Sundays tend to be the more leisurely days of any weekend festival. Day three of Forecastle saw performances (and audiences) drift back and forth between energies, good and bad performances, chill and energetic, thought-provoking and amplifying. It was a day of contrasts for the festival’s closer.
Up first was supposed to be indie-rockers Whitney, but the crowd made its way to what was an empty stage at 2:30pm. There were techs on stage and a drumset, but after twenty minutes passed, something was up. Multiple security guards had no explanation for the band’s absence, and they had mysteriously vanished from the festival’s website (they were previously up the night before). Regardless, festival organizers scrambled and replaced them with a last-minute DJ, and it became apparent that they were fairly green when it came to festivals. The female DJ they forgot to name had trouble keeping the small audience that stuck around engaged, and the “dj-ing” consisted mainly of just playing ’90s hits uninterrupted with some rather weak “let’s gos” and “woos.” A shaky start for the festival, for sure, but it was okay, because what came next more than made up for it.
Following the mysterious DJ, was easily a top-two performance for the day by Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires. While at first glance Sunday’s crowd looked rather small in the afternoon, people quickly converged once Bradley’s Extraordinares started jamming out on stage. Five minutes in and Bradley had yet to come out. The key player, with a beer in hand, walked up to the center mic and asked if the crowd was ready for the man, the myth, “the victim of love” to come out. In a voice that was pretty soulful and smooth all on its own, the band member told the crowd to “open your hearts and give my man all your love, give it up for Charles Bradley.” Bradley came out in something that only he, and perhaps James Brown, could rock. He approached the mic in a velvet red jumpsuit, complete with rhinestone patterns on the legs and back, unbuttoned all the way down to his belly button to showcase several chains, including a glistening Pharaoh medallion. It was time for the man to get started, and after a sunny little ditty from the band, Bradley hopped into “The World (Is Going Up in Flames).” “Don’t tell me how to live my life, when you’ve never felt the pain,” Bradley wailed and moaned. Feeling the pain is right, as the notes Bradley hit would make even legend and influence James Brown himself blush. After a roaring applause, Bradley simply smiled at the crowd and said, “I love you too!” The guy radiates good vibes. Whether it is the funky and somehow simultaneously smooth and awkward dance moves, or how when he talks, his voice is actually pitched rather high with a lisp, you can’t help but love the guy. He took a brief break in the middle of set for a wardrobe change, coming back out with a black/rhinestone blazer, a sparkly blouse/tanktop and boots that looked like they were made out of recycled disco balls; and, of course, it just made him even more endearing. Excellent song after excellent song, Bradley and his band performed in peak fashion. After talking to the crowd about spreading love and positivity in the world, Bradley put his money where his mouth was. He grabbed a bouquet of roses and walked out into the crowd — not just the little ramp that juts out into the crowd, but past the security barriers — and handed out roses to fans in between giving hugs, pictures and high fives. Really, this entire article could be about how good his performance was.
Coming off the high that was watching Charles Bradley, Foxygen failed to keep the energy up with the newly migrated crowd. The band covered several hits from their latest record, Hang, and while there were pockets of fans who were grooving out to tracks such as “Avalon,” and “Follow the Leader” (the latter probably garnering the most praise), the crowd remained only somewhat enthusiastic up until the very front few rows. Lead singer France jumped and pranced around stage in either white face paint or too much screen, and while overall the mood was lighthearted and flamboyant, Foxygen didn’t do much to amp up the Louisville crowd. They attempted humor by promising to play one of their “bigger hits,” but suddenly busted into a medley of Christmas and patriotic tunes. “We wish you a merry Christmas, we wish you a merry Christmas….wait what month is it? Guys, is it December? It’s not?” The humor fell pretty flat, as it was difficult to find someone laughing. The Christmas tune led into “God Bless America,” and again, very few laughs and more looks of confusion. Foxygen drove the nail in the coffin for the Louisville crowd when, while performing, France did a dance move that looked (probably unintentionally) uncomfortably similar to a Nazi salute. There were several puzzled looks and migration after that.
Forecastle’s Port Stage might as well have been dedicated as the official “chill zone,” as the rather secluded stage was the perfect place for people to lay down and mellow out in the middle of the sweltering heat. Vibing out the crowd this time around was Big Thief, the indie/folk rock group out of Brooklyn. The band’s droning and distorted guitars were cool relief from the physical waves of heat one could feel whenever the sun peeked out from a cloud. While lead singer Adrianne Lenker’s voice occasionally got lost once or twice among all the distortion, when she soared, her voice was the most angelic of the entire festival. Tracks like “Pretty Things” and “Shark Smile” let those silky smooth vocals soar above the muddled and drudging guitars. And when they wanted to flat out rock, the small group put out sound to rival anyone on the main stage.
With fifteen minutes to spare before Conor Oberst, DJs Sleepy T and Getzy were getting things ready over in the Party Cove. Just to visualize the area, the Party Cove consisted of a dip between two hills, the Stage A speedboat covered in graffiti. The crowd was small, consisting mainly of high schoolers or younger college kids. The duo started off with Lil Uzi Vert’s “XO Tour Life,” and event staff jumped on the “stage” (boat) to dance along. While the crowd was small, their energy was not. A mosh pit quickly erupted, but not the fun kind where everyone’s close enough that it’s hard to fall. This one opened and quickly devolved into drunk frat bros spearing each other as hard as they could. One kid got clotheslined, only to get up and spear the sender all the way out of the circle and start a fight. While friends broke it up rather quickly, it did spark a “mosh in moderation guys” comment from the DJs. When three girls dressed as mermaids and someone in a shark suit came up to start dancing on stage, most — besides the kids in the mosh pit — had seen enough and left to catch the next act.
Back at the Boom Stage, Conor Oberst was getting warmed up. The folk-rocker was in the middle of tuning his guitar after a “false start” when the bulk of the crowd made their way back across the bridge. “I want to respect all the money you guys paid for this festival, so we’re gonna give you the best performance possible,” the singer promised the crowd after the brief technical break. Oberst was a nice change of pace from the crazy atmosphere of the essentially under-21 rave over at the Party Cove. Warm and mellow tracks, such as “Time Forgot,” had crowds swaying back and forth as they sipped on their sweating beers. Oberst’s strained voice helped the crowd fixate, as he was backed by some warm guitar strumming. Swaying turned into dancing when he performed the favorite “Too Late to Fixate,” and while it took a round or two of chorus for fans to catch on, by the end everyone was singing along. While Oberst and company kept their set towards the “mellow” end of the spectrum, solos from the band always managed to draw rounds of applause. Anytime you perform with a fiddle and a harmonica in Kentucky, you’re more-likely-than-not to keep the crowd locked in, and Oberst managed to hold everyone until the very end of his setlist.
Up next was PJ Harvey, who was by far one of the more interesting performances of the festival. The crowd knew they were about to witness something different when the ten-piece band came out like they were in the middle of a funeral march (they were dressed in all black, and Harvey had something resembling a witch costume, but with much more leg showing). Opening track “Chain of Keys” set an almost ominous tone, as deep saxophones and oboes bellowed out over a simple marching snare cadence. PJ Harvey’s vocals were an angelic contrast to the deep, backing male voices. As Harvey sang out, with saxophone in hand, her hand motions were less like she was in the middle of a concert and more like she was addressing a crowd in the midst of political revolution or leading a sermon in church. For those simply looking at the back of the crowd, the crowd’s stillness could easily be mistook for lack of enthusiasm. But every single face in the crowd was fixated on Harvey as she addressed her following, as if they were deep in a trance, watching something far more complex than just a simple concert. When Harvey threw it back to “In the Dark Places,” one could catch more of her unique stage presence. She never sings too the crowd, she sings beyond them. Her eyes constantly looked up to the sky, above the backdrop of skyscrapers and interstates. It was as if she was seeing the imagery from her lyrics unfold in front of her. Her dancing resembled something closer to a shaman expelling bad spirits. The closest Harvey got to addressing the crowd was a quick smile after a long and winding jam, but the lack of addressing the crowd did anything but take away from her performance. Watching PJ Harvey is an experience like very few others, and the crowd soaked up every bit of it with awe-struck faces.
One of the biggest draws for Sunday was undoubtedly Spoon, who were out on tour to support their latest album, They Want My Soul, their first since 2014. The crowd stretched all the way back to the bridge to catch the veteran rockers, and when they took the stage the audience roared in applause. The group opened with their hypnotic yet surprisingly hard-hitting “Inside Out,” and the energy raised immediately. For anyone who heard the studio version, it’s a completely different animal live. A constant stream of bass and knocking drums made this track a lot heavier of a hitter, while the mix of a hard rhythm section and wavy/hypnotic synths and guitar created a pretty euphoric feeling. Fans new and old were swaying back and forth, as they stared up at the sunset, nearly everyone smiling with a sense of bliss. Frontman Britt Daniel was the spark plug for the group, and his energy was contagious among the crowd. The band rolled through hit after hit. “Hot Thoughts” and “I Turn My Camera On” had the crowd cheering, on a high and, quite frankly, Forecastle could have ended right there and not heard a complaint. It was easily the most backed the Boom Stage had been all weekend. The group closed with “Rent I Pay,” and even those leaving to catch Weezer danced their way back across the bridge.
Last, but certainly not least, was the festival’s last headliner, Weezer. Before the band went on, there was a sense of fatigue in the crowd as the entire back half of the lawn was populated with people laying down on blankets or sitting in the sand. Indeed, it had been a long and hot weekend, but that didn’t stop people from inching closer and closer to catch a good spot to view a childhood favorite. The infamous rock group kicked things off with “California Kids,” the track from their 2016 White Album. The upbeat joint was accompanied by a sunny beach background, as the entire crowd erupted into a singalong with the catchy chorus. After all this time, Weezer still have it. Their music just works for huge, open crowds as the audience’s singing nearly matches the band’s volume. Think of a hit, and they played it: “Hash Pipe,” “My Name Is Jonas,” “Pork and Beans.” They were determined to cover nearly all of their library, and fans reacted with pure joy and bliss. The group played out the night with “Say It Ain’t So,” “Thank God for Girls” and “Buddy Holly,” and several voices had been lost and left behind, as the crowd wearily walked out of the gates.
Forecastle, Day 3, was a series of contrasts. Whether it was a stellar performance by smooth operator Charles Bradley and a rather awkward one from Foxygen, a no-frills rock concert from Weezer and a dramatic experience with PJ Harvey, or the mellow vibe of Big Thief and the upbeat joy that came from seeing Spoon do their thing live, day three represented some of the best and worst the festival had to offer.