Headed to Forecastle this weekend in Louisville’s Waterfront Park? Here’s what you might not know about how the festival helps protect awesome places around the state and its uniquely Kentucky vibe.
When the 14th annual Forecastle festival kicks off this weekend in Louisville’s Waterfront Park, more than 75,000 revelers will gather for three days of music, art, consciousness raising and good ol’ Kentucky hospitality in a beautiful setting along the Ohio River with the Louisville skyline as a glittering backdrop.
Much of the focus will be on having a good time, maybe checking out Kentucky-made goods in the Kentucky Landing area or sampling some of state’s finest in the Bourbon Lodge in between sets from headliners like The Avett Brothers, Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals, Alabama Shakes, Death Cab for Cutie, Ryan Adams and many other talented musicians.
It’s a big party, but what many attendees might not realize is how big of an impact their participation has on the Forecastle Foundation, an environmental non-profit that works to “protect the world’s natural awesome” in critical areas throughout Kentucky and around the world.
Not only does a percentage of each ticket sale go directly to the foundation, portions of food and drinks sales, special onsite promotions and this year’s new “sip and support” program featuring specially made products from Sierra Nevada, Heine Brothers’ Coffee, several bourbon brands and others all go toward the cause.
“We have probably 18 or 19 revenue streams coming straight off the festival every year that help support the work of the Forecastle Foundation,” says J.K. McKnight, founder of both the festival and the foundation. “It’s really active in the sense that, when you’re on site, so much of what you’re doing and purchasing is all going back to the foundation, which is cool.”
In turn, the Forecastle Foundation partners with local and international organizations to benefit conservation work in highly threatened, biologically diverse “hotspots,” including along the Green River, Pine Mountain and the Central Appalachian Mountain Chain in Kentucky, as well as the Coral Triangle in Indonesia and Mangueirinha Indigenous Reserve in Argentina.
The Forecastle Festival also hosts related events and concerts throughout the year.
As McKnight likes to say, “it’s a party with a purpose.”
The roots of McKnight’s passion for music, art and environmental activism go back a long way, and are intertwined with the origin of the Forecastle festival itself as much more than just another concert.
When he was about 10 years old, McKnight read a National Geographic article about “hotspots” near the earth’s equator that contained a staggering amount of the world’s biodiversity and natural resources, and yet were being depleted at an alarming rate. The article specifically talked about deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.
Where many kids might have said “wow, that really sucks” and picked up a comic book, little J.K. picked up a pen instead.
“I became super inspired and started writing letters to the White House about what I could do to help,” he says. “I got letters back months later from Al Gore’s office and he actually put me in touch with the U.S. ambassador to Brazil at the time, so I started writing the ambassador and we traded letters.”
While the high-level exchange was encouraging, especially for a Kentucky kid growing up in Louisville’s Highlands neighborhood, it also opened McKnight’s eyes to the realization that the one resource that would really make a difference was money —lots and lots of money — to buy up land and protect it from depletion.
“I obviously didn’t have the means to do that at the time,” he says. “But when I decided to launch a non-profit that all came back strong.”
The Forecastle Foundation is a direct extension of the success of the festival itself, which McKnight started in 2002 as a small concert in Louisville’s Tyler Park just a stone’s throw from his high school bedroom. He’d been on the road for several years as a self-supported touring musician and, having landed back in Louisville, sought a way to reconnect with his hometown’s arts and music scene.
We all left the site that day feeling jazzed and super energized, like ‘that was fun, let’s do it again.’
Forecastle “started off as nothing more than a local musician networking and camaraderie event,” he says. “We all left the site that day feeling jazzed and super energized, like ‘that was fun, let’s do it again.’ ”
Hearkening back to his passion for environmental activism, as well as to formative events he’d attended in his teens like the Tibetan Freedom Concert in Washington, D.C., and the first Lollapalooza festival, McKnight also invited local visual artists to participate that next year and introduced an awareness-raising environmental component to the event. The audience tripled in size that next year. Forecastle really took off when it moved to Louisville’s Cherokee Park the following year and sponsors like Patagonia and Red Bull got involved, and continued to grow and evolve as it moved to The Mellwood Arts and Entertainment Center, then to Riverfront Plaza and the Belvedere and, finally, to Waterfront Park in 2010.
“I realized years later that I had stumbled upon a format that no one had really done before,” McKnight says. “Other festivals were doing these components, but no one was dedicating the same amount of real estate to each one. [At Forecastle,] everything is marketed and represented equally.”
While the venues, scale and management may have changed over the years — McKnight has joined with AC Entertainment, which now produces Forecastle and many other events — at its heart Forecastle represents the realization of one kid’s efforts to help make the world a better place, and a gathering place for the community to celebrate music, art and our shared home in an awesome Kentucky setting.
“Some festivals try to take too big of a leap and just kind of fall off a cliff, but that never really happened with Forecastle. We grew quickly, but not too quickly,” says McKnight. “It all comes back to that same format and just taking it a little further each year.”
Photography by Ryan K. Morris / J.K. McKnight photos courtesy of Forecastle
Visit Forecastlefest.com for event information and tickets for this weekend’s festival, held July 15, 16 and 17 at Waterfront Park in Louisville. For more about the Forecastle Foundation and related events, visit Forecastlefoundation.org.
We’ll be set up at Forecastle this weekend serving up fresh Kentucky for Kentucky gear, including a few festival exclusives! Just look for the Kentucky Kicks Ass flag. Also, tag your Forecastle photos with the #KentuckyKicksAss hashtag and stop by the Forecastle Derby attraction for a chance to win kick-ass prizes!