By BRADEN LAMMERS
More than 70,000 people are expected to descend upon the banks of the Ohio River this weekend, with a focus on music, bourbon and a bigger purpose.
The region’s largest music festival kicked off Friday afternoon as festival organizers and local officials hosted a news conference in one of this year’s expanded features --the Bourbon Lodge.
The 11th Forecastle arts, music and activism festival will run Friday through Sunday, host more than 50 bands on four stages and an expected crowd of about 75,000 people in Louisville’s Waterfront Park. Since the event was founded in 2002, it has grown from a concert that hosted a few hundred fans to 35,000 for its 10th anniversary show last year.
“In one year I think we’ve effectively doubled the attendance of the festival and I believe we’re well on the way to transforming the event into a true world-class destination,” said Ashley Capps, president of AC Entertainment and Forecastle Festival producer about this year’s event.
It is the second year Capps and AC Entertainment has partnered with Forecastle Founder and “Captain” JK McKnight.
Capps said that the festival helps develop art as an economic base in the city and the event has attracted people from 48 states and more than six countries.
“It’s just so exciting to host all these people in Louisville,” he said.
And the impact to the region is significant. According to Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer’s office the economic impact for the 2012 event was about $2.5 million. With the expected increase in attendance, that economic impact could as much as triple this year, said Phil Miller, deputy director of communications with the mayor’s office.
In addition, an estimated 55 to 60 percent of concertgoers attending this weekend are from out-of-town, Forecastle Spokeswoman Holly Weyler said previously.
Part of what is drawing in those visitors --aside from the music-- is the local attractions surrounding Forecastle.
“What any city wants to have is unique, authentic experiences that make the citizens that live here love their city even more, and then for people to come in from out-of-town and say, ‘this is a great place,’” said Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer.
Highlighting the roots, and the local nature of the festival, is the nautical theme the festival has employed during its more than decade-long run. The forecastle refers to the superstructure at the bow of a ship where the crew is housed, according to the festival website.
McKnight pointed to a farm-to-sea theme this year, tying in the bourbon and farm culture of Kentucky into the long-established nautical theme of the event. Also fitting considering the 85-acre greenspace along the Ohio River that has hosted the festival for several years.
Growing along with the festival is a feature highlighting a local product: bourbon. It is becoming a bigger part of the festival this year with a Bourbon Lodge that is about three times the size of the bourbon tasting tent that was set up at last year’s show.
“It was a total experiment last year,” McKnight said. He explained it was based off a concept from the California-based Outside Lands festival, a San Francisco-based event which features wine as it has ties to nearby Napa Valley.
The experiment paid off.
Three bourbon brands have grown to 11 brands, offering 30 different varieties of bourbon. Also included in the lodge is a pop-up restaurant from Jim ‘N Nick’s and Chef Edward Lee, of Milkwood, called Smoked.
“I think in the future the bourbon element is really going to be looked at as the fourth headliner of Forecastle,” McKnight said.
When asked about the future of the event McKnight said his goal is to keep improving, which extends to increasing the participation in the Forecastle Foundation. The Forecastle Foundation is a non-profit organization designed to educate and protect the global environmental, show how individuals can reduce their carbon footprint and work to preserve the world’s most threatened biodiversity hot spots.
Hot Spots are the richest areas of life on the planet and cover only 2.3 percent of the Earth’s surface, but account for more than 50 percent of all plant and animal species, according to the Forecastle Foundation’s website.
“I always feel that events are a great way to bring people together ... and if it’s for something positive, something more than having fun ... something that’s lasting, it’s all the better,” McKnight said.
The foundation is currently working on two projects in hotspots: one in eastern Kentucky and another in western Brazil.