REVIEW: Forecastle Music Festival 2019: The Little Fest that Could.
In the grand scheme of the festival scene, there are a handful of heavy hitters. Names like Bonnaroo, Coachella, and Burning Man are all events with reputations and production values that go a step above. In the past several years, however, I think anyone versed in the festival culture would have trouble naming any one of dozens of smaller local festivals that have popped up cross the nation. One of the longer-running yet smaller events is Kentucky’s Forecastle Music Festival. Founded in 2002, the festival has jumped locations several times across the years, each time to allow the ever-growing festival to accommodate more people and amenities. The festival was even named one of the country’s top 15 festivals by Outside Magazine in 2009. Shortly after gaining this level of recognition, the festival picked up support from famed promoter AC Entertainment, the brilliant minds behind the South’s biggest festival in the form of Bonnaroo, and with that the festival jumped to the major leagues.
Little Festival, Big-Time Production
If there is one thing Forecastle does not skimp on, it is sponsored areas and activations, with almost all available amenities having some form of sponsor. Shade area? Brought to you by Fruit of the Loom. Seating area with a bar? Hotels.com concierge. Some may see these activation’s are a plight on the festival community, inviting “the man” in to a place to try to sell, market, and analyze you. Others may see them as a blessing, where the free Tito’s Vodka bandana kept them from having a head stroke, or the opportunity to snag a fresh pair of sunglasses allowed a fan to see their favorite artist for the first time without being blinded. Whether you like them or not, it is undeniable that these types of marketing events allowed the festival to provide an experience and amenities that would have otherwise raised ticket prices or could mean the dissolution of the festival long-term due to a lack of revenue to pay artists and staff.
Get in, Get out, Get down.
If there’s one praise I can give Forecastle, it is really in the crowd. While many city-based, non-camping festivals struggle to curate a solid vibe, that is not something I can say about Forecastle. Even at festivals with a better reputation for having a strong and positive culture surrounding them you will often find individuals who have become overly indulgent in their party habits and either become overtly intoxicated to the point of being unable to control themselves or begin lashing out at others. This was not an experience that our writer had while walking around the festival this year. Even with a large crowd, huge age variety, and sometimes narrow pathways to get from one stage to another, we never saw anyone being too rushed or seeming to be having a bad time.
The only exception to this was seeing several younger attendees who did not know what they were getting in to when wanting to be close to the front for their favorite acts, either neglecting to take care of themselves with proper hydration or not understanding how cramped space can become at the front once a rowdy show kicks up and people push forward to be as close as they can be. If you have never been in this spot, consider this your warning for your first time and be prepared.
Sing Life Away
Finally, we get down to it, the music of the MUSIC festival. It was there, bands played, it was great. The end.
Okay, but for real, the bands that play year to year are super variable, and while some were hits, others were duds, and all of that depends on who you are. For some, The Killers being a headliner was a major letdown. These guys have been on a major festival journey for more than a year now, headlining events across the nation and leaving festival regulars having seen them multiple times. That is not to discount the quality of their show; they do an amazing job, but it is just getting to a point of over-saturation. For people who do not go to a dozen festivals a year, however, I am certain seeing them was absolutely amazing. This can be said for so many artists. On the whole, Forecastle does and did an excellent job of providing a great multi-genre lineup, especially if you were willing to give some new names a chance. Acts like Maggie Rogers, Yungblud, The Avett Brothers and Andrew Bird truly showcase just how varied the festival is, and that also plays homage to the truly inclusive nature of the festival, which had acts that brought in large concentrations of people across the decades rather than most festivals’ extreme focus on the 20-something crowd.
So, Should I Go?
If you have never been to Forecastle Music Festival and have read this far, you may be asking yourself this very question. Sure, it is hard to answer without a lineup to look at and “sell” you on the event, but I think with some critical thinking it is definitely possible to get 90% in either direction. First and foremost, if you are looking for a festival that has a Woodstock-esq appeal of freedom and love, then this may not be the event for you. While the crowd was outstanding on the whole, the festival is filled with companies trying to sell you products, has ample security, and offers limited hours of operation. On the other hand, these very things may sound fantastic if you are someone who just wants to get out, see some great music, and go back to a hotel to rest up. You will never feel unsafe and will always have ample opportunity to check out a new product, that is for sure. One thing can be almost certainly guaranteed no matter which side of the aisle you ride on, and that is that this festival continues to bring out top-notch acts and amenities from a great variety of artisans and artists with a level of organization that is as close to seamless as possible.