Last week, as they boarded a tiny plane from New York to Louisville, Kentucky, several guys wearing My Morning Jacket t-shirts found one another. Show counts were exchanged; one fan was nearing 50. Five minutes later, the scene repeated itself, only this time with a group sporting Wilco t-shirts. There was little doubt as to where they were headed.
This weekend, Louisville and My Morning Jacket played host to the 10th incarnation of the Forecastle Festival, which was held on Louisville’s waterfront flanking the Ohio River and expected to draw roughly 35,000 attendees. MMJ’s curation – they hand-selected a portion of the lineup and gave input on festival amenities – was one of this year’s several upgrades to the festival, which recently joined forced with Bonnaroo and Moogfest producer AC Entertainment in hopes of expanding from a regional fest to a tourist event.
For its pivotal year, Forecastle chose wisely in terms of headliners: My Morning Jacket, Wilco and Bassnectar, all of whom have dedicated fans willing to travel for their shows. The dance artist Bassnectar, while not as high-profile in the EDM scene as Skrillex or Deadmau5, got kids in DayGlo clothes and body glitter bugging out of their minds so intensely on Friday night that photographers had little interest in capturing any other set. Not far away, Flying Lotus played under a highway to a small crowd, yet another of the many EDM options for a seemingly rock-centric festival. In fact, nearly 30 percent of the festival’s lineup was dedicated to electronic artists, and Forecastle founder J.K. McKnight envisions it reaching half in future years.
The main attraction for most was Louisville’s own My Morning Jacket, who played into the wee hours of Sunday morning in one of the largest hometown shows in their career. The nearly three-hour set was not focused on the band’s latest album, 2011’s Circuital; variety was key throughout the ferocious set, which featured an array of MMJ gems through the years (“The Bear,” “Run Thru,” “I’m Amazed”), special guests (Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Andrew Bird, who played with his band right before MMJ), and covers of Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” the Band’s “It Makes No Difference” and George Harrison’s “Isn’t It a Pity.” But it was a more unexpected cover – George Michael’s “Careless Whisper” – that stole the show, from the opening notes of its sultry sax to James’ vamping about Michael. “George Michael’s a fucking genius, but he gets a lot of shit,” James declared just before imitating the British singer in his Kentucky accent. The party continued offsite shortly after the band closed their set with “One Big Holiday” – James boarded an old steamboat just down the Ohio River, working his mystery with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band to a crowd of 1,000, a change of scene from the glowstick-hurling obsessives he had just faced.
The crowd at Wilco’s 90-minute set on Sunday night was a bit less intense than MMJ’s legion. Looking a little like Neil Young, frontman Jeff Tweedy was in a less chatty mood than usual, keeping stage banter to one marriage joke and a birthday sing-along for Woody Guthrie’s 100th. The set was as much focused on Wilco’s seminal Yankee Hotel Foxtrot as it was about 2011’s The Whole Love, with favorites like “Heavy Metal Drummer” and “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” inspiring guitar spazzery from Nels Cline and hearty sing-alongs from the audience.
Neko Case warmed up the Wilco crowd, playing old favorites and upbeat tracks from a new album that she promised would be released soon. Case is verbose – that much, fans know from her Twitter – but she was in rare form on Sunday, “hallucinating” from the heat and chronicling her butt sweat. Her back-and-forth banter with backing vocalist Kelly Hogan, who played a solo set earlier in the day, is the stuff of comedy routines, or at least an episode of Gilmore Girls.
While Case and other artists commented on the heat, it was a welcome change from the rain that forced Forecastle to push back its opening and condense set times on Saturday. After the weather cleared, indie rockers Real Estate attempted to start a beach party during their afternoon set of sunny pop, asking the crowd to go wild with beach balls (some of which came hurling at band members). Real Estate was one act that also performed at this weekend’s Pitchfork Music Festival Chicago; others included the Friday night crowd-pleasers Sleigh Bells. Forecastle’s McKnight told Rolling Stone that Pitchfork organizers actually aided in routing bands toward Louisville, just 300 miles down the road. It was an advantageous move for all; from Beach House’s stunning sunset show on Friday to Lower Dens’ Sunday afternoon drone session in the sizzling sun, the Pitchfork constituency – and all festivalgoers at Forecastle – had plenty of options.