Here's a little something I wrote for Under the Radar:
There's something about being able to walk through the familiar
streets of a town you live in, the final destination a music festival.
Parking in the same lot you do each day for work, walking toward the
Ohio River, but knowing the familiar Waterfront Park will be
transformed, decked out in a music lover's heavenly village. Five
stages, a bourbon lounge (this is Kentucky, after all), and a slew of
really ridiculous fish floats on sticks that a strange army of festival
volunteers carries around throughout the day.
A forecastle is the part of a ship where the crew lives. The
three-day festival in Louisville, Kentucky has a nautical feel, which
feels appropriate because you can look beyond the two main stages into
the river. A Joe's Crab Shack restaurant abuts the Boom Stage. The other
stages are named accordingly: Mast, Red Bull Ocean, Starboard, and
Port. Louisville's not exactly an exotic town—it's one steeped in steamboat history—but the idea for this dream-like theme for a festival is one that brings out the best of it.
Friday evening began with The Head and the Heart.
The six-piece band was returning to town for their second time in a few
months, and the crowd was fiercely loyal. The band did a lot less
chatting this time, focusing on wooing their audience with songs from
their self-titled debut. "Down in the Valley" and "Rivers and Roads"
both began meagerly, growing into enormous, cathartic ballads.
Josiah Johnson and Jonathan Russell are the main songwriters in the
band, and both alternate on vocals. The two could not be more different;
Johnson rocked cut-off jean shorts and a T-shirt, while Russell was
looking snazzy in a button-up and tie. But this feeling that each band
member comes from such a different walk of life—yet work together to make some of the most beautiful folk-pop songs—is
refreshing. With harmonies floating atop the rich sound of Charity Rose
Thielen's violin and the generous sprinkling of keyboard, it's easy to
feel completely swept away. Ben Sollee joining the band onstage with his
cello elevating The Head and the Heart to an even more lush, orchestral
sound. Many of their songs have a sense of traveling, the pains and
joys of moving around the country, and the crowd sailed that journey
during their set without leaving Waterfront Park.
Bradford Cox of Atlas Sound
commanded a crowd at one of the side stages that evening. The setup was
relatively simple; from what I could see it was Cox, a harmonica, an
acoustic guitar, and some effects pedals on the small stage backed with
long rectangular video screens covered with desert scenes. Many of the
songs were tamer than those he plays with Deerhunter, and the show was
much less immersive than those I've seen him play with a full band.
I was skeptical to see Beach House
in an outdoor festival setting, on the huge stage next to the Joe's
Crab Shack. The last time I caught them live was at a sold out show at
Cleveland's Beachland Ballroom, a supreme indoor venue with the very
best acoustics. What makes the duo (a three-piece live) so impressive is
this heavy, dream-like atmosphere that surrounds the listeners in a
haze. It's usually accentuated with a dark room and glowing, disco
ball-like lighting effects. They blew my expectations to pieces, though,
rocking just as hard in the light of day, the only thing altering the
perception a thick wall of smoke machine haze.
While the Baltimore band littered the set with handfuls of gems from the Bloom, the
most recent album, they also found time for favorites from the three
previous full lengths. You could feel the tribal pulse of percussion in
"Norway," which felt incredibly sedate and all encompassing.
Before playing "Zebra," the opener on 2010's Teen Dream, Legrand explained that the next song they would play made people happy—even babies. They followed it with "Myth," the first track on Bloom,
where every note floated into the next seamlessly. As the sun set
behind them, the smoke swirled in front of them, and the percussion
exploded into a thousand fireworks, I thought Forecastle had reached its
But we were long from discovering the X on our treasure maps. After all, Sleigh Bells
had just begun. "Have a heart," sang Alexis Krauss repeatedly in "Rill,
Rill," one of the highlights of set. But really, what this show made me
think of was soul. Not in the sense of R&B. As in, if you didn't
feel Derek Miller and Krauss' beats enough to shake your body
mercilessly, you might not have a soul. The guitar shredding and
viciously gritty beats might as well have stretched to the next city.
Krauss flopped like a dying fish (in the best possible way, I swear),
head-banging all through "A/B Machines." The scorching heat of the
jagged, raw beats was almost too much to handle. But if you like your
crowds wild, your guitar riffs earth-shattering, and your sound system
crunchy, this was a whole new kind of heaven.
JEFF the Brotherhood rocked out through a scathing
set of burning rockers. The two brothers made a lot of sound between a
drum set and guitar, and the set only got better as it went on. A mix of
garage rock, with the reverby psychedelia turned up slightly, this was
the place to be to escape the synthy dance music that they were
Here's the part where I talk about my newfound addiction to
electronic dance music. I like a little Skrillex as much as the next
dudebro (although David Guetta still can't get through to me—sorry!). I'd never listened to Bassnectar
before. Let's face it. I just don't feel like listening to such
bass-heavy music out of my tinny JBL speaker is going to do it any
justice. I was absolutely right.
Standing in the front row of a Bassnectar show is an out-of-body,
otherworldly experience. I can't breathe just thinking about it. The
rumble of the bass was so overpowering, so incredibly moving that every
organ shuddered and something was screaming inside of me, "this cannot
be healthy!" And maybe because it felt so wrong, it was also one of the
most powerfully thrilling feelings I've ever had. I am a self-proclaimed
concert dancer (i.e. I'm one of those people who can't help but bobbing
my knees even when I'm listening to some bummer acoustic guitar show
where everyone surrounding me is at the peak of their too-cool-to-smile
hipsterdom) and this was next-level for me. Not only could my knees not
stay still, but I felt my whole body swaying unwillingly.
I wish I could describe the music itself a little better. I mean, how
do you talk about dance music with no pattern? It continues to change
and evolve with a similar tempo, and every now and then you get a huge
bass drop that makes you want to die of happiness. And it just goes on
like that for hours, until you're exhausted and you have no idea why
your body didn't shut down hours ago. Bassnectar is Lorin Ashton, a
California native with really long hair. He bounces around a bit, but
mostly hides behind a huge video screen, where you see his head peaking
on top. The real show is the crowd, thousands of people who waited for
hours for a good spot where the bass goes straight to your head and your
heart. Hands in the air, glowsticks everywhere, everyone just looked so
The day was almost over, but not before a little Sleeper Agent
action. The Bowling Green, Kentucky band has recently emerged from the
college town, graduating to some radio play and media attention. They
held their own on a stage across the park from Bassnectar, bouncing
around with a brand of rock that's spiked with youthful rebellion. The
traction they're gaining is sure to grow if they keep putting out music
like their 2011 debut, Celebrasion.