2015 Forecastle Reviews: Sam Smith Loved, But Few Local Bands

For most of the world, the big headline for the 2015 Forecastle music festival in Louisville, Kentucky, pertained to Sam Smith and the fact that he did not get to finish his performance because of a sudden onset of thunderstorms.

Regardless, one of the most interesting things about Forecastle to a lot of local Kentucky music fans is how Sam Smith, an outsider, is part of what used to be an exclusively local-music festival.

Are Kentucky music fans weird to be so obsessed with their own local music? As it turns out, a fervent love for local music has been a part of Kentucky culture for centuries before Forecastle was created.

For example, one of the earliest music gatherings in Kentucky occurred in 1801 in Bourbon County -- and it is estimated 20,000 people attended. That is fairly impressive since there were only 220,000 people in Kentucky in 1800, according to the US Census Bureau.

However, this does not mean that Kentucky music fans are unwelcoming to musicians from outside the state. About the performance at Forecastle, MTV reported on July 18 that Sam Smith said he "told the crowd he really appreciated their enthusiasm and backing vocals, since it was his first visit to Kentucky and he was surprised anyone even knew who he was."

When it was time to bring in outsiders to the Forecastle music festival in 2011, Kentucky Magazine states on July 16 that the founder of Forecastle wanted to make sure it was prominent as a national festival -- but still one that fans would want to "take ownership" of by having local Kentucky music represented (besides hometown heroes, My Morning Jacket).

Despite this, only a handful of Kentucky local bands were represented (out of over 60 acts) at the 2015 Forecastle. Insider Louisville writes on July 15 that local Kentucky bands at Forecastle included "Cage the Elephant, Chris Stapleton, Houndmouth, Sturgill Simpson, White Reaper, Twin Limb, Dr. Dundiff, and Brad Magers from Mariachi el Bronx."

But is this limited list of local bands at the 2015 Forecastle enough to satisfy Kentucky fans' lust for local music?

About festival giants AC Entertainment, Forecastle founders were happy to see that, over the years, they have been "taken" by what it means to pay homage to local Kentucky music and states the following.
"I think once they got here, they immersed themselves in Louisville. Once they got acclimated to the site and the city, they understood what we were doing.... That's why the local culture we express on site is good, and the regional culture, too. I want people that come in from Tennessee and Ohio and Indiana... to feel some sense of ownership of the event once they get here. I want them to see something that really radiates with them."
Kentucky music fans "taking ownership" of their local music scene has a long history. For example, in the mid-1990s, Louisville youth single-handedly built the hardcore music scene, and Kentucky is still a center point of that scene worldwide.

Of course, Forecastle's music fans may have gotten a good education from their Louisville punk ancestors -- among others.

Is there a reason that Kentucky people fight so much to make sure their local music is represented at festivals like Forecastle? Naturally, Kentucky music has been deeply influenced by Bluegrass music -- but many Kentuckians profess that there is something almost magical about Kentucky music and fans within or without the Bluegrass music scene.

The International Bluegrass Music Festival Association stated the following about the importance of Kentucky music in 2011 -- and it could be applied to any Kentucky band genre and their local fans:

"The late Mitch Jayne of Bluegrass Hall of Famers, The Dillards, said bluegrass doesn't make fans; it makes believers. One of the reasons people are drawn to this music—and stay involved—is the community of people that flourishes around the music. Borrowing from the Flatt & Scruggs gospel standard, 'Let the Church Roll On,' the theme song for this article might well be, 'Let the Bluegrass Community Roll On!'"
What are the characteristics of these unique Kentucky music communities that everyone wants to see at a festival like Forecastle? The secrets to Kentucky music fans and band communities can be found in a recent interview with the lead singer of a founding band in Louisville's hardcore music scene.

About their upcoming Endpoint/By the Grace of God 2015 tour in Europe, Louisville hardcore singer Rob Pennington was asked by writer Philip Olympia of Never Nervous, "What about Endpoint? Is that project still put to bed, or at this point is it just anything goes, whatever is fun, like a Louisville punk rock juke box?"

To that, Rob Pennington gives insight on the local-music-obsession that has historically shaped the local-band-fan communities in Kentucky.

"I kinda like the whatever happens concept and I know this breaks the local tradition of each generation wanting their generation's bands to be the most special. I think its sad when older and younger scenesters alike bury their heads in their own butts and miss what could be awesome moments. Louisville is a special place and if a band is feeling it, good for them. I won't sabotage their enjoyment. So yes, bring on the jukeboxes!"
Although Kentuckians are highly interested in local bands, each year Forecastle has represented fewer local legendary Kentucky bands like By the Grace of God. Instead, Forecastle has opted for bringing well-known pop acts to the area.

Thankfully for Kentucky local music fans, as Forecastle let the local bands slowly slip from the lineup year-by-year, another festival was created to fill in the gaps called Poorcastle.

The Poorcastle festival is held the weekend before Forecastle in Louisville. About Poorcastle, Louisville music writer, Jeffrey Lee Puckett of the Courier-Journal reports the following on July 10.
"The Poorcastle Festival began three years ago, literally as a joke... Louisville needed a cheap alternative showcasing nothing but local music — a festival for the rest of us, they called it."
In the end, did Forecastle do a good job of promoting Kentucky bands and their fans? Reviewers of Forecastle 2015 had a lot of opinions -- and few seemed to directly complain about the lack of local music.

The Trill Times wrote a positive review of Forecastle and stated on July 18, "Big K.R.I.T. is truly one of the best rap artists out right now. He showed that last night at Forecastle Festival. Putting his heart and soul into every lyric he uttered and truly speaking his mind through his music. You can't find that at too many rap shows nowadays."

Culture Collide also gave a positive review of Forecastle on July 18 saying, "Kentucky's own Cage the Elephant stole the show when they took the Mast Stage at 7:30. 'Kentucky is our home, too,' guitarist Brad Schultz divulged. Frontman Matt Schultz nearly spent more time jumping from the stage into the expectant arms of the crowd than he did on stage."

Local music writer Syd Bishop told the LEO Weekly their review of Houndsmouth at Forecastle on July 18 and reported, "They put on a helluva show, and you could tell they were into it. I left after their set, which is unfortunate in that I missed finding out what Sam Smith was all about..."

[Feature image via Instagram by Kara Smarsh]