itchfork Music Festival’s 14th annual gathering brought all the fun and chaos that goes along with three days of music, weather and thousands of people sharing space-time in Chicago's Union Park. It’s hard to describe the vibe of Pitchfork, there isn’t a single genre that dominates the stages and it seems that the audience comes from very different circles. Some fans are older and bring their family along to have a day in the sun that ends with a HAIM or Charli XCX set. Others are young and they’re “just here for Earl.” Pitchfork is ‘New-Age’ in the sense that it brings together the acceptable fringe of innovative and avant-garde music-making with the pop sensations that dominate our radios, while also excluding any acts that could be dubbed electronic. A good visual to describe Pitchfork is a man smoking a blunt next to a baby-bearing family whilst listening to a Whitney set. All corners of society meet here to listen to their favorite artist’s set and learn about new types of music as the day goes along.
Day One of Pitchfork was defined by the sun with a record breaking heat wave descending upon the Windy City bringing the temperature to the 90s. Hot attendees flocked to the shade and cooling buses provided by the CTA to survive the sweltering summer day. The music began around 1PM with exploratory improvisations provided by the Great Black Ensemble at the Green Stage which occupied a large tract of land in Union Park that also included the Red Stage. Despite the close proximity of the stages, sound bleeds were predominantly avoided with a staggered schedule that only allowed one artist between the two stages. This created a flow of unified movements among the attendees from Red to Green or Red to Blue and vice versa. Considering most festivals bombard you with three or four acts in the same time slot, the limited choice was refreshing.
After some chilled rhymes from MIKE and a summer serenade by Standing on the Corner’s 33 person supergroup, the energy at Pitchfork spiked.
Rico Nasty created a frenzy at the tree-tucked Blue Stage with bass-booming tracks like ‘Smack a Bitch’ and ‘Bitch I’m Nasty’. The rapper’s fiery energy hypnotized the crowd and the primary reaction to this trance was to scream her name, ‘Rico’. Fans wanting to stay on the hip-hop vibe eventually moseyed over to the Red Stage where Valee was performing. After Valee dealt out some nonchalant rhymes the vibe began to shift as Sky Ferreria powered through some technical difficulties to provide some lovely pop ballads at the Green Stage while Grapetooth created a synth-rock dance party at the Blue Stage.
Despite the high-quality music, die-hard Earl Sweatshirt fans could not be convinced to leave the Red Stage which would soon house their favorite rapper. Earl Sweatshirt was billed for Pitchfork 2018 but wasn’t able to perform thus creating a sizeable crowd for his time slot this year.
Earl arrived at the Red Stage wearing a white t-shirt donning a South African flag and gave a lengthy set of his signature monotone rap laced with the visual imagery of his emotions. The music continued with a powerful set from Pusha T that showcased his intense lyrical talent with an acapella performance of ‘If You Know You Know’ and an introduction to what he called the ‘Daytona Experience.’ Soccer Mommy played the same slot as Pusha T at the Blue Stage giving an excellent rendition of ‘Dog’ and exhibiting the showmanship that landed them a spot on Vampire Weekend’s 2019 Tour. As dusk approached the vibe became historic with a performance from Rock & Roll and Blues Hall of Famer Mavis Staples. Staples gained fame with her band The Staple Singers but became an integral personality in the Civil Rights Movement, which in many ways defines her personality. Staples’ happy demeanor and beautiful voice are offset by her poignant statements like “Things have gotta change” and “Everything is upside down.” Staples showed that Pitchfork crowd her thriving spirit of ambition and protest with talks of her new album along with her dislike for ‘Orange Presidents’.
The night concluded with a performance from HAIM, a band of sisters that have been topping the charts over the past few years with tracks like ‘The Wire’ and ‘Want You Back’. The sisters nervously revealed that this was their first time headlining a festival which motivated them to perform acoustically for the first time. As HAIM’s covers of Paula Cole drifted in the air the heated first day of Pitchfork came to an end.
Day Two began with normalcy, divulged into chaos for about 100 minutes and eventually returned to normalcy again. Saturday began with a supergroup set from Lala Lala and a performance from Ric Wilson but the heat remained. The audience was visibly exhausted but nothing would stop them from enjoying sets from CHAI, the electro-punk rock band from Japan that you never heard of and the Bitchin Bajas, which is the meta side-project of the Chicago band Cave.
Cate Le Bon, who is currently touring with Kurt Vile, then took over the Red Stage and powered through the heat in a dress that “doesn’t breathe.” The intense heat was relieved by a cold gust of wind during Jay Som’s set that felt like A/C to the appreciative crowd, but this change of temperature was the first sign of the incoming storm. Parquet Courts played for most of their time slot but had to cut it short due to everyone being evacuated. Many were angered by the decision but the storm that rolled through rocked the city for more than an hour with powerful rain. The thunder roared and things seemed quite gloomy for a while but the sun quickly returned.
Pitchfork evacuated just before 5PM and the music was beginning again around 6:45PM. The crowd was still dripping from their brief encounter with an intense storm but the words of Stereolab’s leading lady, Laetitia Sadier, soothed the crowd, “The heavens decided YES, it’s better than nothing.”
Stereolab then opened their set with ‘Percolator’ and moved into ‘French Disco’ bringing people’s spirits way up despite the absence of Kurt Vile and Amber Mark. Freddie Gibbs also offered some lyrical annihilation at the Blue Stage before Belle & Sebastian performed their If You’re Feeling Sinister album in full. Jeremih arrived fashionably late to his set but made up for it with his unbelievable vocals. When 8:30 came around everyone gathered at the Green Stage for the most anticipated set of the weekend.The Isley Brothers have been shaping musical culture for the last 60 years and their tunes seem to implant themselves in different genres throughout the generations. This Pitchfork performance celebrated the 60th anniversary of their single ‘Shout’ and their historic presence could be felt throughout the crowd.
There are not many sets that can integrate stories of Bob Dylan and The Beatles with nods to Biggie Smalls and Ice Cube but that is exactly the kind of longevity that The Isley Brothers have created. It was an honor and privilege for everyone in the crowd, especially considering most of the artists playing at Pitchfork were probably influenced in some way by this timeless group's music.
Day Three started with a scare as Pitchfork staff hesitated to open the gates due to some lightning which resulted in Dreezy not being able to perform. The weather eventually cleared and things got started with a set from Flasher, followed by black midi which gave by far the loudest set of the weekend. Unfortunately it was paired with a very soft set from Tasha at the Blue Stage but the crowd seemed to ignore the sound bleed. This sort of scene exemplified the diversity of Pitchfork, some fans choose to mosh in the mud while others decide to sway in the wind to a completely different genre. The environment changes with every set and this was definitely the case as JPEGMAFIA played just before Ibeyi and Clairo.
After ‘Peggy’ screamed his raps over bass-laced beats and hyped up the crowd with mosh pits, Clairo delivers a cute bunch of pop songs that calm them down.The only things that bring these artists together is our new generation that can find the beauty in the darkness while also enjoying a set from Robyn. Sunday continued with impressive sets from the pride of Texas, Khruangbin and Chicago's own Whitney. So many artists playing that last day like Charli XCX or Snail Mail felt like headliners and to see so much talent in one day felt very invigorating. Pitchfork’s diverse atmosphere reflects our generation's powerful ability to choose, the lineup felt like the shuffling of a music aficionado’s playlist, jumping between the empowering vibes of Ibeyi and Rico Nasty to the tearful ballads of Soccer Mommy to the rhymes of Earl Sweatshirt. Pitchfork reflects this increased ability to choose, we are able to experience more nuanced versions of reality, new sub-genres to contrast our emotions and new artists to get us through the day.