“Man, it’s hot out here guys. I don’t know how you all are doing it,” a sentiment echoed the entire day. After convincing a drunk guy that I wasn’t his controlled substance hook-up for the day, I was in Forecastle Festival, Louisville’s (and pretty much Kentucky’s) single music festival — all located on the riverfront. The day itself was a scorcher, with temperatures hitting upwards of 95 degrees. A wristband, and a heaping amount of sweat, were the admission fees.
One of the first acts was Chicano Batman, who came on at peak temperature at four in the afternoon. The four-piece band out of L.A. instantly caught the crowd’s attention with their tight-knit grooves. The group opened with the track “Angel Child,” and the mix of psychedelic soul, funk, rock and latin music was the perfect warmup to the festival. The band were incredibly in-sync as they shifted in and out of orchestrated riffs and free-flowing improvs/jams. They would wander in their groove sessions, but always managed to bring it back into some tight-knit grooves. The lead vocalist/keyboardist/backup guitar player was the primary hype-man for the group. While on keys, he animated every chord, every hit, and, when he wasn’t anchored to his keyboard, he bounced back and forth between his fellow bandmate — particularly on the track “Freedom is Free.” For the Louisville crowd, the band wasn’t a name that many recognized but still proved to be an effective way to start the festival. Infectious grooves had people’s hips swinging and several couples dancing, even despite the unbearably high temperatures and humidity. Chicano Batman really locked the crowd once they busted out the Spanish on the more Latin-tinged “La Jura,” one of the last few tracks to close out the set.
Up next were Real Estate, the pop rock band from New Jersey. By the time concert-goers had made their way over to the Boom Stage where they were performing, the group was working its way into “It’s Real.” First thing that stuck out about these guys was just how warm their sound was. Warm, open and shimmering guitars washed across the crowd as the Ohio River flowed behind them. There weren’t a ton of people dancing, but there were several laying under the shade of a tree or the underpass as the song “Same Sun” came on. Real Estate is the kind of band you listen to while you are laying out in the grass on a sunny day, and what they lacked in stage presence they more than made up for with just how much their sound filled the area, making even the rowdiest festival-goers close their eyes and pop their head. At one point during their performance, after talking about some of the other acts performing, the bass player praised Run The Jewels and instructed the crowd to chant “Real Estate” anytime the rap duo attempted to start a “RTJ” chant (it didn’t work). The group played a track off their first album, “Beach Comber,” after explaining that this was the first time the group had seen each other in nearly a month, to wrap up their set.
Heading back across the water to the Mast Stage, southern rockers NEEDTOBREATHE were just getting started. These guys were a dose of energy after having zenned out to Real Estate, their sound seemingly made for open arenas and festivals. The energy among the festival attendees noticeably picked up once their music started blaring through the speakers. Plus, they just flat out rocked. When breaking out into guitar solos, the lead guitarist frequently would jump out into the crowd and not miss a beat. People’s feet certainly didn’t fail them, as dancing erupted in the crowd when the band played fan-favorite “Feet, Don’t Fail Me Now.” Whenever a rock band breaks out a saxophone (in this case on the track “Money and Fame”), you know you’re in for something good. The group showed some of the best crowd work among all the bands that day. At one point, the band lulled into a slow groove, letting lead singer introduce the band members with some hilarious stories. First was their drummer, who actually started out as a guitar-tech intern, but later became the drummer after being fired by the band. “Funny thing is we don’t ever really have any interns,” Bear Rinehart (lead singer) said to the crowd. “When we were looking for a drummer someone said, ‘hey Randall, plays drums,’ and I said ‘Randall with the glasses? Shitty Randall?’” Two weeks later Randall joined as their drummer, and provided the festival with a simple but excellent little drum solo after his introduction. Another funny story to come out of the introductions: bass player Seth Bolt, “the pretty one,” first met Bear Rinehart when he attempted to get with Bear’s sister by rapping Vanilla Ice to her. “True story,” Bear insisted. As the band started ramping up the intensity from their mellow groove, Bear hyped up the crowd by saying, “My promise to you today is that I will give you everything I have in me, every ounce of sweat, but I need you to meet me half way,” just before the band completely exploded in sound, cranked it all the way up to eleven. NEEDTOBREATHE was exactly what the festival needed to warm people up into the pure energy sets that were about to follow.
Up next, over to the small Ocean Stage, nestled under the overpass that divided the festival grounds, to see none other than Waka Flocka Flame himself. While he may have been relegated to one of the smaller stages, the ATL rapper had people packed in tighter than any other performance that day. In typical rap concert fashion, the crowd was being warmed up by snippets of songs managed by the DJ, until the beat for “Bustin’ At ‘Em” came on, when the crowd got quiet, just for a split second in anticipation. Then came Waka creeping from the side of the stage, jumping right on the drop of the beat. Let’s get one thing straight right away: you don’t go to a Waka Flocka concert expecting impeccable bars or a great live band or some crazy a capella freestyle, you go because Waka Flocka is 100% pure energy. Arguably the closest equivalent rap has to a heavy metal concert (he even played “Let the Bodies Hit the Floor” for a brief moment), Waka was constantly headbanging to his beats as his dreads flew around with him. Presumably out of breath, his set took a brief lull when the DJ took over and played some aggressively rave-y EDM music; but the energy shot right back up when Waka came back on for “Hard in Da Paint.” A man of the people, cell phones were constantly being thrown on stage for Waka to take Snapchats with. For a solid five minutes, Waka performed while catching phones, snapping and throwing them back out into the audience. “Grove St. Party” kept the energy high, particularly when he jumped into the crowd to partake in a bit of the moshing. However, it reached a fervor when “No Hands” came on. People were grinding on each other, mosh pits were erupting seemingly out of nowhere, pure bliss and chaos all at once. Not one person left that performance without a heavy dose of sweat and a bit of physical exhaustion.
Concert-goers wearily made their way back to the Mast Stage (after some much needed water and sustenance) to catch Cage the Elephant. Without a doubt, the first thing one noticed was singer Matt Schultz walking out in an eclectic green tuxedo/suit/jacket thing and tight leather pants, as the band opened with their bluesy “Cry Baby.” The second thing one noticed was just how energetic Schultz really was. By the second song, he was already shirtless and drenched in sweat as he danced, vamped, vaunted, jumped on risers and performed any other type of motion one can humanly think of. Famous and charismatic rock frontmen tend to be a thing of the past in today’s music, but Schutlz looked like a young Mick Jagger as he let the music take complete control over his body. The frontman was a fireball on stage (along with the accompanying pyrotechnics) and refused to let the crowd settle in. Schutlz was having so much fun that his brother and guitarist Brad decided to join in the fun and jump into the crowd while playing. While not Louisville-natives, Cage the Elephant are just down the highway in their hometown of Bowling Green, KY, and one could tell they were the local favorites. By far, they commanded the most attention from viewers, and not a song went by where the majority didn’t know every single word. In case you don’t believe, come back to a Cage show in Louisville and listen to the crowd when “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” or “Cigarette Daydreams” comes on.
By the time Cage the Elephant were wrapping up, the entire festival was migrating to catch Run the Jewels. It took over five minutes to cross a thirty foot bridge just to get to their stage, but man, it was worth it. Queen’s “We Are the Champions” was playing over the PA, but the band fell straight into “Talk To Me,” and punched the crowd in the gut with a dose of heavy bass. Pictures — and sometimes even videos — of Run the Jewels live don’t really do these guys justice. While they dress more like dads than famous rappers (both wore black t-shirts and jeans), there’s a certain energy at a Run the Jewels concert that you can’t really pin on to any other artist. While they certainly move around and are animated (all under the classic RTJ artwork hanging above the stage), they don’t headbang like a Waka or flail around like a Cage the Elephant. And, yet, it was still the most intense show attendees had experienced that day (and, perhaps, all time). One thing that certainly helped was the almost-but-not-quite overwhelming amount of bass, the kind of bass that you feel in your chest when you take a breath. At one point, Killer Mike yelled out, “Tonight feels like a blockbuster night,” and the sinister beat from “Blockbuster Night Pt. 1” came on. “I’m talking crazy, half past the clock is cuckoo,” Killer Mike rapped as the beat dropped with bass so intense that one could hear it rattling the underpass almost a hundred yards away. Oh, and needless to say, nearly the entire center of the crowd turned into a mosh pit. After apologizing for “smoking all the weed we brought you” to the crowd and exclaiming the love they always feel from Louisville (except for those “motherf***ing Confederate southerners,” as Killer Mike put it), it was time for another rattler in “Oh My Darling (Don’t Cry).” And, yes, the underpass was still rattling from the bass. El-P dedicated the last song, “Down,” to anyone who wakes up “feeling like the world is out to get you.” He continued, “We can make this world whatever we want to, we can make it all about love.” The stage went dark, but the two decided to come back to play one song for the fans from their first album, with an aggressive performance of “Run the Jewels.”
By the time we were done with Run the Jewels, we were grimy and still covered in sweat that was just beginning to dry, well after the sun had set. If RTJ was the capstone of a sweaty, grimy and aggressively hot day (that kind of sums up their show, but in a positive way), headliner Odesza was the welcome breeze of cool air to end the night. After only a few songs, the lawn that was previously half-full for most of the day was packed with fans. Anyone who knows Odesza’s music knows they are the epitome of chill, and that was exactly the vibe of the festival as they played out the night. While there were people dancing the closer you got to the stage, Odesza served more as the “comedown” playlist after a long and hot day. Couples cuddled up to each other on blankets looking up at the stars, others got lost in the hypnotic visuals that the duo have become known for. Some songs garnered bigger reactions, such as “Sun Models,” particularly during the drops. It quickly became clear that, on their Forecastle debut, several in the Louisville crowd weren’t really familiar with any particular Odesza song, but rather the overall vibe that they put off, which was ultimately what people seemed to want from their set. Snapchats and selfies were abound during their performance, and Odesza provided a chill, relaxing backdrop for friends to get together, have a few drinks and plan out the rest of their night.