — and his Kentucky background, as his dad is from Lexington. Yes, there was a shout out to the Cats. So, of course, I had to check them out and Ludwig-Leone put together an intriguing ensemble including the signature baritone sax of Stephen Chen. It was clear why there were fans at the front of the stage who knew every word, and I will join the bandwagon. (I am writing this while listening to San Fermin’s April release, Jackrabbit.)
Consensus was Sam Smith was a somewhat odd choice for a festival more focused on edgier, indie acts. But this was an auspicious event for the multi-Grammy Award winner, as it was his first show after a three-month layoff for vocal surgery. He owned the stage from the minute he stepped on it with a crowd deliriously, screechingly happy to see him (Who knows how much crossover there was between his audience and Cage, which had just been there two hours before). While the mood of his album, In the Lonely Hour, is somber, Smith was downright merry. I left about five songs in, which was pretty much right on time, because Smith’s set was cut short by severe thunderstorms that blew into the Louisville area. According to MTV, the set was clipped at about 35 minutes as the festival site was evacuated. SNBRN’s scheduled late-night show on the Belle of Louisville was also scrapped, due to the weather — which appeared to have gotten to Lexington a bit earlier.
Walter Tunis and I are heading back today to catch, among other acts, Kentuckians My Morning Jacket, Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton. Watch our LexGo Twitter and Instagram accounts for updates and pictures.