Behind the Scenes with JK McKnight, Founder of the Forecastle Festival

JK McKnight
JK McKnight

Interview by Scott Preston

The first Forecastle was hosted July 20th, 2002, at Tyler Park in Louisville, KY. Organized in one of the most scenic areas in the heart of the city, the 15-acre, Frederick Olmsted designed park proved the perfect foundation for the festival’s early years (Olmsted also designed Central Park, Biltmore Estate, U.S. Capitol Lawn). The original concept was pure: a free, outdoor, summer festival, designed to celebrate the camaraderie of the Louisville music community. A grassroots effort ~ all infrastructure donated, all talent performing for free ~ the festival cost less than $500 to produce. When the sun ascended on the morning of July 20th, several hundred people gathered to see live performances by The Vixen Red, Fire The Saddle, Blue Goat War, and other local favorites. The atmosphere was progressive and positive, and encouraged 21-year-old festival founder JK McKnight to build upon it the following year.

In 2003 JK invited the local art community to join forces in making Forecastle a more inclusive presentation. Mike Ratterman (Zephyr Gallery) headed that effort, organizing a campaign of thirty artists who exhibited underneath the limestone bridge bisecting and defining the park, to create a unique visual experience which correlated with the sonic timbre of live music. In addition to art, a dozen environmental and socially conscious organizations participated, educating the audience on local community issues. When Forecastle 2003 ignited on July 19th, a distinct, equal representation of Louisville music, arts, and activism was presented, and a new format established: Music.Art.Activism®.

Forecastle 2009 will continue building upon the successful format established in 2003, while focusing intensely on three core elements: Music.Art.Activism®. Organizers are planning more amenities to accommodate increasing crowds, as well as year-round marketing and advertising efforts, highlighted by the festival’s Spring and Fall College Tours. With over 10 million people within three hours of the Louisville skyline, Forecastle provides the perfect foundation for the Midwest’s music, art, and activism communities. The festival is, and will continue to be ~ the place where the Midwest connects®.

Cincy Groove: What makes Forecastle different than other festivals?

JK McKnight: The Music.Art.Activism® format is definitely what separates it from all other events. It’s equal representation. It’s something we established early (2003) years before it became popular. We still stay true to it, and the results speak for themselves. Likewise, our incorporation of all our regional participating cities ( into the programming, creating the place “Where the Midwest Connects®”

Cincy Groove: What was the first Forecastle like in 2002? Lineup? size of staff?

JK McKnight: Well, I think I headlined the first Forecastle, so that shows you how far it’s come.

Cincy Groove: When did you realize that this festival had the potential to get really big?

JK McKnight: There was actually a moment when I was in my studio that I remember specifically. I think this was 2004, but I remember walking upstairs and that realization came to me. I said something to myself like – “Well, if my music career doesn’t pan out, at least I have Forecastle.” Little did I know what I was in for.

Cincy Groove: What would you attribute to the incredible growth of the festival over the years?

JK McKnight: The Music.Art.Activism® format, the Riverfront venue, the unique nature of the event, and of course, the affordability.

Cincy Groove: What causes/charities are going to be at the festival this year?

There will be over (65) environmental non-profits and outdoor recreational orgs represented. We will release everything at the end of the month, huge list encompassing the entire Midwest region.

Cincy Groove: How do you decide on who to book for Forecastle?

JK McKnight: Luckily, this year I don’t have to! We’re working with a new talent partner in Cincinnati named Nederlander whose really taking some pressure off my back. They’re pros at this, my work should be in managing all the other event committees (17), while handling sponsorship duties and media partnerships.

Cincy Groove: Any more bands you can tell us about for this years festival?

JK McKnight: Just announced Zappa, Yonder, Umphrey’s, Pretty Lights, Outformation, Kathleen Edwards, The Whigs, and a few others. More on the way…

Cincy Groove: What has been some of the craziest moments at Forecastle?

JK McKnight: 2005 when our main stage was destroyed 2X in accidents en route to the festival, the morning of the festival. Nothing will compare to that. Especially for a 24 years old, who had (5) hours before thousands of people descended on the city’s most sacred piece of scenic park property.

Cincy Groove: What is different about Forecastle this year compared to 2008?

JK McKnight: The level of talent, type of talent, sheer number of people. There’s a lot of different things. One thing I’m particularly excited about is working with the “Sustainable Living Roadshow” in our activism area. Same with the all-electro “Ocean Stage” which were debuting at the fest this year.

Cincy Groove: What bands have influenced you personally?

JK McKnight: Pearl Jam is #1 on the list, more than just their music but their politics. Underneath are many others. Some bands I’m listening to right now include: Interpol, Ting Tings, Clay your Hands and Say Yeah, Lilly Allen, Neil Young, Killers, anything to keep my energy going after consistent, 18-hour days.

Cincy Groove: I see that you are a musician yourself, any projects you are working on?

JK McKnight: I wish! Have had no time since (a) Forecastle 2005 and (b) my studio getting destroyed in 2006 by an insane flood.

Cincy Groove: Who have been your top 5 favorite performers?

JK McKnight:
1. Girl Talk (2007)
2. Z-Trip (2008)
3. Shipping News (2005)
4. Del McCoury Band (2008)
5. Band of Horses (2007)