The onstage differences between an indoor concert and an outdoor festival are understandably numerous. Everything from sound mixes to the song list can shift drastically. Just ask University of Kentucky graduate Glenn Kotche, who is experiencing both perspectives this summer as drummer for Forecastle Festival co-headliner Wilco.
"They're just completely different animals," Kotche said.
"Let's say we're doing a tour of theaters and larger indoor venues, and there is a festival or an outdoor gig thrown in. We get so used to having that pristine sound from a theater. Then we go outside. Typically at festivals, there are no sound checks. So when we walk on to play our set, it will be the first time we're onstage with our gear that whole day.
"There is a lot to get used to for everybody — for the monitor man and for the front-of-house engineers — to get everything to where you feel comfortable with what you hear. So it's radically different from playing indoors. It can be a bit stressful, too. Sometimes, you just hold on for dear life at these bigger festivals."
An outdoor show or festival set also can dictate the music an act will perform, especially if, like Wilco, a band mixes full-volume rock tunes with quieter, more pensive material. That kind of stylistic variance is plentiful on Wilco's newest album, The Whole Love.
"It's really an eclectic record," Kotche said. "When we play indoors, we can kind of do whatever we want from it. But when we play in Louisville, some of the new songs are just going to be too fragile to translate — songs like Black Moon, Rising Red Lung and even One Sunday Morning. Those would be pretty tough to pull off in a festival situation. So we'll have to wait until we come back through Louisville or Lexington for an indoor show to play those."
When Wilco's touring slows down later this year, Kotche will shift his artistic focus to his own music. A new solo recording is near completion. It will include compositions he has written for Kronos Quartet, and collaborations with the Chicago chamber group eighth blackbird and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Balinese ensemble Gamelan Galak Tica. "There's some electronic tinkering on it as well," he said. A new recording with his part-time duo On Fillmore also is in the works.
For now, Kotche and Wilco are roaring through the great outdoors as they work their way to Forecastle. That means not only a different sound and set list from indoor performances, but a different audience feel.
"The reception can depend on the venue, the city or simply when you're playing," Kotche said. "If you are the last act on the last day (which is exactly where Wilco sits on the Forecastle schedule), sometimes people are just worn out. Or if it's an especially big festival, you may not necessarily be playing to your crowd. It's not like an indoor show where everyone is there to see you. It keeps you on your toes."