The dust has finally settled from this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival; for those who went and need some help remembering it, or for those who weren’t there but want to pretend they were, I offer you this best-of-fest recap.
Friday’s musical delights came from The Tallest Man on Earth, who, armed only with an acoustic guitar and a half-hour of stage time, played a beautiful set of folk influenced by bluegrass and awesome. Liars also made an excellent impression with a live show that included plenty of visual spectacle courtesy of charismatic frontman Angus Andrew.
Saturday’s stand-out performances came from live show powerhouses Titus Andronicus (anthemic punk with a wicked live show) and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion (hypnotic blues punk complete with light equipment-smashing thrown into the bargain).
Sunday’s schedule was packed with good bands, but there were a few bands that stood out from the pack. Local Natives, who combine Fleet Foxes-esque vocal harmonies with nostalgic songwriting and an exciting live show, were one of the best acts I saw at the festival. Beach House’s dreamy, shoegazey indie was also lovely live, and Surfer Blood brought a lot of energy and excitement to their set. St Vincent’s live show, although not particularly visually exciting, was so full of beautiful music and the energy that comes with live music performed well that you don’t really mind her not dancing around the stage like she was on fire.
All three nights’ headlining bands put on excellent shows; for my money, Saturday night’s LCD Soundsystem was definitely the best of the three, as they managed to keep the evening’s energy up and kept people dancing through their entire set.
In general, Pitchfork always feels like the best-run of the summer festivals to me; they manage to keep the herd of people generally healthy and happy during the three days they’re milling around Union Park. I like the location, which is small enough to make it possible to see bands scheduled at conflicting times (less ground to cover between stages) while the stages are set up far enough apart not to have any major problems with sound bleed (when the band on the B stage was actually playing, you could not hear what was going on over at the A and C stages).
A few negative points: people complained a lot about the systems in place for buying alcohol. If you wanted to get a beer at the festival, you had to stand in three separate lines: one for a wristband (to prove you were 21), one for tickets (to pay in advance), and one for the beer itself. I can see why they did it that way; over the course of the festival, it would definitely streamline things not to have to card people multiple times and handle money at the beer tents, but I can also see how frustrating it would be to a person who just wants to get a beer and get back to the music.
Due to the hot weather, the line for the one water station this year was extremely long, to the point that I think many people just gave up on it and went without. The festival staff did their best to keep people safe, handing out water to the people in the audience at each stage (they offered it to people from the stage and from the sound booths), although instead of sharing it, many people just poked holes in the tops and sprayed it over people–which felt good for two seconds, but did not help dehydration. The staff and performers also encouraged people to stay responsible and get plenty of water, wear hats if they had them, and generally stay cool in the heat.
I felt like this year, the timing on the stages in the main festival area (A and C) was much more streamlined; there was hardly any waiting between acts, which meant there was always something entertaining going on. Although this meant it wasn’t always possible to get close to acts on both stages, the LED television screens meant you could camp out by one stage during setup without missing the set going on at the other stage. The side stage (B), by having acts booked back to back and nothing going on to distract the audience between performances, seems to have a chronic problem of getting behind schedule.
The people at Pitchfork Fest seem to experiment with their approach to lineups. Last year’s “Write the Night” idea–where fans wrote in to request songs for Friday night’s bands to play–was interesting, although at times, it made for slightly stale sets, and there was quite a bit of waiting in between the night’s four musical acts for setup and sound checks (only the main festival stages were open the first night; the B stage area was roped off). This year’s idea, to have a stage devoted to stand-up comedy Friday night, proved more successful. People gathered around the stage, many sitting the whole evening in the shady grove where the B stage is placed each year. It provided a mellow respite from the heat and energy of the musical acts, and was a refreshing change of pace for a music festival. The only problem, remarked on by several of the comedians during their sets, was that of sound bleed from the very loud main stages. It wasn’t distinct enough to be particularly distracting, but it was loud enough to know it was going on, and created a somewhat surreal experience of knowing you were at a music festival, yet not watching a musical performance.
Although it is to their credit that the people at Pitchfork always include a few local acts (this year’s offerings included The Smith Westerns and Allá), it always feels like a bit of an invasion from elsewhere. Chicago has a lot of really good local music, and it would be nice to see a bigger portion of one of the biggest Chicago-based music festivals featuring local talent next year.