Louisville’s Forecastle Festival has come a long way. Ten years ago it was 100 people hanging out listening to some local music. This year, it was 30,000 people listening to over 100 bands. That’s a heck of a lot of progress for a grassroots festival.
On their 10th anniversary, here’s a roundup of the best and worst of this year’s Forecastle Festival.
Other festivals could learn so much from their food court. I simply can not praise it enough. Traditionalists could still get a burger or chicken fingers and fries. However, I saw multiple vegetarian options (curry and falafel among the best), a booth offering gluten free fair food, and great representation from local restaurants such as North End Cafe and Basa Modern Vietnamese.
A lot of people teasingly made fun of this as a hippie festival, but honestly, this is one of the cleanest outdoor events I’ve ever attended. The porta potties were all stocked with hand sanitizer. Until around 6 pm, most of them even had toilet paper. The lines were short and the facilities were maintained. Someone did their job right.
Outside the bathroom, people were also pretty clean since the festival let attendees bring their own lawnchairs and blankets. This should be allowed at all outdoor festivals. Pay attention, Bonaroo and Lillith Fair.
While it would’ve been nice to have more recycling booths around, the festival groundskeepers did a great job cleaning up all the discarded cans, bottles, wrappers, and other detritus people casually drop during an event. I didn’t end up in any oil slick sized spills of beer, never sat on any cigarette butts, and never felt like I was trying to find a safe spot to stand in the middle of an open dumpster.
The main stage speakers were absolutely worth whatever the festival paid. The sound quality was amazing - I mean CD quality amazing. I’ve been to plenty of outdoor concerts and I have to say this was hands down, without question, the single best audio experience of them all.
VALET BIKE PARKING
I was pleased to see just how many bicycles were parked in the free valet area just outside the festival. Each one of those represents one less car fighting for downtown parking spaces, which might explain why I never had to walk more than a few blocks to get in. It’s environmentally friendly, cuts down on traffic, and super convenient.
Too many festivals take place in a parched open field. The Forecastle Festival did a great job using Waterfront Park to create different zones with different feels.
The main stage understandably got the lion’s share of space. The secondary stage was in a space just the right size for it’s audience and just far enough away the bands weren’t drowned out by nearby music. Trees near the second stage offered some valuable shade while the hills gave an interesting illusion of privacy when weaving between different parts of the festival. The festival organizers had a good sense of proportion as well as good audio distance between each stage.
Water was a major issue. It was in the 90’s all weekend with blessedly little place for shade near the main stage. Letting people bring their own water would go a long way towards preventing heat stroke and increasing fun.
On Friday night, the guards were religious about ensuring people spent $3 per bottle rather than let them bring in their own. By Sunday, I saw a generous number of people wearing camelbacks (a water filled backpack with a long sippy straw), but some security guards were still stopping people with a water bottle at the gate. The inconsistency was almost as frustrating as the silly anti-water policy itself.
Be cool about hydration, Forecastle. Otherwise you’ll end up with the same kind of reputation as Churchill Downs, where every attendee is treated like a maximum security criminal.
ART AND ACTIVISM
Environmental consciousness is not the same as either art or activism. I admire the festival for putting such a big emphasis on the trendy hotness of showing off eco-hipsterism, but there was no excuse to literally hide the activists off in a corner near the porta potties. The musicians wouldn’t be embarrassed to be seen with them. I promise.
I’d expected art to mean either public beautification or vendors selling things people could take home. That was only true off by the Red Bull infused Ocean Stage. Everywhere else, art was limited to hand made jewelry and bongs.
The festival wristbands were a cloth that would be very difficult to replicate at home. There’s no reason to prohibit exhausted festival goers from re-entry. Look, who cares if someone gives the armband to a different person later in the day? You still have ONE PERSON at the festival - if a badge is traded out, you’ve only replaaced one exhausted person with one who has money in their wallet and energy to bring to the crowd.
A lot of people just wanted to head across the street and enjoy a few minutes of quiet in the air conditioning. It’s honestly harmless.