in performance: saturday at forecastle 2018

Margo Price, the new Queen of Forecastle, performing this afternoon at Waterfront Park in Louisville. Herald-Leader staff photo by Alex Slitz.

LOUISVILLE – Kentucky native Chris Stapleton was the headliner. But this typically diverse Saturday at Forecastle belonged to a pair of hearty country upstarts – Margo Price and Brent Cobb. At temperatures swelled to 94 before much of the music even started,  the day eventually gave to very welcome cloud cover, a minimalist symphony, a hip hop celebration and the arrival, 40 minutes late, of the guest of honor.

Here is how this summer Saturday at Forecastle played out.

10:51 p.m.: Chris Stapleton. Here we hit the day’s only snag – a 40 minute delay due to “technical difficulties.” That didn’t detract from Kentucky native Stapleton’s rustic country allure, though. His electric works, like the show-opening “Midnight Train to Memphis,” possessed a dark, swampy atmosphere that the scratchier recesses of Stapleton’s singing brought to ominous life. Other tunes, like the bluesier “Nobody to Blame” or the more raggedly country “Hard Livin’,” were performed with a more sobering and soulful accent.

9:40 p.m.: The War on Drugs. If you didn’t see everything playing out onstage, you would have sworn a recording was slipped on the sound system as The War on Drugs played. Its music, all cleanly arranged with ample spaciousness, had the sheen of a studio album. Never was that more noticeable than when guitarist/vocalist Adam Granduciel led the Philadelphia band through “Lost in the Dream,” a work that deconstructed the ensemble’s electric preferences for largely acoustic orchestration.

9:17 p.m.: T-Pain. Want to know how extreme a culture shock can be? Try strolling from a stage where the Forecastle Orchestra was in the home stretch of its Terry Riley bliss out to the Ocean Stage where rap colossus T-Pain introduced himself with two extra-long expletives. His set, a mixture of live rapping, disposable singing and a quilt of DJ-moderated sonic stock footage, was a technical mess. But the audience went nuts over resulting tunes like “Can’t Believe It” and “I’m Sprung.”

8:45 p.m.: Forecastle Symphony. With Louisville Orchestra conductor/music director Teddy Abrams choosing to become part of the ensemble fabric by playing clarinet, this performance of Terry Riley’s still-fascinating minimalist composition “In C” was spellbinding. The orchestra’s cyclical patterns of mallet percussion, winds and strings proved the ultimate chill station for weary festival goers. Most sat on the ground as they watched, some even laid flat and let the intoxicating, textured sounds wash over them.

8:12 p.m.: Houndmouth. With its hometown of New Albany sitting across the river – and, in essence serving as a stage backdrop – a realigned Houndmouth made its case for pop stardom. With vocalist/keyboardist Katie Toupin gone but a new instrumental makeup at work that included dual saxophonists, the band stepped forever into the pop landscape with “Golden Age” (the title tune to a new album due out in August) and “Strange Love.” But older fare like “Say It” and “Hey Rose” produced a more nuanced and natural pop voice.

7:20 p.m.: Jenny Lewis. With the evening came relief by way of suddenly overcast skies, a semblance of a breeze and a wonderful pop sampler of a set from Jenny Lewis. Capable of cruising with the woozy reflection of “Happy” (from her 2005 collaborative album with the Louisville reared Watson Twins), tripping back to her days with Rilo Kiley for 2004’s “sadly still relevant” “Portions for Foxes” and returning to the crisply defiant 2014 gem “She’s Not Me,” Lewis proved she is still a daring pop voyager.

6:37 p.m.: Jimmy Eat World. In contrast to most of the acts on the four stage Forecastle roster, Jimmy Eat World was something of a pop elder. But with three of its founding members still on board, including the very amiable Jim Adkins on vocals, little has changed with this Arizona combo. Its devotion to rock solid pop melody was still as solid as its tireless performance spirit. That explains why band staples like “Sweetness” and “The Middle” sounded as bright and appealing as when they were hits 17 years ago.

5:30 p.m.: Margo Price. It took about half of the show-opening “Don’t Say It” for Price’s vocals to pop up in the sound mix. That qualified as a serious infraction, given the effortless tone, force and country zeal this Nashville renegade summoned as the set progressed. From the Nashville rebuke of “Cocaine Cowboys” (one of two songs that sent Price to the drum kit to detonate a jam) to the Kentucky themed charge within a cover of Guy Clark’s “New Cut Road,” Price earned rights to be crowned the new Queen of Forecastle.

4:40 p.m.: Pvris: Pronounced “Paris,” this very nocturnal sounding, clad-in-black troupe possessed neat, though somewhat static pop orchestration that recalled several post New Wave acts from the ‘80s. Lead vocalist Lynn Gunn served as a much as cheerleader as band chieftain, and certainly those near the front of the Boom stage responded enthusiastically to tunes like “You and I.” Everyone else seemed more modestly invested in this afternoon dose of midnight.

4:13 p.m.: Hiss Golden Messenger. This North Carolina collective fronted by MC Taylor often operates from a poetic, folkish foundation. On the Boom stage, though, it became contemplatively electric with tunes like “Call Him Daylight” and “I’m a Raven (Shake Children)” that worked off a front line of three electric guitarists that often sounded like an ambiently inclined Dire Straits. Taylor seldom sang above a grumble, making vocals serve as little more than another color in the band’s sonic fabric.

3:35 p.m: The Spencer Lee Band. And just like that, the ceiling caved in. Kansas-born song stylist Lee led off the lineup on the primary Mast stage with a pop-soul band augmented by brass but also a self-involved stage and vocal presence. The mood nicely cooled for the candid and patiently paced “River Water.” Then came something called “Best Sex,” which was as sophomoric and pretentious as its title suggested.

3:02 p.m.: Brent Cobb. Forecastle’s secondary Boom stage got underway with an expert set by this unassuming South Georgia songsmith and compositions that blended an authentic sense of country songwriting, albeit with a few unexpected twists (like the sly “Down in the Gulley,” where a grandfather’s pump house is mistakenly raided for being a moonshine distillery) and a sleek sense of Southern soul (suggested within the Little Feat-meets-Sturgill Simpson charm of “When the Dust Settles”). A fine kickoff.



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