July 25, 2006

Forecastle grows up: Moving a homegrown festival forward isn’t without pain

Sleater-Kinney: Sleater-Kinney is waving goodbyeThe second Forecastle Festival, in 2003, was my first. I was 16 years old. Money was tight, as it is now, so the idea of seeing two of my favorite Louisville bands — Irina and Your Black Star — for free, in a park a block away from my best friend’s house, sounded like a better idea than Einstein’s theory of relativity.The festival is all grown up now, and it’s no longer Louisville’s little secret. But in case you’ve missed it so far, here’s a recap:“Captain” JK McKnight birthed Forecastle — invoking the nautical term “forecastle,” which refers to the crew quarters at the bow of a ship — as a way to counter “feeling very isolated in the city.” He’d just returned to Louisville after a year in South Carolina; he planned to pursue his own music full-time, and he wanted to hold an event for Louisville-area musicians. “It was during that period that I felt the desire to create an event for the city’s musicians,” he tells me. “I wanted it to be a day of camaraderie — free and outdoors. Pure, simple, cathartic and honest.”It began modestly (production costs of around $500) in July 2002, in idyllic Tyler Park. By Year Two, McKnight had broadened the scope, adding more bands and a tagline — “Music.Art.Activism.” — to reflect a new focus alongside local bands. The activism component was particularly important to McKnight, because he’s been involved with environmental issues since he was 12 years old.ARCH: Forecastle vets ARCH and Follow the Train play Saturday.“I have letters between myself and the U.S. ambassador to Brazil in 1993, discussing ways to preserve extensive tracts of land, protecting purchases against poaching, and ways the government works with local communities to create substantive living conditions that preserve and nurture the existing resources,” McKnight says. “The activism element is important for reasons that should be self-apparent to anyone who understands the state of the global ecosystem, climate shifts, natural resources and other issues critical to maintaining homeostasis.”Follow the TrainAttendance increased about three-fold in 2003. McKnight and his “Forecastle Deck Crew” — a group of volunteers who help realize the vision each year — regionalized in 2004, booking bands, artists and activist groups from throughout the Midwest and as far away as Boston — organizations such as the Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda and Earthsave. More bands (18) required two stages, which were augmented by 30 artists and 24 activist groups.But McKnight wanted to grow even larger, which prompted a move to a new location in 2005. Last year’s festival, in Cherokee Park, was by far the largest yet, attracting more than 5,000 people. The park warmly embraced the vibe, with two stages on opposite sides connected by a forested pathway lined with local art. Personally speaking, Forecastle 2005 was one of the highlights of my summer. Not only did a few of my friends play the festival that day, but Irina (whom I hadn’t seen live since Forecastle 2003) and Shipping News (another one of my local favorites) played back-to-back. That all made the trek well worth it. That brings us to Forecastle 2006, and back to the topic of growing pains. For one thing, you’ll have to pay to get into this year’s Festival. And it’s moved again, to the Mellwood Arts and Entertainment Center. These changes are irking the locals.Bloom Street: The year’s Forecastle is local jammers Bloom Street’s thirdBut don’t blame McKnight. Funding a majority of the first four Forecastles from his own pocket has forced him into severe debt. After Forecastle 2005, he lost his apartment and car and ended up living in his parents’ basement. All of that has made it necessary to recast Forecastle. He had to find a way to defray costs.“We never had any sponsors, so the little Bloom Street: The year’s Forecastle is local jammers Bloom Street’s third I had, I spent,” McKnight says. “The problem was, by 2005, Bloom Street: The year’s Forecastle is local jammers Bloom Street’s third had grown into the thousands, and I had little choice but to move the festival somewhere I could charge an admission to cover expenses. I took a credit advance to pay off the 2005 festival, and paid for it dearly. I’m not really looking to make money, but I am looking to grow the festival, and continue its expansion throughout the Midwest.”The Ladybirds: it’s the first for rockabilly cats The Ladybirds.So, the skinny is this: Tickets cost $10 for Friday, and $15 for Saturday. A two-day pass costs $20.“(The admission charge) should be self-apparent to anyone who understands how much it costs to do a large production like this,” he says. “Altogether, over 300 people are directly involved in the production, and that number is growing. This year’s festival will wind up costing 2-1/2 times what last year cost, with sponsorships covering less than one-third.”McKnight wants to keep expanding, which makes it difficult to foresee Forecastle returning to free status unless major sponsors fall from the sky.“Provided we raise enough money this year, we want to continue to grow and expand throughout the Midwest,” he says. “I have no intention of quitting until the festival is recognized as the ‘largest gathering of musicians, artists and activists in the American Midwest.’ We’re all working to establish a new festival model, with an environmentally sound foundation. “As the budget grows, it will continue to cost money. That’s the reality of the world we live in. Cost won’t likely increase above $15; we want to make sure it’s affordable for everyone, and all ages. Costs should be equivalent to what the consumer is receiving. … People are getting 25 bands, The Ladybirds: it’s the first for rockabilly cats The Ladybirds. artists and 30 environmental orgs, in a venue that’s never been used before, along with a multifaceted festival experience that is different than anything in the country.”After significant deliberation (and abandoning, at least for this year, his ultimate goal of holding Forecastle on the waterfront), McKnight decided on the Mellwood Arts Center.“We were searching for a venue for the 2006 festival, and had talks with a few interesting places, including the University of Louisville,” he says. “My next-door neighbor, David Levine, knew the people at Mellwood and had suggested it to me numerous times. … I liked the feel, the history, and as soon as I conceptualized the whole thing, we sat down with them for a meeting, and made it happen.”There was one big sticking point: There was room for only one outdoor stage, but 25 bands need two stages. So McKnight turned the equation a different way and decided to stretch things over two days.Another new feature this year: Two national bands will headline. The indie-pop outfit The Apples in Stereo closes out proceedings on Friday, while the renowned rock trio Sleater-Kinney ends the festival on Saturday.Music begins at 11 a.m. Friday, with local poet Ron Whitehead and his wife, Sarah Elizabeth. Also featured are Louisville bands like Your Highness, Cabin, Wax Fang (formerly Scott Carney & Heavy Friends), The Photographic and many others. The Apples in Stereo — part of the Elephant Six collective that birthed such bands as Neutral Milk Motel and Olivia Tremor Control — go on about 10 p.m.Music kicks off at noon Saturday, and the line-up features bands like Follow the Train, Gracer, Second Story Man and Your Black Star. The Sleater-Kinney set, which should start around 10 p.m., is particularly interesting because the all-girl trio has said they’re going on indefinite hiatus after their summer tour.Before Forecastle officially gets under way, there’s a nautically themed indoor/outdoor kick-off party tomorrow at Bluegrass Brewing Company on Shelbyville Road. It starts at 5 p.m. and features live performances from The Children, World Force, Lucky Pineapple, Paradigm, John Siegel and Honey Roy, as well as DJ sets from Kim Sorise and Tim Furnish. The kickoff party also includes interactive Forecastle art installations, costumes, photo opportunities, nautical movies, the ever-popular drink specials, giant sandboxes and more. Party tix are $5; it’s 21 and over.If, after two days, you feel the need to keep riding that nautical wave, there’s an after party at the Maker’s Mark Lounge at Fourth Street Live. It features live outdoor performances from VHS or Beta Dee Jays, Parlour Boys, El Roostars, The Shinerunners and Melissa Ivey, alongside guest DJs and various other activities.So there you go. Without putting too fine of a point on it, it seems like a vision worth supporting. Money’s tight, but when you think about all the money we can waste without even realizing it, I think I’ll find a way to save my pennies for this weekend.McKnight gets the last word: “Even if someone isn’t into all the bands, artists or activist orgs, I would hope that they would pay the admission charge to support a grassroots festival with a progressive, environmental agenda. I’d like to think that’s worth at least (4) drinks at the bar.” Contact the writer at leobeat@leoweekly.com