Music News & Reviews

Chris Stapleton homecoming tops day at Forecastle with everything from T-Pain to a symphony

Photo Slideshow : Forecastle Festival Day Two

Photo slideshow from day two of the Forecastle Festival in Louisville.
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Photo slideshow from day two of the Forecastle Festival in Louisville.

Day 2 of the 2018 Forecastle Festival culminated in the most anticipated set of the weekend: a homecoming performance from country superstar Chris Stapleton.

The last time Stapleton played Forecastle, it was a mid-afternoon set on the festival’s secondary Boom stage, just a few months before a magical night at the 2015 CMA Awards launched the Johnson County musician from critics’ darling to country superstar. He came back to Waterfront Park packing two more chart-topping albums and a trophy case bulging with Grammys and other honors.

Unfortunately, here’s where we hit the day’s only snag: a 40 minute delay due to “technical difficulties.” That didn’t detract from Stapleton’s rustic country allure, though. His electric works, like the show-opening “Midnight Train to Memphis,” possessed a dark, swampy atmosphere that the scratchier recesses of Stapleton’s singing brought to ominous life. Other tunes, like the bluesier “Nobody to Blame” or the more raggedly country “Hard Livin’,” were performed with a more sobering and soulful accent.

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Chris Stapleton performed on the Mast Stage during Forecastle Festival Saturday at Waterfront Park in Louisville. Alex Slitz

Stapleton was the headliner, but this typically diverse Saturday at Forecastle belonged to a pair of hearty country upstarts: Margo Price and Brent Cobb. At temperatures swelled to 94 before much of the music even started, the day eventually gave way to very welcome cloud cover, a minimalist symphony, and a hip hop celebration.

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This year, Louisville Orchestra music director Teddy Abrams is curating all musical offerings on the Port Stage, and while much of the material is pop-leaning, Saturday night he re-convened the Forecastle Symphony for a contemporary classic. Rather than conduct, Abrams become part of the ensemble fabric by playing clarinet in a spellbinding performance of Terry Riley’s still-fascinating minimalist composition “In C.” The orchestra’s cyclical patterns of mallet percussion, winds and strings proved the ultimate chill station for weary festival goers. Most sat on the ground as they watched, some even laid flat and let the intoxicating, textured sounds wash over them.

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T-Pain performed on the Ocean Stage during Forecastle Festival Saturday at Waterfront Park in Louisville. Alex Slitz

Want to know how extreme a culture shock can be? Try strolling from the Forecastle Symphony’s Riley bliss out to the Ocean Stage where rap colossus T-Pain introduced himself with two extra-long expletives. His set, a mixture of live rapping, disposable singing and a quilt of DJ-moderated sonic stock footage, was a technical mess. But the audience went nuts over resulting tunes like “Can’t Believe It” and “I’m Sprung.”

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Margo Price performed on the boom stage during Forecastle Festival Saturday at Waterfront Park in Louisville. Alex Slitz

Earlier in the day, It took about half of the show-opening “Don’t Say It” for Margo Price’s vocals to pop up in the sound mix. That qualified as a serious infraction, given the effortless tone, force and country zeal this Nashville renegade summoned as the set progressed. From the Nashville rebuke of “Cocaine Cowboys” (one of two songs that sent Price to the drum kit to detonate a jam) to the Kentucky-themed charge within a cover of Guy Clark’s “New Cut Road,” Price earned rights to be crowned the new Queen of Forecastle.

Brent Cobb, who will be opening for Stapleton when he comes to Rupp Arena in October, got the secondary Boom stage underway with an expert set and compositions that blended an authentic sense of country songwriting, albeit with a few unexpected twists (like the sly “Down in the Gulley,” where a grandfather’s pump house is mistakenly raided for being a moonshine distillery) and a sleek sense of Southern soul (suggested within the Little Feat-meets-Sturgill Simpson charm of “When the Dust Settles”).

Stapleton’s set was preceded by another homecoming, of sorts.

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Houndmouth performed on the Mast Stage during Forecastle Festival July 14 at Waterfront Park in Louisville. The band is set to play Lexington’s Manchester Music Hall in August. Alex Slitz

With its hometown of New Albany sitting across the river — and, in essence serving as a stage backdrop — a realigned Houndmouth made its case for pop stardom. With vocalist and keyboardist Katie Toupin gone, but a new instrumental makeup at work that included dual saxophonists, the band stepped forever into the pop landscape with “Golden Age” (the title tune to a new album due out in August) and “Strange Love.” But older fare like “Say It” and “Hey Rose” produced a more nuanced and natural pop voice.

Read Walter Tunis’ complete blog from Day 2 of the 2018 Forecastle Festival at The Musical Box.

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