Forecastle Music Festival 2018 – Middle of the Country Doesn’t Mean Middle of the Road

Words: Aaron Weaver
Photos:  Brian Bruemmer

Louisville is known as the The Gateway to the South; and because gates open both ways, a city capable of encompassing the best of both the northern and southern regions and able to pick and choose its identity as it sees fit. Walk around the streets of the downtown area and you will find smokehouses and Irish pubs, bourbon bars and craft beer breweries – menus showcasing fried green tomatoes side by side with poutine and long bourbon lists next to well curated wine lists and beer flights. Country and southern blues mix with indie pop and metal on the sidewalks and the locals provide a mix of fast pace city and laid back attitude.

Hiss Golden Messenger on the Port Stage - Photo: Brian Bruemmer,

Forecastle Music Festival 2018 was a representation of the city it calls home, flinging open the gates and showing its southern side with a heavy dose of country and bluegrass mixed together with indie and alternative rockers, folkies, and rap artists. Saturday night headliner Grammy and CMA award winner Chris Stapleton, alt-Country rockers Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit, prog-bluegrass string quartet Punch Brothers, country punks Lucero, bluegrass-folk Trampled By Turtles, country artists Margo Price and Brent Cobb, folk and country group Hiss Golden Messenger, and mega-award winning bluegrass journeyman Tyminski all provided more southern flavor than a mint julep at Churchill Downs. But because Louisville is not defined by the South, the three day festival also featured indie rock superstars Arcade Fire and Modest Mouse as the other two headliners, The War on Drugs, Kurt Vile and the Violators, Vance Joy, Courtney Barnett, Father John Misty, and Jenny Lewis among others.

Arcade Fire closing out Sunday night on the Mast Stage - Photo: Brian Bruemmer,

Music wasn’t the only source of southern culture on display; Kentucky’s most famous product was also front and center at the festival with memberships available to the Bourbon Lodge at a premium. Inside, in partnership with the Bourbon Trail, guests could sample bourbons from throughout the region and speak with both bourbon masters and connoisseurs to learn and discover. Bourbon was also available outside the Lodge, along with other options, as festival partners Four Roses Bourbon, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum, Dos Equis, Sierra Nevada, and Pabst Blue Ribbon all featured prominently throughout the festival. Fortunately, another festival partner Uber was there to help everyone home safely. And safety always felt like a concern for the festival.

The War On Drugs proving guitar heroes still exist - Photo:Brian Bruemmer,

Besides reminding you that your favorite band was getting ready to play, the handy festival app also reminded festival goers to drink plenty of water and seek shade during the festival as temperatures hovered in the mid to high nineties for most of the weekend. There were plenty of free water stations at the festival, although the lines for these were sometimes longer than desirable, but even if you chose to buy a bottled water the $3 price tag was reasonable compared to many venues. Other concession prices were more on the high side and many chose to eat before and after at one of the many restaurants and pubs all around the festival grounds, but if you didn’t want to miss out on a minute os the festival there was a broad assortment of food available for purchase.

The favorite Acts of the weekend

Courtney Barnett on the Port Stage - Photo: Brian Bruemmer,

I’ve been trying to catch Courtney Barnett for years and she did not disappoint. The rocker from Melbourne, Australia showed off her guitar prowess during the show, taking long meandering musical journeys in between the deadpan lyrics for which she is most known. I immediately began searching her upcoming schedule for any full performance that I could possibly make as her festival set did not give me enough time. Other highlights: Hiss Golden Messenger, Margo Price, Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit, Jenny Lewis.

Favorite New Discovery

Khrungbin on the Ocean Stage - Photo: Brian Bruemmer,

Houston trio Khruangbin immediately won me over with their fusion of Thai and Middle Eastern soul, funk and psychedelia. I’m not sure what the wigs are about and I don’t really care as long as the music is this interesting. Other notable discoveries: Rainbow Kitten Surprise and Brent Cobb.

Biggest Disappointment

Lucero braving the sweltering temperatures on the Port Stage - Photo: Brian Bruemmer,

The weather. Nothing could have been done about it but the temperatures were oppressive and dangerous. I saw several people pulled out of the crowd by EMTs after the heat became too much. Notorious drinker Ben Nichols of Lucero even stopped to chug a bottle of water stating “I’ve got to drink this or else I’m either going to pass out or throw up. It’s too hot to drink whiskey.” You know the temperatures are high when it’s too hot for Lucero to drink whiskey. Most of the dancing at the festival consisted of head bobs and body sways. The weather finally broke on Sunday and 88° never felt so good. Other disappointments: Being too worn out to catch Lettuce on the Late Night! Stage and high food prices.

Favorite Cameo

The dancing effigy of Colonel Sanders who dances his way through the crowds on Sunday. Just another reminder of where you were standing.


The art. The API Poster Show had artists from around the region showing off some truly remarkable music inspired art. I didn’t buy anything at the show because it was too hot to carry posters around but I collected cards and plan on making some online purchases.

Forecastle 2018 had a great lineup and a wonderfully local flavor that makes it stand out in the sea of other festivals vying for your concert dollars. I can’t wait to see what 2019 has to offer.


Musician, concert photographer, writer, podcast host and founder of The Hot Mic Music Magazine.

Editorial Director at The Hot Mic / Website / + posts

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