Back in 2009, when the Forecastle Festival was tucked into a grassy area near the Belvedere, The Avett Brothers and The Black Keys were on the bill. They were good gets for the festival, which was then fairly modest, but both bands were still playing large clubs at best.
They return this year as arena acts, each with a growing list of Top 10 albums, and will anchor the festival’s weekend lineups. It’s an appropriate reunion, as the festival has also enjoyed a huge growth spurt and is expecting a record crowd of 75,000 this year.
“It’s cool to see some of the acts we had in 2009 that have graduated to headliner status,” said festival founder JK McKnight. “To see those guys come back and be where they’re at now is really exciting.”
Now in its 11th year, the Forecastle Festival returns to Waterfront Park today though Sunday with 65 bands on four stages. String Cheese Incident headlines tonight, The Black Keys on Saturday and The Avett Brothers on Sunday.
Other notables include former Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant, The Flaming Lips, Jim James, Big Boi, Alabama Shakes, El-P and Animal Collective. There will also be a giant Bourbon Lodge, an exhibition of poster art, and various efforts to raise money for the Forecastle Foundation, which works to raise awareness of environmental issues.
“It’s an eclectic lineup, it has something for everyone, and hits on all the genres we’ve focused on for the last three or four years,” said McKnight, who started the festival in Tyler Park, which would fit onto Waterfront Park’s Great Lawn with room left over.
Here’s a quick look at the more notable performers this weekend, some of which could easily return as headliners in a few years.
Bob Mould Band, 6-7 p.m., Boom Stage. Mould’s career post-Husker Du has seen him experiment with electronic dance music, do the inevitable acoustic tours and spin out some pop songs with Sugar. The Bob Mould Band marks the return of loud Bob, and loud Bob is always good.
Houndmouth, 6:30-7:30, Mast Stage. In the space of a year, Houndmouth, a New Albany Americana band, has jumped from the festival’s smallest stage to its largest.
Night Beds, 7-7:45, WFPK Port Stage. Public radio program directors take the afternoon off when bands such as Night Beds come around. That’s because they have a new go-to artist, one with a warmly familiar Americana vibe but also with a hook, which is Winston Yellen’s distinctive tenor voice.
Big Boi, 7:30-8:30, Boom Stage. As half of OutKast, Big Boi — real name Antwan Andre Patton — has achieved the near impossible by creating hip-hop with both street cred and mainstream appeal. Since OutKast went on hiatus a few years ago, Big Boi has dropped two solo records, including last year’s “Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors.”
Old Crow Medicine Show, 8-9:30, Mast Stage. It seems unlikely that anyone with a pulse has not seen Old Crow Medicine Show, as the band has played every place from street corners to major festivals. But if for some reason you haven’t, it’s always a good time.
Boys Noize, 9:45-10:45, Red Bull Music Academy Ocean Stage. Germany’s Alexander Ridha is the mastermind DJ/producer behind Boys Noize, and his set will be one of the weekend’s hardest, most bone-rattling and exciting. Did I mention bone-rattling?
String Cheese Incident, 10:15-midnight, Mast Stage. With roots in Telluride, Colo., this cornerstone of the jam-band movement has taken bluegrass to another planet. String Cheese Incident also will perform Saturday night at the Louisville Palace as part of Forecastle (midnight, $42).
Dawes, 4:30-5:30, Mast Stage. Dawes has been trying to do right by the bands and musicians referenced in its music, most notably Jackson Browne, Neil Young and The Band. Although Dawes has already had a couple of Top 40 albums, it still feels like their best is yet to come.
Kurt Vile & the Violators, 5:15-6:15, Boom Stage. Kurt Vile’s songwriting recalls that of several fringe artists, from The Meat Puppets to Dinosaur Jr to Syd Barrett, but there’s also a vein of mainstream accessibility. Might be weird to see him before dark.
Alabama Shakes, 6-7:15, Mast Stage. There’s something about the Alabama Shakes that just doesn’t ring true, but everyone else seems to love the band’s retro rock ’n’ soul. Maybe they just haven’t suffered enough, but it’s more likely that the band’s speedy rise precluded any development time.
Freakwater, 6:15-7, WFPK Port Stage. Catherine Irwin and Janet Beveridge Bean met at a very famous punk rock house in the Highlands, and years later formed one of the only real country bands that came out of the punk and alt-rock scenes. That band is Freakwater.
Nosaj Thing, 7-8, Red Bull Music Academy Ocean Stage. Nosaj Thing, real name Jason Chung, is a Los Angeles electronic musician with the emphasis on musician. His tracks don’t shy away from melody, hooks and a consistently persuasive beauty. Potentially one of the weekend’s finest sets.
Jim James, 7:45-9:15, Mast Stage. Surely you know enough about this guy by now, but if you don’t, Jim James heads up Louisville-based My Morning Jacket.
The Flaming Lips, 8:45-10:15, Boom Stage. The Flaming Lips had slipped into a performance rut in recent years, if you can describe anything the band does as rut-worthy, but a new stage show based on “The Terror” album has been thrilling recent audiences.
The Black Keys, 10-midnight, Mast Stage. Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney did remarkable things with just guitar and drums, but the Black Keys’ recent albums have expanded far beyond that limited palette. In concert, however, they can still bring the blunt force trauma.
Wild Feathers, 1:15-1:45, WFPK Port Stage. The next time this Nashville-based soulful rock band Wild Feathers plays Forecastle, it will likely be on the main stage.
Dan Deacon, 1:30-2:30, Red Bull Music Academy Ocean Stage. Dan Deacon is one of the more intriguing electronic artists this year, but his concert app for smart phones — one of its tricks is to create a synchronized light show — might not have the same impact in the afternoon.
El-P & Killer Mike, 4:30-5:30, Red Bull Music Academy Ocean Stage. El-P already has a high hip-hop quotient, and rapper Killer Mike will only up the ante. It seems unreal that an actual rapper is a novelty in this age of EDM (electronic dance music), which should only last another couple of weeks.
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, 5-6:15, Mast Stage. Another Alabama Shakes deal for me, but fans flock to see the band’s retro rock and Grace Potter’s booming voice.
Robert Plant presents the Sensational Space Shifters, 7-8:30, Mast Stage. Interesting that one of the most iconic singers in all of rock ’n’ roll is technically third on the bill. Then again, Robert Plant has kept everything fairly low-key since Led Zeppelin was retired.
Animal Collective, 8-9:15, Boom Stage. These poster boys for experimental headphone pop, Animal Collective occasionally apply themselves to somewhat traditional songwriting, but seem more comfortable with psychedelic soundscapes.
The Avett Brothers, 9:15-11, Mast Stage. Brothers Scott and Seth Avett, with longtime bassist Bob Crawford, have worked their way to unlikely stardom with an old-fashioned resume: songwriting, passionate singing, even more passionate musicianship.
Reporter Jeffrey Lee Puckett can be reached at (502) 582-4160.