Down by the river at Forecastle 2017

JD McPherson was walking toward me, arms outstretched, his mouth moving. I couldn’t hear what he was saying and wasn’t sure if I should put my arms out, too. Were we about to hug? Do I not remember meeting him before this? As we got closer, I noticed he wasn’t saying anything, but singing. More specifically, he was warming up, and the arms thing was just part of it. Luckily, I realized all of this in that split second right before I would have embraced him. Though, I wish I had still gone for the hug for the fun of it. He looked pretty deep in a zone.

My Forecastle experience is always full of these tiny, semiprivate moments — a weekend usually spent waiting on artists backstage while ducklings get in and out of the river, the sounds of muffled performances in the distance and a game of “guess who’s on stage.” But, the trade-off is always worth it, just to see, and be part of, the human moments away from spectacle. Matt Shultz from Cage the Elephant playing with his dog. Nicole Atkins standing side stage in a jumpsuit with her album title printed across the back. Countless band members staring off into the Ohio River as they call home to talk with spouses and FaceTime with their kids.

There were a few I even made it to. During the ride on this career-second chance, the crowd sang along to every syllable of Mondo Cozmo’s song “Shine” and the cover of “Bittersweet Symphony,” all the while lead singer Joshua Ostrander took it in, wide-eyed, humbled and grateful. He said before the set, “Dude, let’s get a beer after,” but when I see him later, we’re both clutching on coffee. Real Estate pass by us, one of them in suspenders. I start to make a joke, and then realize all of the knocks I’m getting for wearing long pants on a 100-degree afternoon. I try to make my way over to see Quiet Hollers, but barely make it to the WFPK Port Stage for Teddy Abrams & Friends giving an incredible performance that encompasses the history of music as performed by some of the best people on the planet.

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Saturday arrived, with the JD McPherson scene. We finally did meet later to do the interview, 10 minutes on tape that continued for another half hour after. Story trading for our own space and time. I walk out to Nathaniel Rateliff yelling the lyrics “Son of a bitch!” and 20,000 fans, hands raised in praise, yelling it right back. I tried to take a picture, but deleted it right after because it came nowhere close to the real thing. They never do. I take in the sight instead, the scene like a cell phone filter, somewhere between dayglo and sepia. A dust storm, and a sky blue sky.

Sunday awoke with the now routine aches and pains. A work-heavy day: I talked with Foxygen about Houndmouth, Conor Oberst about Drumpf, and Aaron Lee Tasjan about Iggy Pop, and to Big Thief while they ate chicken. When Brit Daniels of Spoon walked in, I mentioned our rough track record. The first time we spoke, he didn’t know he had an interview to do, and, similarly, I didn’t know he was stoned. The second time was my fault, a lack of proper preparation. Tiebreaker. At the wrap, he put his hand up for a high five and said, “Hey, we did it!” With time left on the clock, I rushed over to see black-clad PJ Harvey get out of a black SUV, and her bandmates, all legendary and head-to-toe in black, tumble off of a golf cart that had been following. Her saxophone-heavy set was a definite high. As good as watching her craft on stage was watching the young, sparkly passersby who, even on a decent drug trip, could not figure out how to dance to Polly’s music. I hope I remember the look in their eyes for a long time.

We made our exit during Weezer, singing along to basement classics as we made our way through the back gate. I stopped to take in a memory of the first year that Forecastle moved to the Great Lawn. At 2 a.m. on that Sunday night, JK McKnight, Bobby Burk, Billy Hardison and me, imagining what could come next. Happy 15th birthday, Forecastle. You still know how to cast your magic on a person, a people, a city and an imaginary ocean.

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