What lured me to the Forecastle rock festival last weekend was the Replacements.
The three-day event in Louisville, Ky., was a rare opportunity to see my all-time favorite band, and in a sweet festival atmosphere.
Forecastle, which takes place in a large riverfront park in downtown Louisville, became one of the nation’s premiere festivals this year. Its headliners were impressive: Outkast, Jack White and Beck. More about them later.
The Replacements were the band that drew the most diehard fans.
Paul Westerberg and his reunited, if not patched together, act raged through a 75-minute set Sunday that started with songs from the band’s early punk years and segued into the anthems.
As for Westerberg, nothing has changed. The rock rebel was his flippant and raucous self, only forgetting the lyrics once or twice!
It was a shock and a surprise to see Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day take the stage with the band. Armstrong’s enlistment into the Replacements added punch to the buzzsaw numbers that require a punk guitar.
During one song — I think it was “Merry Go Round” — Westerberg got momentarily flustered and hilariously took it out on his guitar, smashing it on the stage floor. As the song ended, he picked up the shattered guitar — its neck hanging by the strings — and “played” the final lick with a flourish.
“Billy is going to put this on eBay after this show,” he deadpanned, holding up the demolished instrument. Classic Westerberg.
The set list included roaring renditions of “Kiss Me on the Bus,” “Bastards of Young,” “Left of the Dial,” “Alex Chilton,” “Can’t Hardly Wait,” “I’ll Be You” and “Achin’ to Be.”
Like the Replacements, Outkast also has reunited for — at least — a summer festival tour. The uber-talented hip-hop duo was on top of its game Friday night, with Andre 3000 and Big Boi gushing rapid-fire word flow.
Beck, whose set list was a question mark before the show, wowed the massive crowd (estimated at 65,000) with his quirky older stuff. His festival-closing set was backed by a light show.
Jack White, who headlined Saturday, was the biggest rock star on the bill. Surrounding himself with the best players, White brought swagger for two hours.
The guitar hero sent the throng marching off into downtown Louisville, the “Seven Nation Army” riff echoing beneath the highway overpasses.
More highlights: The big four acts were by no means the only Forecastle highlights. My other favorites were Spoon, Brett Dennen, Jenny Lewis (I’m a convert now) and Twenty One Pilots (this band should play at every festival).
Greatest new discovery: Local Natives.
Biggest disappointment: Missing Against Me! and only catching Gary Clark Jr. from the car window because of a traffic jam Friday afternoon heading into town.
Moment of serendipity: Strolling through downtown just as a black tour bus pulled up to trendy and swank Hotel 21C, then watching Jack White walk off moments later. White and his entourage stopped at the bar first, then settled into a window booth for lunch.
Nonmusical surprise: How cool Louisville is.
Just 100 miles down the Ohio River from Cincinnati, Louisville is like Cincy Lite. It has a bustling and large downtown with trendy restaurants, lively nightlife and a big-city vibe.
Attractions include museums (including the Louisville Slugger museum with its 100-foot bat leaning against the building), stadiums (the Louisville Bats are the Reds’ triple-A affiliate) and arenas, theaters, hotels and restored architectural gems everywhere.
Louisville might not be a major-league town, but it punches above its weight. It’s just the right size: walkable but with culture that rivals bigger cities.
If you go, check out the Highlands neighborhood on the east side. It’s anchored by the Baxter Avenue-Bardstown Road corridor, which is lined with eateries, breweries and bars for miles.