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The Vault: Forecastle Festival's humble beginnings

Forecastle began as a small festival in Tyler Park and nearly 20 years later, more than 75,000 people attend to see some of the biggest names in music.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — It was all a dream, with humble beginnings to say the least.

J.K. McKnight, a then 21-year-old St. Xavier alum held the first Forecastle Festival in Tyler Park in 2003.

He said they started out with about $252 and about 50 volunteers.

The small event expanded quickly, outgrowing Tyler Park, moving across Bardstown Road to Cherokee Park. Then in 2005, at the Mellwood Art Center.

The indoor-outdoor event had an emphasis on one of the main missions of the festival all along – activism.

The 2006 show was huge for festival organizers, but popularity pushed it to yet another new location – in downtown Louisville at the Belvedere.

People from more than 30 states and four countries began coming for the festival with 20,000 people purchasing tickets.

It was the place McKnight said, you can learn about going green, staying green and doing it stress-free.

Despite the festival’s booming popularity, McKnight stayed at the heart of it. His hard work paid off and in 2010, he made the decision to move it to Waterfront Park.

It was the place he said had everything the festival needed including a nautical backdrop matching the festival’s title “Forecastle” – named for the ship that houses the crew and reflects McKnight’s love for the water.

As the festival continued to grow, the mission never changed. McKnight said he knew he had something with music, art and activism platform.

The growth from 250 people to 75,000 wasn’t easy and until 2011, every detail fell to McKnight who was assisted by family as volunteers.

Since then, the groups who work behind the largest festivals in the country have stepped in to help, but McKnight has always said his small festival will never forget where and how it started.

"Kentucky and Louisville is just so part of the DNA of the festival. If you don't buy into that then you don't belong here."

This year's Forecastle Festival will be held for the first time during Memorial Day weekend. 

For more information and how to get tickets, click here

Contact reporter Shay McAlister at smcalister@whas11.com. Follow her on Twitter (@WHAS11Shay) and Facebook.

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