The Forecastle Festival has done a lot of growing up since its humble beginnings as an afternoon of mid-grade local music performed live at Tyler Park. This year’s three-day affair at the Riverfront Belvedere boasts the most mainstream, hippie-fied lineup yet, with headliners Widespread Panic, The Black Crowes, The Black Keys and The Avett Brothers sure to rarify your air.
But you already know all that. So we decided to turn you on to a few bands that might not be as familiar as that smell under your armpits.
Erin Hill and her Psychedelic Harp with the Space Rats
Friday, 4:30 p.m., East Stage
Don’t be alarmed by this act’s $25 handle. The Kentucky-born, New York-based Hill is a songwriting angel, carved from the mold of greats like Joni Mitchell. With electric harp as the main instrument, Hill and the Space Rats produce ethereal, meditative tracks that fascinate and mesmerize an audience, falling somewhere in between indie rock and psychedelic pop.
Hill has her toe dipped in lots of different styles; she has a Celtic band, Four Celtic Voices, which debuted its album Four Leaf Clover at No. 1 on the Billboard World Music chart. As her career has hit its stride, she has performed with everyone from rock greats like Levon Helm and Garth Hudson of The Band to modern superstars like Kanye West.
Hill is difficult to pigeonhole. Her lyrical sensibility is both bizarre and unique, bolstered by her fascination with science fiction. Songs like “Lookout, Science” portray science and religion as boxers in a prizefight, with “Silver Feet” examining with wonderment the terrain of outer space. A performance by Hill and her ensemble will be interesting if nothing else.
Cage the Elephant
Friday, 5 p.m., West Stage
To say Cage the Elephant frontman Matt Schultz has a lot of onstage energy is an understatement worthy of jail time. Bouncing around like a human pogo stick at this year’s Coachella Music and Arts Festival, his blonde bowl-cut shaking with each punk beat, Schultz looked like the definition of intensity.
Is it all attention-seeking swagger? Hard to tell, but one listen to these Bowling Green punkers’ self-titled debut reveals vulnerability and substance underneath their punk-rock armor. Schultz may enjoy bouncing and shouting, but he’s bouncing and shouting about very personal subjects.
“Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked,” a seedy reiteration of Schultz’s encounters with a prostitute and drug dealer, is fun and catchy, but carved from themes of economic hardship and urban decay. “Back Against the Wall” is equally seedy and interesting as the singer contemplates trust and betrayal with lines like My tongue has become a platform for your lies and you got me where you want me again.
There is never a lull on this record, with the band jamming it up on songs like “Tiny Little Robots” and “Judas,” and Schultz leading the way with funkified, Anthony Kiedis-like energy. But no matter how much reckless abandon these guys display, you can find thoughtful substance underlying each note.
Friday, 7:50 p.m., East Stage
Cincinnati-based duo Bad Veins didn’t take long finding the fast track. Guitarist/vocalist Ben Davis and drummer Sebastian Schultz were playing just their second show when Atlanta’s Snowden stumbled upon their soundcheck. They were so impressed that they immediately started talking to bookers and executives about this cool Cinci act. A few weeks later, Davis and Schultz were playing Brooklyn and Manhattan.
Good vibes flowed: The band played the Moveable Hype show for popular Manhattan website The Gothamist this past November, and, after playing the CMJ Festival in 2007, were touted as “the breakout act of the event.” But while fortune may have smiled on the duo, they have backed it up with songs filled with as much grand ambition as youthful exuberance.
“My standard operating procedure is to write and record demos with no aim or goal in sight,” says Davis, who shot the video for the band’s first single, “Gold And Warm.”
Their self-titled debut reverberates with the excitement of a young band trying to make their mark. Davis filters his voice and instruments through telephones and megaphones, producing an echo chamber effect that makes songs like “Found” seem dream-like.
Saturday, 1:20 p.m., East Stage
Refined, mature vocals stand out against light, playful melodies on Madi Diaz’s latest EP, Ten Gun Salute. Diaz has become a rising star on the indie circuit; her songs have a poppy catchiness that will stick in your head for days. Her melodies are similar to the pop quirkiness of Regina Spektor, but possess an authentic and unique folk quality. Diaz shines, either in the idiosyncratic production added to her intricate tone or alone with an acoustic guitar on stage.
Featured as a star pupil in the documentary “Rock School” at only 16, Diaz later attended the Berklee College of Music and met musician and songwriter Kyle Ryan. Ryan’s enticing beats provide necessary punch. The duo’s collaboration has been met with great success, playing folk-hipster fest Bonnaroo, South by Southwest and various festivals across the country. The duo resides in musically impenetrable Nashville.
Saturday, 1:30 p.m., Ocean Stage
DJ Deepak Sharma combines staccato beats with fast-paced psychedelic overtones. After years of promoting and producing, Deepak has been deemed a techno prodigy, and he is often found in his native NYC spinning at the hottest parties.
Lately, he’s been collaborating with the likes of Dieter Krause and launching one of the world’s fastest-growing techno labels, Hidden Recordings. Their sound has been compared with techno giants Lusine, Superpitcher and Booka Shade. In Japan and Germany, the duo’s tracks have been climbing charts as their singles are continuously downloaded.
The Detroit Cobras
Saturday, 2 p.m., West Stage
Clad in leather jackets, pinstripe pants, leopard-print shirts and always with cigarette and beer can in hand, the Detroit Cobras strut across the stage demanding your attention. They have a take-no-prisoners approach to reinventing rock and soul music. The secret to the Cobras’ success is delightfully simple: Dig underground Motown classics full of soul and grittiness appropriate to the mean streets from which they derive. Add strong, effortless percussion and equally simple yet powerful riffs. The cherry on top is the raspy, soulful vocal superwoman that is Rachel Nagy. She has the polished range of Tina Turner and the edgy, raw twang of Amy Winehouse, resulting in a mix that’s loud, catchy and fun.
Saturday, 3 p.m., Ocean Stage (also at midnight, After Party)
Hac Le combines different elements from the techno scenes in Chicago and on the West Coast, creating a unique blend of house music with sharp contrasts.
His eccentric sound has landed him gigs with some of the industry’s most popular talent, such as The Crystal Method, Taylor, Sandra Collins, Deep Dish and Kazell. Le launched a promotion company, Global Trip, based in Mexico, in hopes of bringing the underground music scene and culture from the windy city of Chicago to our neighbors in the Global South. He was also chosen as one of the top DJs in the world by the Next Big Thing DJ contest. Tech guru James Zabiela named Le the Breakthrough DJ of 2008.
Saturday, 5:15 p.m., West Stage
Dead Confederate couldn’t be farther away from watered-down nostalgia for Southern rock of old. With a spooky, howling energy similar to My Morning Jacket, these guys churn out melodic, slow-burning tracks that are as haunting as they are mesmerizing.
These qualities emerge on the band’s first full-length album, Wrecking Ball, a raw masterpiece of rock intensity. Vocalist Hardy Morris has a tantalizing, Cobain-ish wail, but his lyrical artistry is the real treat; songs like “It Was a Rose” and the meditative title track are Southern balladry at its finest.
But these guys bring the heat as well. Lead guitarist Walker Howle scorches on songs like “Start Me Laughing” and then bangs away on the bluesy, unhinged “The News Underneath.” The whole album also has a great live feel to it, with the band laying into jam-ready songs like “The Rat” and “Goner” with pure venom.
With an appearance on “Conan” and tours with R.E.M. and Dinosaur Jr. under their belt, these guys are off to a hell of a nice start.
Saturday, 9:30 p.m., East Stage
The sophomore effort from this Raleigh-based outfit, Such Fun, may be a bit of a pity party, but it’s one where you don’t mind making an appearance. While singer Adam Baker’s lyrics resemble the adolescent yelpings of All American Rejects, his bandmates dig in and produce a record wrapped in as much indie-rock playfulness as wall-of-sound ambition.
“Down the Mountain” starts off as down-home country and eventually explodes into something operatic. “Always Do” begins like a frivolous acoustic track and then morphs into arena-ready rock balladry. These guys shine when dealing out beefy licks — “Hair Don’t Grow” is a bluesy assault of havoc-wrecking energy, recalling the heavy guitar pyrotechnics on The Decemberists’ The Hazards of Love.
“Hot Night Hounds” is infused with a TV on the Radio-style beat, while “Talking” has an untethered, punk rock energy to it. While ballads of teen drama like “Hardwood Floor” may feel insipid, you also can’t help but have fun with them, which Annuals are experts at providing.
Sunday, 1 a.m., After Party
Break out your glow sticks and get lost in the beat. Colorado-based producer Derek Vincent Smith and drummer Cory Eberhard are sure to bring everyone to the dance floor. The duo’s latest album, Filling Up the City Skies, melds hip-hop, house and jazz (among other genres) into their own version of electronica. Tender vocals are often brought into the mix, combining a disco sound with modern beats. Quick samplings of classics like Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” are also added to the progressive tunes.
The pair’s name was inspired by a vintage Pink Floyd concert poster. The duo’s latest album is available for free download at www.prettylightsmusic.com.
Sunday, 1 p.m., West Stage
Sporting both the musicality of a jam band and the welcoming energy of down-home Southern rockers, this Atlanta act is a little hard to place, which would be a problem if it weren’t so easy to get lost in their sound.
Axman Sam Holt did a two-year stint with Widespread Panic, and he’s clearly brought their penchant for seemingly endless jams to his new band. But Outformation resonate with a folksy curiosity, inviting the listener into whatever they are ready to discover, even if it is just a good time playing grassroots rock ’n’ roll.
Recalling The Band and Exile-era Stones, these guys have their hearts packed with Southern soul, clearly evident on their 2007 record Traveler’s Rest. Songs like “Edgewater” amble along, ready to be spun into a 10-minute jam session, until the listener is woken up with the urgent “Into My Arms.” The guitar-heavy “SG” shows the band kicking the listener up to hard rock attention, only to cool things down with the wistful 10-minute title track.
Their latest record, Fastburn, shows the band exhibiting a similar energy, with the wandering guitar jam “Eleventeen” balanced out by somber, beautifully crafted songs like “Faded Memory.” If you crave solid Southern rock, these guys are a treat to observe.
Sunday, 2:10 p.m., East Stage
The soft, sweet vocals of Israeli-born singer-songwriter Rosi Golan float along atop acoustic, whimsical melodies. On her debut album, The Drifter and the Gypsy, Golan lulls the listener into a dreamy, disillusioned state.
Most of her life has been spent traveling and honing her talent; in the process, she also learned to speak English, French and Hebrew fluently. Her songs have been featured on the CW’s “One Tree Hill,” and her lyrical collaboration with “Ben’s Brother” found its way onto “Grey’s Anatomy.” The single “Shine” popped up in a recent Pantene Pro V commercial. She also won a national award for songwriting excellence for the pop ballad “Think of Me.”
DJ Ben Wu
Sunday, 8:15 p.m., Ocean Stage
If the blaring sounds of indie rock put you off at Forecastle, this Michigan-bred beat master may provide just the antidote. With a career that has spanned 13 years and seen performances at raves and clubs all over the country, DJ Ben Wu unleashes all the electricity needed to get the dance floor in a stir.
Wu started dropping beats in Michigan cities like Detroit and Ann Arbor before moving to the West Coast. Once there, his career flourished as he alternated between playing raves in cities up and down the coast and honing his successful Internet mix show on Toronto’s www.club246.com.
Wu recently came back to the Midwest and, with fellow DJ Taylor Norris, is running the Indiana branch of Bang Tech 12 crew. Playing in nightclubs in Chicago, St. Louis and Louisville, Wu describes his style as somewhere between techno and house. With Norris at his side, Wu lays into a turntable like a maestro, spinning and dropping breakneck beats as if there is no tomorrow. With a successful chapter of his career already behind, check the DJ out as he breaks open another one.