“Party people, I like to see you dance,” Vince rapped on the track “Party People.” And on the second day of Forecastle Festival, dancing was the primary uniter for the attendees.
First stop in the afternoon was Lucy Dacus, who was in the middle of the mellow track “Troublemaker, Doppelgänger.” She has a very mellow, laid-back voice and, at this point, the majority of the “crowd” consisted of people laying on the lawn sunbathing or picnicking. Dacus’s signature song, “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore,” managed to get them all the way in the front to start moving, but the heat was still too high and the music was too mellow to inspire much energy. Dacus closed her set out with a new, unnamed track that was much livelier than her other songs, and the crowd supported the uptick in energy with a rousing round of applause, despite the small numbers.
Heading back to the Ocean Stage, Louisville rapper Jack Harlow’s DJ and hype man were just starting to warm up the crowd. The DJ ran through a number of today’s rap hits: “Magnolia,” “T-Shirt” and even XXXTentacion’s “Look at Me,” all while the hype man jumped around stage, half-rapping along to the lyrics. For those who had not previously heard of Harlow, one thing was clear: this guy has a loyal following. The entire center of the crowd was full of diehard fans, mostly young high schoolers and younger college students. As the hype man got the crowd to call out his name, those who never heard of Harlow were a bit taken aback when an unassuming, skinny, pale kid with glasses and a curly fro came out. There were several people along the sides and toward the back that chuckled to themselves or asked, “Is that him??” Yet, despite this, Harlow found his fans front and center and dived into the set. Harlow is only 18, and on the opening few tracks one could tell he hasn’t worked very many big crowds before, as it often fell on his hype man to keep the crowd energized. He did, however, throw it back to an older track, “Two Toned,” which lit up the center of the crowd.
Going on nearly simultaneously as Harlow was the trio of folk sisters, Joseph. Having come straight from a hip-hop set, the music was noticeably more mellow and less abrasive. But, even then, the large crowd they drew seemed to be feeding off their music. The girls opened up with their ballad-ish “Stay Awake,” as the three swapped in and out of some beautiful vocal duties. Rhythmic clapping and dancing erupted when the group jumped into their track “Canyon.” The infectious lines, “Can’t get, I can’t get, can’t get close enough to be close to you,” roused the crowd as people all around began singing along. The three had a certain energy that radiated not only through their music, but their stage presence and even how they addressed the crowd. Not one member of the group stood remotely still during the music, and anytime they addressed the crowd there was always a tone of excitement in their voice. “My goal is to be sweating as much, if not more, than you guys by the end of this,” one of the sisters said.
Following Joseph was JD McPherson, who started things off with fan-favorite “Bossy.” The driving, southern-tinged rock song drew heads from passsersby, as the band frequently turned to each other to jam out during solos. One thing noticed right away was the type of crowd McPherson drew. The vast majority of them were middle-aged, and felt right at home as McPherson dove right into his discography with several ’50s/swing-inspired rock tracks. The band would frequently lock into a groove, only to open it up with a guitar or key solo, then immediately lock right back in and continue on with the song. The group closed out with “Let the Good Times Roll,” ending the performance on a high note.
Back over at the Ocean Stage were the electronic group Classixx. Opening up with the title track, “Faraway Reach,” Classixx sound was the perfect music for a tropical dance party, and that’s exactly what the set turned into. There was swaying, there was grinding, there were full-fledged dance moves and everything in between, as the electronic group’s synths roared across the crowd and back, bouncing off the columns of the overpass. The duo went through a slew of house tracks to pick up the tempo, and when they let the beat drop for “Let It Go,” the dance party turned into an all-out rave. It’s always hard for electronic groups to maintain a commanding stage presence, but the sheer sound the two were putting out more than made up for it.
While Classixx were starting to wrap out, everyone began migrating back to the Mast Stage to get close enough to catch Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, the first hotly anticipated band of the day. People kept pushing and nudging their way through the audience to get a closer look at the group. Rateliff and company were experts at working the crowd. He constantly would get the crowd clapping or chanting only to have the band play into them. The crowd fed off their energy and the band in turn fed off of that. “We weren’t planning to play this one, but, well, since you guys are so great today we’re gonna play you a track off our new record. We’re even more eager to get it out than you are to hear it,” Rateliff said to the crowd. The new track, entitled “Coolin’ Out,” made great use of the horn section, as Rateliff danced around stage.
Halfway through Rateliff’s set, Mandolin Orange were getting started in the secluded Port Stage. “We’re going to play some siesta music for you all,” said Emily Frantz. That sentiment couldn’t be truer as they broke into their tranquil ballad “Easy.” The gentle singing and strings were the perfect soundtrack, as people stretched out on the grassy hill and stared out at the river. “Wildfire” kept the chill vibe going, as audience members slowly sang along. Though Rateliff would occasionally be heard over the mellow folk group, they provided a nice little escape from the rowdiness of the day, allowing people to recharge for the rest of the afternoon.
The moment of calm was needed as people began making their way across the grounds to the Boom Stage, where Judah & the Lion had just started. The group opened with the track “Suit and Jacket,” though they made the mellow song a bit more upbeat and driving than the studio recording. The inspirational opener set the tone for the band’s live performance, as Judah & the Lion maintained a very carefree, childlike sense of wonder. “It doesn’t matter if you don’t really know us,” said frontman Judah Akers, “For the next hour, we’re in this together.” Throughout the set, Judah would frequently take breaks to talk to the crowd and play games with them. “We had one of our first shows here in Louisville,” he said, “We had five people show up, so I think we’re making up for it.” Despite their apparently rough beginnings, Judah & the Lion found a very welcoming crowd, who seemed to know most, if not all, of their songs. When the band played “Hold On,” the entire crowd started jumping along. Remember that childlike sense of wonder mentioned earlier? In between songs, Judah did his own cover of T-Pain’s “Booty Work,” with the guitarist and bassist twerking to his left and right.
Following Judah & the Lion was Kentucky native Sturgill Simpson back at the Main Stage. Simpson lived up to his reputation and put on one hell of a show. Every song, he’d break out in a killer solo, to plenty of “woos” and applause from the crowd. Several people commented on how Simpson was one of the few “real country” artists out there, and his blend of psychedelic, rock and country yielded easily one of the best performances of the evening. “Welcome to Earth,” off of A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, was a crowd favorite, and Simpson would also throw it back to earlier tracks like “I’d Have to Be Crazy,” which garnered a huge crowd reaction. He played with a cool and calm demeanor that few acts boast now days — it’s the face you make when you take that second shot of whiskey and are ready to start jamming. He had an ever-so-slight smirk when he stepped away for a guitar solo, and that demeanor carried over when he spoke to the crowd: “I just wanted to tell y’all, we are getting on a plane next week to Japan to play Fuji Rock. You know how many f***ing country singers from Kentucky can say they did that? This many!” pointing to himself. There were some slight technical hiccups during the set, and at one point Simpson himself commented on it: “See, this is the problem with playing festivals, you don’t get a sound check so you just gotta trust that this shit is gonna work.” Despite the technical glitches, Simpson played through it all with that iconic smirk.
Rushing back to the Ocean Stage, nestled under the overpass, a mass of people were already packing in to catch Vince Staples. Opening up with “Party People,” the Long Beach native was grooving to his own beats. Some people peg Staples as the torchbearer for “conscious rap,” but don’t tell him that. Staples’s beats and songs are crafted to fit festivals and live shows perfectly, and he exclusively selected songs that put the speakers’ bass to the test. It appeared almost like a game for Staples and his sound team. On every song the bass seemed to increase just ever so slightly. When concert-goers thought that they couldn’t feel the bass anymore any more than they already did, something like “Senorita” would come on. When they thought the overpass couldn’t rattle any more than it did, “Big Fish” managed to knock dust off the rafters when the beat dropped. While the majority of the time Staples was hopping or dancing to his tracks — and for the slower jams he would occasionally go to a mic stand — he was still swaying and swinging his arms in a loose, laid-back fashion. On a few occasions, after he finished a verse, Staples would walk slowly across the stage, almost as if he was staring down the crowd. The kid expects you to go just as hard as he does, and he wasn’t going to let any other performer earn the title of “most energetic performance” on day two.
Last, but certainly not least, were the recently reunited LCD Soundsystem. Where Odesza ended the night on a mellow note, LCD Soundsystem wanted you to dance. The group opened with the track “Yr City’s a Sucker,” as visualized screens, strobe lights and a disco ball all created a synesthetic experience. The crowd ran all the way back to the underpass, almost two football fields away, and dance circles were all around as festival-goers were basked in the stage’s lights. LCD Soundsystem are an impressive animal when you see them live. Their music is naturally complex and multilayered, and the several-piece band were entirely in sync the entire way. The live-feed displayed on the screens constantly cut back and forth between the several members, and seeing all of these individual components of the band come together live was truly something impressive — especially considering the band only recently reunited and started touring after a long hiatus. Clearly, they still have some gas left in the tank. They moved through hit after hit, including “You Wanted a Hit,” which might have been the Louisville crowd’s most anticipated — along with “Daft Punk is Playing at My House.” It was clear there was a sense of eagerness in the air as fans were catching one of their favorites finally reunite. One could even see a few diehard fans with jackets that spelled out “Bad Bitch” and “Simple Creature” in glitter on their backs.
While the morning may have started out slow, day two of Forecastle quickly turned into a dance party and didn’t let go until LCD Soundsystem took us to the very end.
Photo Credit: Sharon Alagna