Forecastle Festival 2010: Sunday
Words and photos by Rex Thomson
The third day of the Forecastle Festival kicked off a little more lethargically than the rest. Louisville itself seemed to not want to be bothered before noon. Still reveling in the novelty of covering a big show in my home town I was refreshed and a bit early on Sunday, greeting the slow to build early Sunday morning crowd with enthusiastic boy howdies and big ‘ole grins! I had slept perfectly and walked my dog before going to hear one of my absolute favorite bands close out my home town festival. That’ll put a smile on any music fans face. As I had for the previous couple of days, I started my rounds at the Hidden Relic booth, ran by Joey and his fiancé Amanda, with his street team of party people! They amiably agreed to pose for a group portrait, and in the spirit of the moment I talked them into kneeling on the concrete walkway so I could get a better picture of their booth. Mischievousness or artistic vision, you decide! They were great hosts all weekend, and I used their booth as a staging area! And not down the row of vendors there was the glassblowing artistry of the fine artisans Maiya and Miranda of Natural Mystic, a local glass emporium. The booths were located between the Kentucky themed River side stage, and the Electronica/DJ stage referred tp as the Ocean Stage. The Ocean Stage was being tended to by friend of the site John Grisanti, and he ran it admirably. Local hero Herm did his trademark pulsating lightshow, showing why he’s the cat to beat on lights. And, waiting in the wings were promoters Pete and Brenda Cashel , taking in the festival and talking to bands and local fans about plans for their upcoming Terrapin Hill Festival.
I mention all these people at the risk of offending many more, and I do it to make a point. These festivals, these joyous gatherings of love and learning, do not happen in a vacuum. Planning and preparation go into them and these people I have mentioned and scores I have not worked Long before; tirelessly during, and late after so we could rock. There is a community of weirdos and music junkies; a family of traveling freaks that come together as a sort of crew to man the ship that is a festival. The Forecastle is the nautical term for the forward part of the ship. As the forecastle in essence leads the ship, the Forecastle Festival attempts to lead the music scene towards doing anything they can to improve our health as a society. Healing the world through song, and teaching the people how to treat the earth with a gentler eye towards her bounty, a noble enterprise was started here by Mr.McKnight.
Culmination, harvesting, these were the themes of the day for me as I walked the grounds. The last day of a festival is always bittersweet for me, as I am sad to return to reality. A good friend recently noted that she thinks she may be becoming allergic to reality, and I feel her pain. There was a peace garden was being tended by Roadshow staff, and as the weekend progressed, flags were made and hung bearing simple sentiments of peace and unity, while, along the circle of grass and dirt patches laid out by the Sustainable Living Roadshow, patterns were being laid out and constructed by the attendees. These kinds of interactive art installations are wonderful tool for the mind and the soul. The smiles on the faces of all who worked there were evidence of that. I spoke to one woman, Julia, who was laying out intricate patterns with sunflower leaves. She was at it over twenty minutes. When she finished and was admiring her handiwork, I asked her if she had enjoyed her creation. She beamed at me and said
“Most fun I’ve had all year!”
The time came to be at the main stage and get some humanity and honesty from Dar Williams. A songstress of the rawest variety, her simple tempos belie her subject matter, and the plain openness of the music can be inspiring. A simple stage presence many would seem dwarfed by the slot on the main stage, just her and her few accompanists. Not Ms.Williams, however. She simply lifted her voice high, and did what she did best, share herself thru song. She used her words and her guitar as a way of bearing her mind and soul to the crowd. Powerful stuff.As the day before had had a strong vein of nostalgia at its core, Sunday’ line up had at its center woman. Sara Watkins, of Fiddler from Nickel Creek, and She and Him, featuring a rather famous she, were the leading ladies of the day on the main stage, and the day’s closer, were known for their video and on stage tributes to the fairer sex. With the theme of sustainability and reuse and rebirth, the cycle of life was clearly invoked. Watkins is a double threat musically, aiding and abetting her winsome singing voice with a lonesome fiddler’s bow, capable of drawing a tear to an unsuspecting eye. Again, I was struck by the visual of simplicity, as Watkins and her guitarist stood alone and unadorned on a wide stage. As the years pass I found myself falling more and more in love with the Appalachian music, the music of the mountains and fields across the world seem to speak to me as flavors of integrity and culture not my own. The music of regions speaks truest, and hearing a bluegrass artist on the main stage, music pumped proudly thru the Sky high speaker stacks did me proud. All types of music were represented this weekend, the Untz!Untz!ing folks going open to close and Indy stalwarts like We Were promised Jetpacks and Minus the Bear were tipping the hipness-o-meter to the far end. Yet, still, here on the main stage in a prime spot was a fiddle player, singing songs of the rivers and the woods, in a high calling voice, letting out mournful bows of her violin as a ghostly counterpoint to her vocalizations. Could not break my smile! I got a third smoothie of the day, mango orange, devastatingly good, and decided to go watch some bicycle crashes.
That may sound mean spirited, but at least throw me points for honesty. Why do people go to car races, skate parks and the winter X games? Sure, they wanna see some gnarly tricks, but people like to see crashes. Remember that horrible ski thing at the start if the Wide World of Sports intro for years featured that guy pin wheeling down the slopes for like an hour and a half? I always thought someone shoulda been able to stop him somehow, he was rolling forever. But, anyway, don’t tell me you don’t look at the highlights of bad wrecks and crashes on highlights and the news, ‘Cause ya do. Let’s all just admit this and move on.
They had set up a BMX ramp and stunt course, and had some of those diehard daredevils doing jumps, flips and twirls, catching mad air in the process. No one was injured in the exhibition, and no, I was not disappointed. One guy even jumped right out of the roped off area, zipping through low hanging tree branches and on out into the festival proper. Way cool!
Speaking of way cool, I am pretty good with meeting famous people. I end up in some weird places doing what I do, meeting some people you would never expect. Arriving in the pit for She and Him, I was not prepared to see every photographer who was at the festival all shoved into the same place. A semi circle phalanx had formed around the center of the stage, all of those camera persons focused on the lonely microphone at the center. Racking my brain for the reason why, I remembered that legendary guitarist M.Ward was part of the band, which still did not explain the attraction of all these shutterbugs t the set! Then, actor and singer Zooey Deschanel exited the wings and walked to the mike at center stage, and all the photographers sprung to life, snapping her every move! It struck me at once, I had become paparazzi! Loved her in the hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy film, and so I was interested to see how she fared in a more live setting. As she fiddled with the small keyboard she played, the photographers had grown silent, still watching her like an army of hunters, waiting for their prey to make a move. Being plugged directly into the cosmic consciousness at that moment, I turned on my telepathy and was amazed to hear the completely unified thought emanating from the assembled reporters as they stared down the barrels of their cameras…
”Do something cute” they thought as one.
She smiled and gave a small laugh as she adjusted her mic stand, and you could hear the shutters go click around the circle, as if one entity, the great media beast hungrily snapped up shots of her. No mere vanity project, the band, led by Ward, turned out to be quite good, and Deschanel had a more than serviceable voice, quirky and ironic one moment, heartfelt and lonely the next. After the show, I ran into her for a moment, and shared a laugh at how her fame affected her daily life. She was far friendlier than I would have been to one of my media stalkers, if I had any.
Another band I was unfamiliar with, Spoon from Austin Texas has been a rising star in the Indy scene for years. Much to my shame, I must admit my tastes in music are not as perfectly wide as it should be. Spoon’s set of rock and roll tunes was a clear reminder that there are so many bands out there making great music it’s nearly impossible to listen to them all. A friend reacted in horror when I asked him if Spoon was good, and threatened me physically if I missed their set. Though not impressed to the point of understanding my death threat, I will say this, good on Spoon for their set. Rocking the crowd, they made my list of must see gains. But the time I had been waiting for since the line-ups announcement was drawing near, and all of my training and energy was coalescing into a razor sharp focus. I made one last round around the grounds of the festival, bidding adieu to all the friends I had had before and the new ones made during. Though I love them all, my tunnel vision had set in, and the reason I do all this, the music photojournalism bit, was soon to take the stage. It was at last time for the Flaming Lips.
My love of the Flaming Lips is far beyond any ration thing. Their blending of pop sensibilities, psychedelic tendencies and hyper mega powerful love vibe is a perfect melding of fan and band. This could easily turn into a 10,000 word essay on why you should see every Flaming Lips show (Here forth referred to as the Flips) anywhere near you, and across the country, so I will try and be careful in my expressions’ of admiration. Singing songs of hope and truth, and doing so from a place not just knee deep in whimsy, but daring innovation and an idiosyncratic style that make them wholly their own, the Flips are as perfect a band as can be for me. As a listener I am moved by these small snapshots f a better world they offer, a world where love and caring rule the day. From full out psychedelic cacophonous thunderclaps of sound and fury, there are lush quiet eyes to their musical storms. And, in the finest tradition of community, there are the sing a longs, where Front man and oddball supreme Wayne Coyne urges the crowd to lift their collective voices to the sky, and sing the words that we have had ingrained on our souls thru repeated listening. One of the great things about the modern music scene, festivals in particular is the bands in general being okay with having their music recorded live and freely shared amongst the music fans. The Flips have for more than a decade been allowing their fans to trade shows on their own website. But to just listen to the Flips shows is a hollow experience to me, though it is something I do regularly. As I have often explained to friends and Non fans of the bad alike, the Flips must be seen to be understood. Seriously, ask and I will find a way to buy your ticket if it’s your first show!
The Flaming lips bring the spectacle. All weekend the undercurrent had been building, and everyone I spoke with had an element of anticipation jacked way high for the closing set by the Lips. Festival founder JK McKnight came out for his closing thank you’s, and after being moved visibly thanking his staff and sponsors for their help in the giant affair we had all just been astonished by, he seemed to light from the inside as he realized again why he was there. With a grin that looked like it may just hurt, he introduced The Flaming Lips. And the madness began. A nude woman’s dancing form settled into a birth position on the LED video screen used as a back drop, and through a pulsating projection of a birth canal the screen was parted, and, one by one the band emerged.
The rituals that have grown up around the bands performances are storied and wide varied. Coyne’s trip around the crowd in his plastic bubble, waling the crown as it floating on a sea of hands. The giant confetti canons that flank the stages pumping multi-colored madness into the sky. The twin sets of stage side dance troops, picked from area fanclubs and handpicked crowd standouts. The single shot streamer cannons Coyne uses to cover the lighting arrays with adornment. They long interludes where Wayne speaks of love and unity and peace. A flaming Lips show is, as I said, at its heart a ritual, a holy communion of fan, band and message. Upon my arrival on Friday, I was greeted by one of those ever so fun proselytizers with a mega phone, admonishing me not to enter this place of sin, this Forecastle festival. He was berating the entrants in line to turn back, to save their souls. On Sunday I stopped him from his rant, if only for a moment, and tried to get him to understand how wrong he was. In fact, I suggest, the surest way to save them was to get inside, and here what the Flaming Lips had to say. Sadly, this message did not reach through to my close minded friend. You have to be willing to listen to truly hear.
It has been put forth to me that this procession of mandated occurrences, and their similar shows is a weakness on the part of the Flips. I say again, NO. It is the strength. There are plenty of bands that I love that have catalogs of songs interchanged nightly, with mind blowing jams of indeterminate length every night. But that is not why I see the Flaming Lips, and I don’t expect that from them. I go to plug into the universal love current and to surf it along with my fellow fans. For have no doubt, as I sing along at the top of my lungs To “Yoshimi”, and any other song they played. Simply put, I love this band, start to finish. Personally, besides getting the biggest feeling of pure energy from seeing Flaming Lips show, it’s one of the things that renewed my passion for what I know do, the article you are reading and the pictures you are seeing.
A while back I did some reviews for some local papers and a website or two, and enjoyed it. But it was generally a royal hassle, and eventually I moved on. After purchasing a high end camera a few years back, I decided I would take it to a festival, and…guess who was there? That’s right…the cool and the fabulous…The Flaming Lips. I was front row rail for that show, and got some decent shots. I started taking my camera to all the shows I could, and have since merged my love of writing with my new found love of photography. And now, in the time since I start doing this seriously I had not, until now, been in front of a stage on which stood the band I owed my indspirado, til now. Joy. The only word is JOY! Exiting the pit I roamed the crowd, singing along, high fiving friends and strangers and reveling in the moment as a child in a bubble pit! Finally, I snuck up close to shoot and see the boys as close as possible. Through the telephoto lens I saw everything in a whole new way, and learned a new dimension to the band I so love! I waited for Coyne to do something I have seen him do time and again during one of his extortive speeches, to clasp his heart. When he did, and the picture snapped I felt a moment of perfection, oneness with place and purpose. All I really wanted was that shot, for if I had to sum the band up in one mage it would be that. Coyne funneling love to us all through us all in both directions. Thanks to all who made that moment of bliss possible for me.
Oh, and I forgot to mention…If there is ever a debate as to which concert you should see, always chose the one where the lead singer does a son on the shoulders of a bear. Just saying!