Last weekend, I attended my very first Forecastle Festival here in Louisville. After 12 years of growth, I figured it was time to see for myself what all the hype was about. I was surprised to find mostly delivery and very little hype. That is a rare combination of words for me to eat.
For the uninitiated or non-local, Forecastle has a bit of a life of its own. It’s a music festival on a national scale, a display of local foods, arts, and crafts, a celebration of all that is music in Louisville, and at the same time it is a typical music fest complete with hula hoops, lots of skin, hacky sacks (who knew those were still a thing?!), and multiple oddities of all kinds. From the official website (forecastlefest.com):
“A Forecastle is a superstructure at the bow of a ship where the crew is housed. Hard at work in the unruly sea, it’s a place workers gather after a long day to unwind. A place where the people come together, for one whale of a good time.
Founded in 2002 by Louisville native JK McKnight and taking place this year on July 17-19, 2015 Forecastle has grown from a neighborhood event to one of the country’s most anticipated summer festivals, drawing tens of thousands of fans from across the world to Louisville’s scenic 85-acre Waterfront Park.”
I am normally a very frugal person. I find it hard to justify the price of an average concert, much less the high, yet moderately reasonable prices for a weekend-long festival. Plus, I sweat. A lot. It’s not pretty, but there it is. When I saw that weekend passes cost just south of $200 (with a $400 VIP option) I was decided. I would NOT be attending Forecastle this year. Enter a friend with their own media credentials already in hand and a free weekend pass obtained in an office lottery. Welp. Looks like I AM going to Forecastle this year. We intended to go Friday-Sunday, but circumstances beyond our control prevented us from going on Friday. Since heavy thunderstorms cut the show short, necessitating evacuations on Friday night, that turned our to be fortuitous.
The first thing that struck me was the enormity of it all. Waterfront Park in Louisville occupies 72 acres in its entirety, sprawling down the riverfront in Louisville. Forecastle takes up less than half of that space, but stretching over 1,200 feet along and over 1,000 feet back from the riverfront it clocks in at nearly 28 acres on its own. That is a lot of space to fill, and the tens of thousands of attendees fill it every year. The panoramic picture of the I-64 West overpass is just a sample of the throngs of people flooding in all day on Saturday.
When I mentioned oddeties earlier, I was thinking of the ten foot tall seahorse, the flags flown all over the grounds (literally, flags on poles AND the proverbial “freak” flags too), the tattoos, and then of course as the picture shows the Shart.com guy, dressed in a onesie on Saturday and naught but a speedo on Sunday. Apparently there was a hard hat of some sort on Friday.
The drawback to such a great festival comes from holding it during the summer. While the hot, sunny weather is welcome in small doses, I am not used to being outdoors, in the direct sun, for hours on end. Given the nautical theme of the entire weekend, I opted for a somewhat less odd, but still warmly welcomed “Sweaty Pirate” look. It served me well through the weekend. Though the occasional respite came from I-64 towering overhead, random trees, or well positioned fellow revelers, the heat (Sunday’s heat index was 102) was virtually inescapable. Sitting in the one small corner of the media tent that actually had a small, albeit brief breeze guzzling water was about the best rest I had all weekend.
In my experience with live music, the newer the band, the less likely they sound as good live as they do on a recording. The acts at Forecastle shattered that expectation for me this weekend. My Morning Jacket, Modest Mouse, Tweedy, The Tallest Man in the World (not true – he’s average height), Portugal. The Man, Diarrhea Planet, The White Reapers, and on and on all played fantastic shows with familiar songs, unknowns, and everything in between.
But Forecastle isn’t just music. With 4 stages, the Kentucky Bourbon Lodge, the Kentucky Landing, the vendors, the food, the special attractions, the Louisville public media broadcasting 6+ hours of live music at a time, and everything else to see and do, Forecastle is so much more than just music. For three days in July, Forecastle is an existence unto itself. Even beyond that Forecastle is a business and a charitable foundation. As a business Forecastle is responsible for an estimated $14 million economic impact on Louisville during its 3-day run, attracting over 58% of its 60,000+ attendees from outside the Louisville area. Because of this enormous impact, the city has worked hard to retain the festival, and Forecastle is here to stay through 2019 at this point. So while Forecastle is a lot of different things to a lot of different people, its impact on Louisville’s economy is undeniable. It acts as an ambassador for Louisville, drawing people in, sending them to restaurants, stores, and other businesses that they wouldn’t otherwise patronize. It’s value is undeniable, and its positive impact is far-reaching. Partnering with Arcadia Power, a national Clean Energy provider, Forecastle ran on 100 percent pollution-free electricity this year. Considering the amount of power required to run all of the booths, stages, lights, sound systems, etc that is absolutely astonishing, and Forecastle should be applauded for their efforts.
Forecastle is the “must-see” music festival for many people every summer. But the festival goes beyond itself and into the area of not-for-profit service. The Forecastle Foundation (http://www.forecastlefoundation.org/) benefits from the festival and works to “Rebuild the World’s Natural Awesome” through various partnerships with organizations seeking to “find, rehabilitate, and preserve 12 of the most ecologically diverse yet endangered areas on the planet.”
In strict, bottom line business terms, Forecastle is a win for everyone involved. The $14 million brought to Louisville by 60,000+ people, the donations to charity, the camaraderie that can only come from being absolutely drenched in sweat and singing your favorite songs with thousands of strangers, and the absolutely festive atmosphere all add up to a good idea, a great time, and an event that doesn’t just inspire good feelings but actually works to improve the world in which we live. That’s just good business.