Forecastle: Rising above the tide

Louisville’s Forecastle Festival is in a transitional phase. After years of growth and growing pains, the increasingly popular annual summer attraction has entered into a new partnership with Knoxville’s AC Entertainment, producers of Bonnaroo and other festivals. Founder JK McKnight decided to skip producing a full-scale weekend festival this year in order to have time to make the most of AC’s resources for next year, Forecastle’s 10th anniversary. In addition, he now holds the title of “national partnerships/global visionary” with AC Entertainment.

This Friday’s “mini-fest” will feature Pretty Lights, Big Boi, RJD2, Twin Shadow and more at Waterfront Park, with an obligatory after-party at the new Ice House on East Main.

LEO caught up with McKnight to discuss past and future details of the fest. A (much) longer version of this interview, and an additional interview with AC president Ashley Capps, can be found at

LEO: How did the deal with AC happen?
JK McKnight: It started with a simple email from me to Ashley. We had communicated off and on for a few years through a friend of mine, Bobby Burk, but were never able to connect in person. The timing seemed right toward the end of last year, and he invited me to Knoxville. I think we realized pretty quickly that we shared a similar worldview, history and, of course, we’re both Aquarius. Going down there was really exciting. Soon after, Ashley came to Louisville and fell in love with what he saw here. I introduced him to everyone I thought was relevant. Soon after, I went back to Knoxville, and slowly but surely we started seeing a partnership and employment opportunity.

LEO: Tell me about your job today: What does your work with “national partnerships” involve? What about “global visionary”? Did someone else have this position before you?

JK: It’s a new position, and I’m helping build the department. “National partnerships” means working with national brands that have an interest in participating in the events we produce. Through Forecastle, I built a network that consists of thousands of companies in various industries — from outdoors, natural products, technology, communications — that I have relationships with. From a strategic marketing perspective, any of those relationships are applicable to the events we produce, whether it be Moogfest, Big Ears or Bonnaroo. Everyone is looking to our demographic as their customers of the future. So I’m there to work with those brands and develop the activations and marketing presence we’ll feature before, during and after the event.

“Global visionary” is a little less defined, but it was an award I received from the World Affairs Council last year. I view it from a business development standpoint, being able to see opportunities both locally and abroad, and presenting them to AC Entertainment. It also applies to event creation, launching new festivals and events.

When I was asked by (AC exec) Patrick Roddy to create a title, I gave a couple different options, and “national partnerships/global visionary” was the one he liked the best.

LEO: This year’s mini-fest is very focused on new dance and electronic music. Through the years, the wide variety of musical acts has been called unfocused at times, and some past headliners have been criticized as being past their primes. What do you think the festival’s musical point of view has been?

JK: It’s an interesting opinion, because I would argue that many of these artists are iconic figures that are extremely relevant to the musical landscape, no matter how many years past their prime someone deems them to be. I think if we were to announce Pink Floyd as the headliner to Forecastle 2012, I don’t think anyone would shake their heads and say, “Would loved to have seen them in the mid-’70s, but absolutely no interest now. They’re just not relevant.”

We want to keep things exciting and interesting, and I think that always means a combination of up-and-coming and veteran artists, and the large group of artists that exists between them. With the exception of electronic artists, not many contemporaries can say they’re doing something truly original these days. Those who don’t think electronic music is the next cultural tide are simply glued to their old comforts and refusing to let go. Europe is already there, and has been for years. America is finally waking up.

LEO: How important are the activism and art sections (of Forecastle) to you today?

JK: This fall, we’ll be making the biggest announcement to date on the environmental front. It will change the game for us — a local/global initiative that’s going to have a major impact in some areas of the world that are critical to sustaining life. It’s something I conceptualized when I was 12 years old, that I’ve finally been able to bring to fruition.

LEO: Who would you like to see at 2012’s fest?

JK: I have a working speculative 2012 list that’s part of a 74-page model I built for the 10th anniversary show. The artist side is still in the brainstorming phase, so probably not worth putting out there and creating expectations. I’m certainly looking very closely at what we did in 2009 and 2010.

LEO: What lessons have you learned from your experiences?

JK: Man, there’s been so many. I’ve actually started working on a few book ideas. Most profoundly, I would say trusting your instincts, believing in yourself, and just going for it without reservations. If you have a dream, don’t sit around and think about it all day. Think of reasons why you can and should do it, not excuses and fear for why you can’t do it. I truly believe everyone has a passion for something, and if you’re smart enough and willing to sacrifice everything you have to get there, you can do what you love. As Ghandi said, “Strength does not come from physical capability, it comes from indomitable will.” That quote hung above my bed for eight years and is pretty central to my overall perspective of life.