July 10-12 at the Riverfront Belvedere, Louisville. $10-$100. www.forecastlefest.com. TicketMaster, 1-800-745-3000 or www.ticketmaster.com.
Among the curiosities worth viewing at the Forecastle Festival Web site is a little video journey called Forecastle Then.
It begins in 2002, when the music, arts and activism gathering was little more than a community event in Louisville's Tyler Park. The inaugural festival had little by way of stage or lighting and relied mostly on park grounds and picnic tables for audience seating. It played to a few handfuls of fans, many of whom were simply bewildered park patrons. The festival's budget that year was less than $500.
The montage sits next to a second video titled Forecastle Now. It recaps last year's three-day gathering at the Louisville Riverfront Belvedere. You get to see the huge stage set up at the foot of the Galt House and glimpses of fans spread all over the festival grounds along Main Street and the nearby Ohio River.
There also were symposiums on everything from filmmaking to green technology. And there was music — tons of it — from the blue-ribbon bluegrass of the Del McCoury Band to the indie rock of Dr. Dog and more.
Forecastle sets sail again this weekend. The destination is again the Belvedere. True to its growth cycle, the lineup promises what probably will be the most majestic Forecastle yet, with tickets for just-before-midnight concerts aboard the Belle of Louisville on Friday and Saturday going for as little as $10 and $15. Three-day festival passes are a beefier $100. Single-day admission is $40.
The festival's keynote speaker will be Christopher Childs, a veteran energy/environmental activist and former national speaker for Greenpeace USA. His talk will be at 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Representatives from the Sierra Club, the Appalachian Trail Conservatory and 35 other environmental groups will be there. There also will be a bio-fueled, interactive caravan of artists, world-beat musicians, puppeteers, activists and even culinary artists called The Sustainable Living Roadshow.
As always, though, the music assembled by festival founder JK McKnight and crew is the main draw. Here is a sampling of a few of the major acts on tap:
Widespread Panic, 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday: The champion Athens, Ga., jam band will headline with a pair of two-set, three-hour performances.
Guitarist John Bell and company have fashioned studio albums out of a groove-savvy sound for more than two decades, the mostly recent being 2008's Free Somehow.
But like most jam-oriented ensembles, Widespread Panic's reputation stems from its live shows. The band actively releases archival concert recordings on its own label. The newest, which hit stores in June, is the three-disc Huntsville 1996.
The Black Crowes, 6:45 p.m. Saturday: The seemingly tireless Crowes remain in flight with brothers Chris and Rich Robinson at the helm. Although its music has moved away from the R&B/rock matrix of its early recordings, the band still relishes hearty jams built around earthy rock and soul.
As with Widespread Panic, longstanding commercial popularity has eluded the band. Similarly, the Crowes have long acknowledged their place in the jam-band market by following their three most recent studio albums with concert recordings. The most recent of the latter, Warpaint Live, was released in April.
Never content to sit still for long, the Crowes already have two new albums, Before the Frost ... and ... Until the Freeze, ready for release in September. Both are studio recordings but were recorded live in front of a small, invited audience at Levon Helm's Woodstock, N.Y., studios.
The Black Keys, 11 p.m. Friday: From the Black Crowes, Forecastle goes to the Black Keys, the ever industrious Akron, Ohio, guitar/bass duo specializing in primal, neo-psychedelic boogie, rock and blues.
The band is like a modern variation of Cream. Sort of. Guitarist/vocalist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney built nicely on that sound with last year's ultra-cool, Danger Mouse-produced album Attack and Release. Auerbach also issued an impressive solo debut called Keep It Hid in February.
For my money, though, the Black Keys never sounded better than on 2006's Chulahoma, a six-song disc of music by one of the band's biggest influences, the late Mississippi bluesman Junior Kimbrough.
The Avett Brothers, 7 p.m. Sunday: How big will the Avetts' Forecastle outing be? Well, the trio (and sometimes quartet, when cellist Joe Kwon sits in) played Lexington to an enraptured, sold-out audience last month. So bank on the Forecastle outing being huge.
As with the Lexington show, guitarist Seth Avett, banjoist Scott Avett and bassist Bob Crawford will offer roughed-up string-band sounds — bluegrass and pre-bluegrass music with a punkish, barrelhouse makeover, if you will. And along with music from the band's popular indie recordings on the Ramseur label will be previews of new songs from the upcoming, Rick Rubin-produced album I and Love and You. A free download of the record's elegant piano-and-string-laden title tune has just been made available on the Avetts' Web site, www.theavettbrothers.com.
Zappa Plays Zappa, 8 p.m. Friday: The guitar rock-oriented compositions of the late and very great Frank Zappa live on in this 3-year-old tribute ensemble led by son Dweezil Zappa. The younger Zappa is no slouch on guitar himself, as shown by a self-titled 2008 CD/DVD of the band in performance.
ZPZ continues in 2009 with a new lead singer, Ben Thomas, an unknown to almost everyone — including, initially, those in the Zappa camp. A singer from the northern suburbs of Chicago, Thomas was auditioned and passed Dweezil Zappa's primary requirements as posted recently on the ZPZ Web site: "He has a passport and is free for the next five weeks. Oh yeah, and the fact that he walked in and nailed Inca Roads."
Other performers at this weekend's Forecastle Festival include: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, The Whigs and Cage the Elephant on Friday; The Detroit Cobras, Man Man and The New Mastersounds on Saturday; and Yonder Mountain String Band, Umphrey's McGee and Backyard Tire Fire on Sunday.