The Forecastle Festival took place July 14-16 in Louisville, Kentucky (my hometown) on the banks of the Ohio River. I heard someone say they were looking across the water at the state of Ohio. They were not (that’s Indiana.)
Ernest was eating a culinary treat when we got to chatting early Friday. We were standing up from the main Mast stage, one of the first bands on in the background. He told me he was surprised they didn’t bring it with the first song. He’s been working security at these events for ten years, and his advice to the bands would be to set the tone and connect with the crowd from song one. He was looking forward to seeing Chicano Batman and wondering what color suits they’d be wearing (turned out it to be a deep blue.)
Under the I-64 overpass, there was shade to be found and happiness to catch while dancing to Waka Flocka Flame. Because in the Ohio River Valley you also get heat and humidity in the mix, there are moments when you remind yourself, oh I’m standing out here by choice, for fun. Two years ago, Klara of First Aid Kit told me it was the hottest she’d ever been on stage.
On day 2, I had hoped/half planned to run into *repeat repeat, the surf rock pop band based in Tennessee. And as fate would have it I found them on the side of Port stage after Beach Slang’s set, which they told me they’d be opening for on their next tour. *repeat repeat had been the very first band to play any stage Saturday. “[It was] great to hang with all the people who wanted to be there right at the start of the festival. Those people are really fun.”
I asked most bands about Hunter S Thompson. I don’t think I knew he was from Louisville until I left. Even though I had gone to his elementary school for a year they didn’t hip us to his work, then again it was the third grade. There is a Gonzo Bar in his honor where people type salacious notes in tribute as they indulge in bourbon concoctions.
Of longstanding significance to Kentucky is the bluegrass drink with its own mythology. And one of the unique stamps of Forecastle is the Bourbon Lodge. They say the bourbon barrel keeps on giving. It’s a magical vessel. After all, 40 to 70 percent of the flavor in bourbon comes from the wood. Adia Victoria subscribes to its wonders. “I love an old fashion, and sometimes I’ll just drink it out of a bottle with a straw just to get to the point.”
“You’re going to be coming out of these speakers; you have to own it; you have to get big.”
You say you’re looking for something to make you feel a new
You don’t believe in God well whiskey will do (from “Dead Eyes”)
She had played Louisville several times before but driving through downtown to the festival; it looked bigger than expected. Not that it’s big mind you, it’s just bigger than anticipated. And it’s not easy to find an open place to eat early on a Sunday.
Victoria’s Facebook page poetically and accurately describes her genre as “back-porch-blues-swamp-cat-lady-howlin’-at-the-moon.”
On childhood in South Carolina
I grew up upstate, in Spartanburg County, a little town called Campobello. My grandparents lived there, and that was the most steady childhood home. The population was 1200 if that. I went to a little ole dinky school, and I loved it up there.
On her first time at a rock venue show after growing up in an isolated area
My first proper show was in 2003. We went to see the Strokes play Myrtle Beach, House of Blues. It was for their Room on Fire album. I was obsessed with them at the time. I got to hold up Julian Casablancas when he was stage diving. He drunkenly grabbed my face and I think there was a kiss. I left my wrist band on for months after that show. It was crazy because I went to performing arts school and when we did dance you weren’t allowed to wear jewelry or anything, so I covered my wrist band with tape and painted it my skin color. My mom finally cut it off in my sleep.
On Hunter S. Thompson
Not familiar, I know he was shot out of a cannon when he died, his ashes. [They were fired into the sky outside Thompson’s Colorado farm house.]
On the role of the artist in speaking out
As Nina Simone said, “It’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times in which they live.” And this is going on while I’m alive. It’s something I wasn’t aware of as a child. There was no social media, no camera phones so I was isolated from a lot of it and [then] my ignorance was shattered… You scroll your Facebook feed and see a man murdered by a police officer because he’s black. Tamir Rice shot because he’s a black kid playing with a toy gun in the park. These things they weigh on my chest as an African-American and they should for any American. This should be a huge problem, and I need art to help me digest that and confront these contemporary horrors. So it’s not difficult for me. It’s necessary. It’s therapeutic.
One story that inspired her poem dedicated to Jordan Edwards and Emmett Till (this past July 25th would have been Emmet Till’s 76th birthday)
I was working at a place called Mirko Pasta in Nashville. These two guys came in. It was a slow night, and we were just hanging out at the bar, the employees. And it was my turn to be sat [serve a table as a waitress] and [the owner] said, “Watch them. Keep an eye on them.” I just remember how it made me feel – it chilled me. I just looked at her and thought, “You’re a fucking racist. Like you see these men as a threat.” And they were polite as can be. They just hung out. They ate their food, and then they left, and that was it. But there’s no presumed innocence when you’re walking around this country with a black body.
On her latest EP “How It Feels” in which she covers French pop songs
I’ve loved Paris since I was a little girl. I love the language, and I began teaching myself at eighteen, and I learned songs to help me speak more naturally.
When my label asked me if I wanted to release a side project between albums…I said let’s do an EP of some of my favorite French songs.
We went on tour in March to Paris and Switzerland. I did all my stage banter in French. It was a fascinating moment for me to test myself and speak out for the first time in a different language. They seemed receptive to it. I think they dig whenever an American comes over and speaks French.
From the theatres she usually plays to singing to the field of a festival audience
My first big festival was playing Afropunk in Brooklyn, and I remember walking out on stage and immediately feeling tiny, and I had to shake myself and “no, you’re going to be coming out of these speakers; you have to own it; you have to get big.”
Joshua Ostrander aka Mondo Cozmo rocked the unshaded Boom Stage during the most intense part of Friday heat wise. Post-show Ostrander commented on living in LA for the past ten years after growing up around Philly. “I like it out there. I need the sun, not this much sun (referring to the aforementioned Louisville weather) but some sun.”
Mondo Cozmo has a hotline inspired by Bill Murray. He heard to get a hold of Bill you have to call a phone number which someone checks to decide which messages get through. Ostrander decided for twenty bucks a month he should get one too. But in their case, the band listens to all the words from sweet to sad and amazing, and then you get people leaving sexual things that crack everyone up. For its entertainment value in a band’s van down time, it is well worth the cost.
On Hunter S. Thompson
I love him, y’know Fear and Loathing is one of my favorites, yeah he’s amazing. I saw the big [a Hunter S Thompson puppet roams the fest grounds]…is this like his hometown or something? There was a time I went through where I read a lot of his stuff, a time at the end of high school when I was into him.
On the dissolution of his band of many years, Eastern Conference Champions
That was so fucking tough to leave, and my heart breaks that that didn’t work out because we were so tight and it was very much a family affair. But I had to go through like I really feel like I did, I had to go through years and years of rejection and failure. Failure’s not the right word. It wasn’t failure. It was to get to the point to write the songs I had to write. Whatever it took I’m thankful for.
On the songs written from a dark place seeing the light
My friends are so alone and it breaks my heart
My friends don’t understand we all are lost (from “Shine”)
That’s very accurate to some people, and I think about them when I sing sometimes.
There was something bigger with that song, and honestly I just wrote the lyrics out. I sang it and it’s the scratch vocal that made the recording. And I knew when finished it was powerful, so good. I hope people get to hear it. It’s crazy how far that song has gotten; how far it’s taken me.
On the impetus for “Hold onto to Me”
Why you sitting on your broken-hearted hands tonight?
You wanna sing like us? You gotta rip your eyes out
Honestly just a prayer to my wife not to leave me because I was so depressed. I was up at 4am going to work a job I didn’t make a lot of money at, and then I had another job to go to. And then come home and write songs and I wasn’t in a great way like “Plastic Soul,” “Hold on to me,” “Higher,” and “Shine.” These are songs I’m like I don’t know what I’m doing with my life, and it killed me because the music was becoming a hobby and I didn’t want that. It’s my passion.
People find hope in it. Hope, there’s something there. How cool is that. That’s the power of music. It came from a dark place and people make it their own thing, love that.
On the happiness of doing what you’re meant to do
This is nuts. The year that I’ve had. We played our first show in October. That’s insane. Since then I don’t know what day of the week it is. I struggle with the month sometimes. I don’t know where I am and I’m the happiest person you’ve met in your life. I just love it. I really do. I love it like this is what I’m meant to do. It feels good.
“Stay gentle no matter what you endure you are so much more”
Harkening back to the hunt and peck era when it was an investment to locate specific songs and uncover new music, Beach Slang put out an album of covers only physically available in cassette. Music that pays homage to that time and the heart put into making the mixed tape.
The band aims to keep the attitude and intimacy of a basement show even when playing to a festival crowd and singer James Alex says they are lucky it’s translated well. During their set at Forecastle they played covers of a sort with a mix of humor: “My Own Worst Enemy” by Lit which Alex says their bassist Aurore had just laid on him that day and excerpts from “Wonderwall” by Oasis. He also shared with the crowd by shouting out famous faces he’s been told he looks like from Sissy Spacek in Carrie to Bilbo Baggins.
This is probably an unpopular thing here I’m not really much of a bourbon drinker. Maybe I’ll indulge in the local culture today – I just got thrown off the festival.
I need to get more educated on booze (when told of Forecastle’s Bourbon Lodge lectures). I’m more than just drinking, but maybe I should learn a little bit more about it so I can speak more eloquently than I’m doing right now.
On Hunter S. Thompson
I got turned on to his writing in a way that let me know what writing could be. And he’s very from the cuff and the cursing and just raw and intimate. I was like you can write like this. I suppose that was my first rule breaking moment.
That led me into Bukowski, that underground sort of writing.
[My] literary palate blew open and all of a sudden I wasn’t listening to teachers listening to weirdo books; I could get my hands on.
I did a letter press project in art school using a Hunter S. Thompson quote. (Most likely: “Sleep late, have fun, get wild, drink whiskey and drive fast on empty streets with nothing in mind but falling in love and not getting arrested.”)
“Stay gentle no matter what you endure you are so much more. ”
If we could ping pong back that’s that the influence of Hunter and Bukowski has had on me where they’re those sort of tough exterior felon, but there’s this soft dreamer inside of both of them. I suppose in a lot of ways; I think it’s the blueprint of Beach Slang.
That’s just a random writing. As I’m on tour I write little books. I don’t have the discipline to write a novel. I just can’t stay focused long enough. I end up writing pieced together books of random thoughts.
I think people that connect with this band that’s sort of the spirits of us all. I feel like I’m regurgitating reminders to them. They kind of hand [those thoughts] to me. And I then, I have some little platform where I can say them and maybe help more people out.
Machismo and rock n roll to me are embarrassing. I like poetic punk rock.
“If a song resonates with everyone, we immediately adopt it, inhabit it. It feels really right”
The Port Stage has an opening in the curtain that peeks straight through to the Ohio River. During their set, Adrianne Lenker, the lead singer, felt like cooling off with a swim in the river and asked the audience if it was clean? To the various answers the audience shouted, she responded, “I’m getting a lot of mixed messages.”
Max Oleartchik traveled the furthest to Brooklyn where Big Thief formed. He moved to the NY borough from Tel Aviv for the unknown, to meet friends he didn’t know of yet. James Krivchenia, the drummer, is from Chicago, Andrianne is from around Minneapolis and Buck Meek the guitarist is from Wimberley, Texas.
On Big Thief beginnings
Adrianne: We went on this tour with Here We Go Magic, it was pretty much life changing because it was our first national tour. The band introduced us to all the people who now represent us.
The last show of that tour we started working with Jim Romeo, the booking agent who introduced us to Saddle Creek. We talked to a few other people from different labels. When we spoke with Robb [Nansel], he actually called us. It was the first time they signed a band without hearing them live or meeting them. We talked for two hours on the phone, and honestly I felt like I could’ve talked forever. It just felt very chill, like someone I was having fun engaging with and he had a lot of specific questions about the lyrics on the album.
Genuine, sweet people: Kind of like, we’re a band, Big Thief. I feel like Saddle is like a band. They’re all pals; they care about what they’re doing.
On high school
A: I hated it. I was kind of lonely in school, and it made me depressed. I was always getting lunch detention intentionally [and] spending as much time [as possible] in the nurse’s office sick.
Max: So many kids are experiencing that at school. There must be something wrong with the system. I talk to a lot of people. They say the same thing.
Buck: I went to a lovely school, a charter school for the arts. They were always broke and disheveled but heartfelt, passionate teachers.
On seeing Leonard Cohen live
A: He was so graceful. I don’t know if he was at the point in his age or years or if he was always like that. He took his hat off between every song, and you could honestly feel a profound grace and humility, and it wasn’t contrived at all. It was real. He delivered poetry too in that intense voice. When he did “A Thousand Kisses Deep,”…it like shook the entire building.
On Hunter S. Thompson
James: I read him and he’s great…What’s his connection?
A: He was insightful and [it is] funny how someone can be dismissed because they are associating with drugs or things which can be consciousness expanding…
Kids don’t realize how much [they’re] shielded [from] and a lot of it has to do with the fears of adults doing the censoring.
On the flowful experience of a new song
J: It’s not like we’re trying to mold Adrianne’s songs, [They become a] separate entity onto itself.
M: A lot of the process is effortless.
A: If a song resonates with everyone, we immediately adopt it, inhabit it. It feels right. [There is a] unique energy that happens with us when we have a new song, everyone meets around it. It’s actually kind of intoxicating… fun and addicting…one of my favorite things.
The collective band’s musings on the past and future ideas of activism at festivals in general (“The Forecastle Foundation now operates year-round “independently of the festival, to protect and preserve global hot spots.”)
It seems like a few festivals used to have activist elements to them. Some had, politically socially bent [for example] feminist workshops – actual workshops where people would think.
With some, it feels like something that used to be something and now it’s not that anymore. Now it’s on auto pilot.
Even mainstreams bands have something to say. It could easily be structured. It would be cool if that would be revived and the artists got involved with themes of interest to them. What’s the core? Because we walk around and see all this corporate sponsorship and what are we are we all doing here really?
“Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run, but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant.”
― Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Hunter S. Thompson puppet photo by Brian Hensley and Squallis Puppeteers.
Big Thief Photo by Brian Hensley