at the helm of forecastle

jk mcknight

jk mcknight

There is no mistaking the growth and visibility that continues to revolve around Louisville’s Forecastle Festival.

Event founder JK McKnight started Forecastle in the community confines of Tyler Park with a budget of $500 and a lineup of six bands. This weekend, the event is expected to draw 10,000 patrons to the Louisville Waterfront with a diverse lineup that includes hip-hop pioneer and Wu-Tang Clan founder GZA, the bluegrass mavericks of The Del McCoury Band, the instrumental indie brigade Tortoise and a keynote address by environmental lawyer/activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

Throughout the growth, though, McKnight’s initial vision for Forecastle has remain unchanged: to have regional artists and activists take as prominent a role as the music

“We’re not putting this together because it’s a new cultural trend,” said McKnight, 27. “We’ve been doing this for seven years. So when you go to Forecastle, you see environmental groups represented equally from 10 cities in 6 states. You see groups representing communities that you’re coming from. That means something that’s a lot different than going to a music festival and just seeing a register-to-vote table.

“We want all of our cities represented. If you’re from Lexington, we want you to see WRFL there and see some of their artists and their musicians and leave with something that’s much more substantial than just going to a generic festival. And a lot of these festivals can be very generic experiences.”

McKnight has experienced more than a few festival atmospheres as a well-traveled songsmith and faithful patron.

“My parents sent me off to Lollapalooza when I was 15. They sent me off to the Tibetan Freedom Concert in Washington DC. I was always fascinated by large gatherings of people in an outdoor setting.

“But the template for something like Forecastle always is the music, arts, activism format. We need to be in a space where all three of those elements can be represented equally. People aren’t going into a music festival. They’re going into a completely different experience.”

While McKnight today views Forecastle as a regional event instead of a Louisville gathering (among the many ticket outlets are record stores in St. Louis, Nashville, Indianapolis and Cincinnati as well as Lexington’s CD Central), he prefers a steady growth over skyrocking expansion. He noted several young festivals around the country have collapsed after trying to grow too fast too soon.

“A lot of our success comes from smart growth. We grow because we want to grow not because external influences are telling us we should grow.”

“It’s not just about having the businesses, musicians, artists and environmental groups representing the different areas in the region. It’s the people, too. We’re providing a platform here for creative people all across this region and people in the activism communities to really mesh.

 “We’re not here to compete with something like Bonnaroo or Coachella. We here are to do something on a different platform.”

The Forecastle Festival will be held July 25-27 at the Riverfront Belvedere in Louisville. Tickets are $15-$50. Call: (866) 468-7630.

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