Forecastle Festival Offers Unique Spirit of ‘Music, Art, Activism’

Daniel Russell, Staff Reporter

A place where there is no hate, anger, judging or sadness seems only written in a fairy tale. In reality, it can be experienced every year during the middle of July on Louisville’s own Waterfront Park.

This fairy tale atmosphere is achieved with two simple things that can unite people from all walks of life: music and art on full display during the annual Forecastle Festival.

Festival founder and Louisville native JK McKnight said, “The event started in 2002 in Tyler Park neighborhood in the Highlands. It started very small — less than 50 total attendees with a budget that wasn’t larger than a couple hundred dollars.”

The humble beginnings of the event really show in the Festival official’s manner. The team that puts on this unique event appreciates everyone who buys a ticket. It did not take long for Forecastle to reach national recognition.

“It’s grown very incrementally over the past 13 years. One step at a time. Simple goals set and met,” McKnight said.

The national acts started to be booked in 2006 with Sleater-Kinney, followed by Girl Talk in 2007. The Festival has never looked back and has become one of the most prominent music festivals in North America.

They maintain this status by booking household names such as The Avett Brothers, My Morning Jacket, Outkast, The Black Keys, Jack White and 2014 Album of the Year Grammy winner Beck. 

It’s something unique and special, whose complexion is different than anything else out there right now. It’s quality over quantity — a memorable, cathartic experience best spent with friends and loved ones.”

— Forecastle Festival founder JK McKnight

The headliners are the stars of the show, but they are always backed with very strong supporting acts. These acts represent many genres, from hip-hop to indie rock to dubstep and EDM DJs that draw a huge amount of the younger crowds with their lively rhythms and beats. Forecastle really satisfies any musical preferences.

McKnight spoke of the process of creating this kind of lineup: “It depends on a lot of factors, most notably who’s available and how they mesh with our audience. At the end of the day, it’s about our consumers and what they want to see, and making sure it’s as well rounded as possible.”

This process seems as if it would take a year to complete, but McKnight said it can be taken care of in as little as a week or as long as a couple of months.

Every year the lineup has some hidden gems. Many of the artists at Forecastle become much more well known that weekend in mid-July. These artists gain a multitude of new fans on the Waterfront. These are the unsung heroes of the Festival, making it an amazing experience for first-time goers. McKnight knows that not all music will be known by every Festival goer.

“As we hope by this stage, people trust our brand enough that they will pay for admission even if they don’t know all the artists on the list,” McKnight said. “They know we’ve spent an exorbitant amount of time curating the best lineup possible.”

These less-known artists are the backbone of Forecastle. “As for this year, I would say The Lone Bellow and First Aid Kit are under-the-radar artists that shouldn’t be missed out on,” McKnight said.

Forecastle goes beyond fun and music. The slogan of the festival is “Music, Art, Activism.” The activism component is handled by an organization called The Forecastle Foundation, which is the non-profit arm of the event. They are determined to save some of the world’s natural beauty. McKnight elaborated on this: “Since 2011, the Foundation has partnered with grassroots organizations all over the globe to protect the world’s final remaining hot spots, which represent less than 2.9 percent of the earth’s surface but account for over 50 percent of all species known to man. We have current projects in Parana and Brazil and are supporting Kentucky, too, with funding towards Pine Mountain.”

Forecastle bumps up the local economy drastically every year, as well. The event draws visitors from all over the country every year. This is a boon to hotels, restaurants and bars. In 2013 the Festival released a study that showed a $14 million impact on the local economy after the weekend. It showed that the average out-of-town Festival goer spent $98 a day in the city.

An entire weekend of free spiritedness, great music, support of the local economy, and efforts to save the natural beauty in the world is the whole package. Why wouldn’t one consider going? Among those who have attended Forecastle is Trinity senior Adam Reeve, who described the Festival as “a beautiful display of strange art and unique people in interesting clothes and crazy costumes.”

Trinity senior Joey Bohn echoed Reeve’s comments, saying, “I experienced different styles of music, food and culture all in one weekend. The environment is ‘alive’ — lots of energy and action. Everyone seemed to be happy and enthusiastic. Everyone got along and was very friendly.”

There is something for everyone at Forecastle. People will be met who will never be forgotten. Experiences will be had that will turn into memories and smiles. The Festival has the ability to open one’s eyes to a world of possibilities. For those thinking about attending, McKnight has a message about Forecastle: “It’s something unique and special, whose complexion is different than anything else out there right now. It’s quality over quantity — a memorable, cathartic experience best spent with friends and loved ones.”