Louisville will be at the center of the music universe this weekend, as more than 75,000 people descend on Waterfront Park to hear an eclectic lineup from Chris Stapleton and Arcade Fire, to Jason Isbell and T-Pain. Founded in 2002 by Louisville native JK McKnight, the Forecastle Festival has grown from a small, community event to one of the nation’s most anticipated summer festivals highlighting not only music, but also art and environmentalism.
As with most major community events, there is a strong UofL tie to this affair. Lauren Hendricks, the board chairwoman of the Forecastle Foundation, said she wouldn’t even be involved in the festival if she hadn’t attended UofL. The alum (06A, 12GA) was introduced to the production by JK McKnight’s sister, Mo (McKnight Howe), when she was a freshman.
“I lived with Mo when I was a freshman and she was a junior and we instantly became best friends. At that point – it was 2006 – she was already involved and she just asked if I wanted to help her and her brother do this thing,” Hendricks said.
“This thing” has since become a national attraction named by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the “Coolest Festivals” in the country. Initially, Hendricks worked on some of the gritty work and logistics – scheduling volunteers, stacking sandbags, erecting fencing, picking musicians up at the airport, etc.
“In those early years, we just did whatever was needed,” she said.
In 2010, Forecastle Festival’s founders started the non-profit Forecastle Foundation, and asked Hendricks to be one of the founding board members. The Foundation partners with and raises money for environmentally-conscious organizations, including KNLT, Nature Conservancy, Guayaki Foundation, FCD Belize and the Future Fund Land Trust. The focus on sustainability was firmly in Hendricks’ wheelhouse, so she agreed to the request.
“I had this desire to be involved in environmental causes and that really grew when I was at UofL. I was part of UofL’s first Sustainability Council and worked with a lot of professors who were doing research on climate change. I was involved in climate change teach-ins. All of this was something I had become very passionate about and the timing was right,” Hendricks said.
The foundation’s board started with eight people and has since grown to 13, with Hendricks serving as chair. The foundation itself has a large footprint at the Forecastle Festival, receiving a dollar from every ticket sold and facilitating an area next to the music stages that includes educational opportunities, drinks and a live art wall.
The live art wall
That live art wall also has a big UofL twist – among the small team of painters is Marcy Werner, assistant curator and imaging manager, and Jessica Kincaid, who worked as coordinator of collections and exhibitions with the Hite Art Institute until earlier this month. Both women earned their master’s degree in critical and curatorial studies from UofL.
Kincaid got involved three years ago when her partner, Petersen Thomas, recruited her for the mural. Thomas oversees the art functions of the Forecastle Foundation. This weekend will mark Werner’s second time working the mural at the festival. Thomas discovered Werner while she was painting a mural of Muhammad Ali.
The Forecastle mural team will spend Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon painting the 48-foot live art wall with the music festival and tens of thousands of singing fans providing the backdrop.
“Sometimes we’re there until 2 a.m. It’s a full marathon. It’s brutal, but it’s engaging,” Kincaid said.
The artists tackle a different design each year, designed initially by Thomas. This year’s theme is the Foundation’s “Sip and Support” initiative, which focuses on the “five essential liquids” of the festival – bourbon, vodka, water, coffee and beer.
“We brought on new sponsors, including Tito’s Vodka. JK does a specialty beer and there is also a bourbon blend. Louisville Water Company has a presence, and so does Heine Brothers, so that’s where it comes from,” Kincaid said.
Although Thomas conceives the design, the project is highly collaborative, which is why Werner wanted to come back and do it again this year.
“Not only is this a great way to mix art into the festival, it’s a fun way to meet people. This gives me the chance to work with five other artists I didn’t know before and create something that’s pretty special,” she said.
At the end of the festival, the foundation sells sections of the mural to help raise money for the foundation.
Exposure to the opportunity
All three of the women believe their opportunities would have been different if they didn’t have their UofL connections. For Hendricks, she was able to hone her skillset in an area she cared about because UofL had sustainability courses and organizations.
“I was able to find my niche and get more involved because of it,” she said. “Being involved at UofL helped me define what my broader role in the community is. So many of my opportunities started because of me being a student at UofL and the relationships I made there.”
Werner agreed, noting that the city of Louisville is the perfect size to do as much or as little as you want.
“I think of it as a big small town. There’s always a lot going on and a lot of opportunities, but you could do them all if you wanted to,” she said.
For Kincaid, it’s about not only having the right opportunities, but also having the access.
“When you’re at UofL or an alum, you have so much access to these types of opportunities,” she said. “You never know what opportunities being a UofL student is going to present to you because there is always so much going on. Sometimes people think of the university as this self-contained ecosystem, but it’s so much more than that. UofL has a major presence in this entire community and this festival is just one example of that.”