Float On: Keeping My Head above Water at Forecastle

Story and Photos by AUSTIN WHITELY


“Doses!” An unkempt man with greasy curls and dust-speckled glasses barked in my direction. The concrete landscape of East Main and Preston seemed to handle the heat better than me, as all I could think of was, Is that broken Spanglish?

He repeated, “Doses?” I could tell by his shrug-like motion, like a buddy offering up the last slice of pizza, which further disheveled his rumpled shirt and crinkled jeans, that it was a question, and he was trying to unload some hallucinogens.

A double take and mumbled “nah” was the only transaction this street peddler got in exchange. I was caught off guard and unprepared for the temptations. Even before reaching the street where this mega festival concert event was held, I  already had to fend off a drug dealer. So, this is how today is going to go, I thought. Then again, what did I expect when one of the headliners was a jam band comparable to the Grateful Dead. Maybe next year I would plan a trip to Seattle and expect not to get rained on.

Through the festival gates, rough waters lay ahead of me. The port-a-potty was more like a THC sauna, as I must’ve slipped in right after a patron who hot-boxed a doob. From the smell of it, Louisville seemed to be chiefing on dirt weed, but every once in a while, it reeked like I was on a Bullitt County back road and somebody had trampled a skunk. It may be hard for a person without the addict gene to comprehend, but one drink or drug can send a person such as myself on a wild spree where by the end of the night, I’ll be saying, “I must’ve taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque.”


Concert-goers took to the water to cool off.

It didn’t help my situation that Forecastle Festival goers recite lines like, “It comes from the earth … It’s natural … Nobody’s ever overdosed on this, man.” My second sober concert might have just had to be my last.

Here I stood in the epicenter of the surging Bourbon industry, and without even taking a drop, I was already drowning. Maybe my love of music would have  to be set on the back burner to keep me from succumbing. Was this really what music festivals were about—dulling your senses, under the guise of freeing your mind? On the aptly nautical themed Louisville Waterfront, could there be a life raft for those struggling to stay afloat?

Sober Sailing

Some refer to their first music festival sober as an “acid test,” said Adam Hirsch of Sober Sailing—not as in, a system to see if your LSD is good. They need to “see if they can do it,” he elaborated, “and, that’s why we’re here. Feelin’ iffy? Come chill out.”

Sober Sailing, a branch of the nonprofit Harmonium, allows people in recovery to have a safe meeting spot with like-minded individuals where they can “recalibrate,” while still participating in the music festival atmosphere.

I drifted over to one of Sober Sailing’s two daily meetings, the 6 p.m. one, and sat down in the circle familiar to anyone coming from an AA background. Hannah, a fellow concertgoer in recovery, shared her experience and touched on the topic of wanting to let herself “live in the moment.” Others revealed a little of their past and their bliss over still being able to enjoy a concert experience, despite tainted histories of festivals gone wrong or the imaginings of what might have gone wrong because they couldn’t remember.

Jungle Gym BLOG

Neon shenanigans took place while Widespread Panic set the sun on the waterfront.

After the meeting, what Hannah said stuck with me. Even though I wasn’t pounding my dopamine receptors with synthetic means, I could still be who I was. I didn’t have to worry about anything, or hide how I am naturally. There was a paradigm shift of my festival perspective. I was able to see the truly beautiful community that was Forecastle. Instead of letting my fear lead me to the worst conclusions of why people did what, or what they thought of me and the judgments that come with that mindset, I could just live in the moment. I can’t say for sure that I’ve had any spiritual experiences, but singing along to “Float On” with Modest Mouse and thousands of others in attendance had to come damn close.

Now that I had leaped the mental hurdle of integrating with a Forecastle crowd, instead of keeping my normal safe distance, it was time to really paddle out into deep waters.

Kentucky Landing

Behind their merch table, Mattie DeAngelis, Manager at Why Louisville, detailed how they get their unique vibes on apparel, “All the shirts in our brick-and-mortar stores are designed by local artists. We pretty much take submissions from anybody and everybody (local)…to promote the local scene in Kentucky.”

Next booth over was Bermuda Highway, a local boutique-meets-music venue. How could you expect anything less from a business birthed from two members of the skyrocketing band Houndmouth. Carrie Cooke-Ketterman, a local artisan who had booth babysitting duties while the rockstar owners did their rockstar stuff, spoke of how they pride themselves on having everything “local, affordable, and made in the U.S.A.”

From shirts to socks—a surprising “best seller” in the heat wave, according to Regalo co-owner JD Dotson, to diaper delivery systems and nursing stations provided by The Diaper Fairy Cottage, to local art telling stories that reach far beyond the medium they’re housed on in Revelry Boutique, Kentucky had more than enough reasons to be proud at Forecastle.

You would think that’s all that Kentucky had to offer, besides the local brewers and food trucks (Holy Molé Taco Truck, Lexie Lu’s, Lil Cheezer’s, Longshot Lobsta, and Tasty Tuxedo Treats), since the Kentucky Landing of Forecastle was only at the southwestern tip of the Waterfront. However, there were some other hidden Louisville gems. Right at the festival gates was a team of local doughnut queens, called Hi-Five Doughnuts, who like sugar-crazed kiddos decide to top their fried treats with cereal bits.


Festival attendees perused the wealth of original posters at the API show.

“There’s really no wrong answer with a doughnut,” said Annie Harlow, co-owner and operator, who went on to tell me about the Hi-Five Forecastle Special, topped with fried chicken and habanero jam. I’m sure no doughnuts survived by the festival’s end, but the word’s still out on whether the ladies made it out alive. “Whatever temperature it is out there, add twenty degrees to that,” said Leslie Wilson, co-owner and operator, while doling out the sweet snacks.

The Forecastle landscape was stippled with other Kentucky-born ventures, especially on the north end of the American Poster Institute (API) poster show.

Ron Jasin of Madpixel explained how his industry has survived and is now needed more than ever. “As the music industry has changed, the CD/album isn’t as much as it used to be, so maybe the poster’s another way to interact with your fans in a tangible medium, something you can connect with.”

Jasin’s booth neighbors, Justin Kamerer and Britteny Cat, a husband/wife duo known as AngryBlue and Miss Happy Pink, echoed the collectability aspect of concert posters. When he’s not printing his own art prints at Crackhead Press or “ruining” the walls of mega corporation Facebook with studiomate Jeral Tidwell, Kamerer loves to put a limited edition handmade print into concert patrons’ hands so they can have a “slice of the experience.”


Not only does Forecastle flood the experience with local, sustainable creativity, but it also approaches sustainability in the more recognized ecological method. Since last year, (click here to read about the other branches of the Forecastle Foundation), the Forecastle Foundation has added a partnership with the Nature Conservancy, a conservation organization with projects such as “Kentucky’s Green River Watershed”, a clean up project to return the river to its natural state, “Coral Triangle Initiative”, a coral reef conservation effort in the Asia-Pacific region, and the “Central Appalachian Mountain Chain”, an effort to protect the untouched lands of the Eastern United States.

As agencies clean up and preserve natural areas and connect conservation projects, new information from these partnerships is revealed.

April Perkins, a foundation board member, explained one of the latest revelations, “The birds at Pine Mountain (KNLT) migrate exactly to the spot in Brazil that we’re helping to preserve with Guayaki. So, it’s a connection we didn’t even know existed until we got these two together.”

Even with all the good work and aspirations that the Forecastle Foundation seems to have, how can they justify a festival in the name of activism, when the footprint left by the thousands of feet and super sound systems is gargantuan-sized. Arcadia Power and Clean Vibes, that’s how.

With Arcadia Power, for every kWh of electricity used at Forecastle, a kWh is produced from wind or solar energy in the hopes of festival becoming a net zero energy operation. With as much sunshine and wild gusts as the weekend held, net zero energy might have been easier done than said. To keep the grounds the way they were before thousands parked themselves on the Waterfront over the weekend, Clean Vibes, LLC’s nonprofit arm Clean Vibes Trading Post, offered prizes ranging from band merchandise to Eno hammocks to Camelbak hydration packs, in exchange for collecting and turning in cigarette butts, recyclables, and compostables.

As the weekend came to a close, the only suitable ending was to watch the sun set on The Tallest Man on Earth’s last song. In that moment, my sober self leaned against a lamppost powered by clean energy next to thousands of my closest hippie friends, throwing back their Sierra Nevada solar-powered brewed beverages. In the backdrop, a barge, overflowing with coal, tugged up the Ohio River.

Austin Whitely is Auzman Propaganda, Man, a solo artist from Shepherdsville, Kentucky. He co-founded the Homegrown Art, Music & Spokencover copy Word Show, an open-mic and art exhibition series held bimonthly in Bullitt County. Auzman Propaganda, Man’s debut release, “Greatest Hits Vol. 3 & 4,” is available through CDBaby, iTunes, and other online venues.

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