Here is our live blog from Sunday at the Forecastle Festival, Kentucky’s largest annual music showcase.
10:30 p.m. Arcade Fire took the main stage at the Forecastle Festival as the sun was setting over the Ohio River, with the band entering through the crowd to the stage and frontman Win Butler ascending a platform he performed from for much of the night. We got a heavy dose of the band’s current album, “Everything Now,” with songs such as “Creature Comfort,” “Electric Blue,” and a light show to match the band’s messianic posture.
“Everything Now” is something of a zenith of Arcade Fire’s social commentary — which some find, um , trying — and the set reflected that, with visuals accenting the consumerism of “Creature Comfort” and Butler introducing “Intervention” talking about his wife and bandmate Régine Chassagne’s parents, who are Haitian immigrants. While the set got serious at times, there was plenty of time for fun and pure rock ‘n’ roll theatrics, such as a percussionist (I was too far away to say with certainty who it was) climbing the scaffolding during “Rebellion (Lies)“ — the band did reach back in the catalog a number of times, including an exhilarating rendition of “Power Out.”
The crowd seemed unusually light for a headlining set as Arcade Fire began, and we might credit that to the closer on the secondary Boom Stage. It was simply kind of hard to leave Aussie Courtney Barnett’s set.
Barnett is enjoying a surge in popularity with her latest album, “Tell Me How You Really Feel,” and anyone who was not already on board got a good taste of what the buzz is about — some of the buzz being her gritty, distorted guitar sound reminiscent of Kurt Cobain. She delivered songs such as “An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in New York)“ and “Avant Gardener” with an oddly engaging disaffectedness that belied the ferocity of her lefty guitar work. And the audience was with her, packing the area in front of the Boom Stage.
It is not hard to imagine a main stage date in Barnett’s future, as the reception felt reminiscent of another Boom Stage artist from three years ago: Chris Stapleton. And Barnett doesn’t even have the advantage of being a home state favorite.
Forcastle 2018 ended doing what a strong festival does well: bringing current, relevant headliners and giving us a glimpse of the future that makes sure we are paying attention.
The late afternoon offerings at Forecastle were essentially amazing live songcrafters, with Isbell commanding the penultimate main stage set of this Forecastle fest with a set that showed how far honesty and conviction effectively delivered can command complete attention, even in a venue surrounded by an interstate, river and — new this year! — Ferris wheel. That really resonated in “Last of My Kind,” a lament that ultimately dissolved in a tender acoustic and slide guitar exchange between Isbell and guitarist Sadler Vaden.
The 400 Unit is a band of sparring partners, Isbell seeming to have a particular affinity for keyboardist and accordion player Derry DeBorja in a rousing rendition of “Codeine.” Isbell joked that he and the band would have been more playful but, “Arcade Fire has a lot of s---.” while standing under the headliner’s massive mirror ball.
There were no mirror balls on the Boom Stage, but if there was, it might have shattered in the crystalline delicacy of the Punch Brothers’ playing. The band’s set in places asked the question how intensely can you hold the audience’s attention when playing intricate quiet passages on high string instruments such as mandolin and banjo. And then you maintain that when your set is visited by a sudden downpour.
A striking thing about Punch Brothers is there may not be a more charismatic frontman out there than Chris Thile — most effectively demonstrated in his rendition of “Another New World” — but then you step back and realize the whole band is amazing, opening it’s set with a laconic “My Oh My.”
On the Port Stage, Ben Sollee had a chance to get a little pop star with Teddy Abrams and Friends, peeling off renditions of Sting’s “Fields of Gold” and Des’ree’s “You Gotta Be.” The show, put together by the Louisville Orchestra conductor, was one of two sets Sollee participated in on the festival’s Port stage, relocated from the riverfront to a lawn near the festival entrance. (See more on that, below.)
6:30: An early afternoon rain certainly cooled off the Forecastle Festival after two days of straight up baking. I am going to dub myself the lucky one of our trio of writers dispatched to Forecastle ... as long as rain holds off.
The highlight of the early going has been a scorching main stage set by Trampled by Turtles, particularly mandolin player Erik Berry and fiddler Ryan Young who set off several scorching solos — for once actually hotter than the day at hand. They were preceded on the main stage by Louisville’s White Reaper, definitely showing a knack for the ol’ three-minute blistering rock song, and a strong following in its hometown. One of the fun things being in the photo pit is seeing how much the crowds change for different bands.
Gracing the Port Stage, programmed by Louisville Orchestra director Teddy Abrams, was quite possibly the only artist you will see at Forecastle and Lexington’s Southland Jamboree this year: fiddler Michael Cleveland with his crack band Flamekeeper. It was a lovely dose of genuine bluegrass at The Bluegrass State’s biggest fest.
Cleveland’s set also showed what a nice idea it was to relocate the Port Stage from the riverfront, to make way for a Ferris wheel and other attractions. The Port Stage could frequently get overwhelmed by all that surrounded it, including the adjacent main stage and Party Cove. On the lawn, while more modest in size, it was able to create a more relaxing environment that complemented the music it was presenting.
2:30 p.m. First order of business arriving at Forecastle Sunday is catching up with Ben Sollee.
The Lexington native and Louisville resident has two Forecastle sets lined up on the Fest’s Port Stage. The first is the Maiden Radio Hour, and the second is Teddy Abrams and Friends, a potpourri of Louisville and Kentucky musicians organized by the Louisville Orchestra director. The entire weekend of music on the stage was curated by Abrams, who had organized local music showcases on the Port Stage the previous two years.
“Teddy Abrams had come to us from a different part of the country and tried to bring to us a broader, bigger idea of community, that you might find in some West Coast cities, to Louisville,” Sollee said after arriving at the Forecastle media area with his cello in hand. “Teddy is maybe trying to tell a story with his curation on this stage and with the Louisville Orchestra that Louisville is a broader, more diverse community than maybe people think of at first glance.”
And that diversity comes in music, with a variety of different styles slated for the shows and the stage.
Sollee said the stage was a product of a, “Kentucky mindset, which is, cook with what’s around you.
“The mentality is rooted in our culture, our food, our music, bluegrass, mixing all these immigrant musics together. It’s a story that we’ve been telling for a long time.”