It’s a Saturday in the summer of 2002, and you’re looking for something to do. Why not check out this free music show at Tyler Park? You probably wouldn’t have guessed at the time, but this small group of 50-60 people enjoying the arts turned into one of the top 15 most anticipated music festivals of the summer: Forecastle. If you’re from Louisville, you probably know the modern Forecastle, big names, loud music, lots of people and lots of fun. But Forecastle’s humble beginnings showcase how Louisville’s hunger for the arts has grown.
The venue for Forecastle bounced around quite a bit before finding its home at the Ohio River Waterfront Park. As crowds grew, the festival was relocated from Tyler Park to Cherokee Park in 2005, and again to the Melwood Arts and Entertainment Center in 2006. Finally in ‘07 Forecastle found its home on the Ohio, the biggest venue in the city.
As attendance has grown, the focus of Forecastle has shifted to appeal to a broader audience. The first Forecastle hailed itself as a festival of the arts, not just music. Local artists showcased exhibits with paintings, sculptures and crafts, and that was a big part of the day. Now, Forecastle is primarily a music festival. They still have visual exhibits, but the focus has shifted as they try to appeal to mass audiences.
In 2017, Forecastle is looking at one of its strongest lineups ever. Headliners include Odesza, LCD Soundsystem, Weezer, and Sturgill Simpson. Kentucky natives can rejoice too, because Cage the Elephant, from Bowling Green is also playing the main stage. This brings us to another issue with Forecastle’s rising popularity: the erosion of local culture.
Of course, Forecastle started as a spotlight for Louisville’s art scene. However, today, only a handful of artists are from the area. Locals will be quick to point out that the festival is the biggest source of tourists since the Kentucky Derby, but not everyone agrees that more attendance is a good thing. If you’re going to the festival this year, keep an eye out for Louisville’s unique culture, and support local artists.
The flipside to this, however, is that now Forecastle is owned by AC Entertainment, the same corporation that puts on huge festivals such as Bonaroo, and corporate resources mean that the festival can host nationally, and worldwide renowned artists. This tradeoff appeals to more people in the surrounding areas, but it means that Forecastle has lost a lot of its local appeal. Fortunately, they’ve done a great job of promoting local artists, while simultaneously drawing in crowds from around the world with their big-name acts.
Along with the music festival, Forecastle also works with over 150 nonprofits and charities. Included in this list is the founder, JK McKnight’s own nonprofit, The Forecastle Foundation, which dedicates itself to “rebuilding the world’s natural awesome.” The mission of the foundation involves identifying and protecting 12 of the world’s most ecologically diverse, yet endangered areas. These biodiverse regions are referred to as “hotspots,” and they’ve already selected five of them to fall under the protection of the foundation, including areas in tropical, temperate, and even desert regions. While these hotspots cover barely 2% of the world’s surface, 77% of all vertebrates, and 50% of all plant species. Forecastle’s longstanding mission of promoting sustainability continues to reach out under the founder’s nonprofit.
This year, like so many years in the past, we can expect Forecastle to fall on a hot, humid weekend. If you’re braving the heat, be sure to bring plenty water and sunscreen. Bring a camera to save some memories for later, but if you listen to anything in this article, take this advice: Keep your phone in your pocket. This is the experience of a lifetime. Far too few are chances to disconnect from our responsibilities, but this is a chance to do just that. Unplug yourself while you enjoy world class music and art from all over the world. You’ll regret it if you miss something because you were looking at your phone.
This year’s Forecastle shows a lot of promise. Expect the annual attendance to increase, surpassing 75,000 visitors from all 50 states and countries all over the world. Louisville’s music festival has grown immensely since its humble beginnings in Tyler Park. While its local focus has mostly been left behind, the broad appeal of nationally recognized artists will surely make this year’s Forecastle Festival one to remember. Be sure to check it out from July 14th-16th, at Waterfront Park.