Margo Price at Forecastle: As the last minutes of a sweat-soaked Saturday faded away at Forecastle in Louisville, there was little denying (well, not on my part, anyway) that three neo-country stylists had pretty much ruled the day.
Two of them, South Georgia songsmith Brent Cobb and Kentucky’s own Chris Stapleton, bookended the festivities. But for my money, the artist turning in the most audience involving, artistically vibrant and physically exuberant set was, hands down, Margo Price.
A true Nashville upstart, Price repeatedly addressed country tradition with the Loretta Lynn-like defiance of the set-opening “Don’t Say It” (“Don’t fall in love if you’re in it for your health”) and then obliterated it with a honky tonk rebuke of corporate Nashville brass (“Cocaine Cowboys, they’re bad in the saddle; they’re coming in from New York, LA and Seattle”).
Aside from its lyrically venomous streak, “Cocaine Cowboys” and the majestic kiss-off song “Four Years of Chances” concluded with Price settling in at a drum kit to power up an already hearty band (highlighted by the continually robust pedal steel and dobro work of Luke Schneider) throughout jams of proudly syncopated country/jazz vigor.
Then there were the covers, including a suitably wily take on one of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ darkest hits, “Last Dance with Mary Jane,” and a stab at John Fogerty’s “Fortunate Son” that was as full of the same immediacy and collar-grabbing defiance as Price’s own expert songs.
Price went to Fogerty’s Creedence Clearwater Revival catalog again to conclude the set with “Proud Mary.” But the version was fashioned more after the soul-blasting transformation Ike and Tina Turner hit the charts with in 1971 than the 1968 original. In other words, the first part was all swampy introspection while the second surrendered to tent revival soul that sent Price to the lip of the stage and then into the crowd to pass out roses to the audience.
While there was no formal pronouncement of the title, this combo of good natured performance smarts, killer compositions and relentless stamina meant that the unofficial Queen of Forecastle has been crowned. Love live the Queen.
Best set of the festival? Shoot, this may just be the show I’ve seen all year.