Article By: Anand Harsh ; Photos By: Lee Collins
Forecastle at 10: It takes time to do it right
In the weeks that have passed since the 10th anniversary of Louisville, Kentucky's annual Forecastle Festival, a couple of truths have sunken in. Principal among them is there is no such thing as an overnight success
. Broadly, you could attribute such a platitude to the skyrocketing fame of seemingly every other 15-year-old producer in the electronic music industry, but more generally, it couldn't apply more fittingly to the festival itself.
Over the past decade, JK McKnight grew Forecastle from little more than a backyard barbecue to one of the top festivals in the country. Ten years, think about that. How many things can you look at in your own life that you've been pouring your blood, sweat, and tears into for a decade, besides Miller High Lifes and America's Funniest Home Videos
reruns? There's no question that building an event on the magnitude of a downtown music festival featuring international superstars has sprouted more than its share of grey hairs into the festival founder's curly locks--even as he's just celebrated his 30th birthday.
Blessed with the good fortune of growing up within the tight-knit circle of Louisville's own rock gods My Morning Jacket, McKnight has crafted a lasting emblem of devotion to the power of music comparable with MMJ's own rise to the top of their game. And he's done it with three simple approaches.
have it all. McKnight's involvement with AC Entertainment over the past few years is reflective of the promotion company's Bonnaroo mindset. But the Forecastle fan's advantage is you can do so in a comfortable, slow-paced, laid-back environment, which I'll return to in a moment. The bottom line is today's festival fan wants to see it all--conscious hip-hop, cerebral rock and indie acts, and of course, wild and crazy dance music. Bolstering his solid EDM lineup of some of the brightest and most original acts on the scene--Bassnectar
, Girl Talk
, Flying Lotus
, Adventure Club
, Wick-it the Instigator
, and more--were some of the biggest and best acts in rock and rap. If you examine the electronica lineup even further, beyond having huge names, you'll notice that none of them really sound the same, have the similar vibe, or carry the same message as one another. This is important. Don't get two acts who do the same thing, you've already got the one. Picking critically-acclaimed acts who don't all fly the same flag (regardless of popularity) is the sure way to sell tickets, and not
annoy your attendees who couldn't give two shits about dance music. Sure it's difficult to choose between Flying Lotus and Bassnectar, but that's the kind of tough decision people enjoy the luxury of making.
But what could possibly make all the difference for Forecastle, this year celebrating its tenth anniversary, is its relationship to the city of Louisville. Everyone has been to a festival out in a cornfield starring promoters in a cage match with the local sheriffs and city officials battling for control over noise, security, and anything else you can think of commonly associated with outdoor music events--ahem, ahem. With major festivals getting horrible press left and right for teens overdosing or massive public intox arrests, Forecastle gets the damn mayor of the city, Greg Fischer, to come out and introduce its headline act. Sure, the festival fills up the downtown hotels and restaurants, and yes, with off-site camping only serving a small percentage of fans, Forecastle avoids some of the pitfalls of its competitors, but it's not even a tentative truce--the city embraces the fest, and vice versa.
And finally, as a veteran festival goer, you gotta give McKnight and his team credit for listening. In an industry where everyone thinks they know what they're doing, Forecastle took the time to address issues from years past. When people complained about the lack of water, they brought CamelBak on to provide free filling stations. When people complained about not being able to leave Waterfront Park, they changed the rules on pass outs. The little things and big things alike were fixed, and you know the Forecastle staff is going to be brimming with that classic Midwestern hospitality.
Each year, countless festivals spring up and disappear just as quickly. Most can't stand up to the fiscal uncertainty, unpredictable weather, or uncooperative municipalities. And JK McKnight will be the first to tell you it ain't easy. But the dedication to the dream, the undying fight to make it through the ups and downs of the past decade, that's what makes this festival great--and though he joked about it--this certainly ain't his last rodeo.