My history and experience with Pitchfork Music Festival—the other notable music festival Chicago has now hosted for what will be its 16th year (minus the year hiatus because of the pandemic) runs deep. It continues to be the festival I personally look forward to on an annual basis and many of the musical acts they have a tendency to showcase are doing both exciting and interesting things with their music while still flying underneath the commercial radar.
In my past “heyday” of music coverage, I first dipped my toes in the festival’s waters back in 2009 for a personal music blog and was so grateful for the opportunity they allowed me to cover it. The headliners at the time included The National, Built to Spill and The Flaming Lips along with a slew of artists/bands who were personal favorites and still are today. After a handful of years, life and parenting took over. And with it went my opportunities to cover Pitchfork.
Fast-forward to nearly 10 years later and I find myself with the same sort of giddiness I had that first time I was approved but with a more honed perspective and approach on covering the weekend’s festivities. In no particular order, here are a bunch of the bands I'm most excited to see next weekend at Union Park. I should also mention these artists came from a VERY LONG list of bands I'm looking forward to seeing!
During my weekend covering Boston Calling, I gained a newer perspective behind the science of a festival’s lineup and began seeing a pattern between artists playing throughout the day and their similarities to the weekend’s headliners. These six bands fit that bill for me for this upcoming weekend (July 21-23).
Vagabon (4 p.m. Saturday / Blue Stage)
I challenged myself to listen to as many of the artists listed in this year’s lineup and am really grateful I did. I'm not gonna lie, at first I wanted to retreat back towards my comfort zone and primarily listen to the bands I do know and have come to really love. But then something happened and I found myself grooving along to the playlist and intrigued to who would get shuffled in next for me to hear. Vagabon the stage name for Cameroonian-American Laetitia Tamko, a self-taught multi-instrumentalist, singer songwriter based in New York and is due to release her third album, Sorry I Haven’t Called this September on Nonesuch Records but also available on Bandcamp. She constantly pushes the envelope creatively to explore new sounds and melodies. I'm looking to see how these musical endeavors translate live on stage. Pitchfork has a history of showcasing strong female musicians on the rise in the industry and I think Vagabon embodies that.
Deeper (1 p.m. Saturday / Green Stage)
I was super psyched when I realized Deeper is a local Chicago band and am looking forward to seeing both during the festival but more excitedly as they continue to grow up. Recently signed to Sub Pop the Chicago quartet will release their third album, Careful! in September. So much of their music is rooted in an era of indie rock that spawned so many familiar guitar hooks and feels I wouldn’t be able to pinpoint which band exactly but I don’t really care to or have to. I just want to turn them up louder and just bathe in their grooves. They feel like an onion to me, I keep listening and hearing new layers in their music that spark that certain feeling that leaves you smiling.
Nation of Language (5:15 p.m. Friday / Red Stage)
I don’t think anyone in my close circle of friends would be surprised by my excitement and suggestion to check out Nation of Language. A good part of my past year has found me in a musical time warp scavenging through record stores for full albums of childhood favorite songs mostly in cassette and compact disc format but definitely not excluding vinyl if I come across it. When I first heard Nation of Language I had to triple take. I was still on my Pitchfork playlist and it hadn’t moved on to a queued up track on Spotify. This indie pop trio out of Brooklyn will also be releasing their third full length album, Strange Disciple in September. I'm super amped they’ll be playing the first night of the festival so I have less time to wait to see them.
Jockstrap (3:20 p.m. Sunday / Red Stage)
I think both Pitchfork and I share a mutual love and enjoyment for musical duos. They’re scattered throughout this year’s festival lineup and has been a favorite staple for me in past festivals I’ve covered. They create these lovely musical dreamscapes that pair abstracted sounds and melodies with Georgia Ellery’s angelic voice. It almost feels like two parallel dust clouds are occurring at the same time and sometimes they cross there’s this symphonic detonation. What I really love about this London duo, they seem like serious musicians who don’t take things too seriously in their music sometimes in a tongue and cheek fashion from some of the samples they blend into their tracks to quite simply their name, Jockstrap. They released their debut full length album, I Love You Jennifer B on Warp records last year.
Youth Lagoon (4:15 p.m. Friday / Green Stage)
Okay..I cheated a little on this one but can you blame me? After an eight year hiatus from the project to work on separate music projects under his own name, Trevor Powers decided to return to his Youth Lagoon project. The chamber pop specialist from Idaho has always had a talent to create these dreamy melodies and hooky choruses that implant themselves in your psyche. As Youth Lagoon, Powers seems to be able to unleash his imaginative storytelling abilities. With the years in between and the clear creative maturity on his recently released, Heaven is a Junkyard I cant wait to see how he presents his music for us live.
Florist (2:45 p.m. Sunday / Blue Stage)
With their atmospheric melodies and Emily Sprague’s languidly softly sung voice there is an overall bittersweet sense of isolation in their music. The indie folk quartet based in Brooklyn’s most recent release was the s/t fourth album Florist available on Bandcamp. I want to be left alone and keep It to myself. I realize how dark that sounds but coming from a household where when struggling with things I needed to have a happy place to get through them. That’s my sentiment towards music in general but even more so when I come across a band like Florist. If weather allows hearing them live on a Sunday afternoon sounds dreamy to me.
The Smile, Big Thief, Bon Iver (8:40 p.m. / Green Stage)
I know it's ideal to keep these sort of previews to some of the newer and younger artists, but I felt like it was important for me personally to mention these three because they have meant a lot to me in so many ways. Most importantly in this case they’ve had a hand in where I am today. They all speak for themselves in their music and there isn’t much I can say that hasn’t already been said about them by better writers. That said, I can speak to their impact on me, Big Thief seemed to had arrived when I stepped away from music and focused more on parenting and travel soccer, so in 2021 when they started amping up last year’s Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You I realized I’d been underneath a rock. They’ll be closing out the evening on Saturday. Fridays headliners, The Smile.. I had no problem knowing who they were and spoke extensively about them in my review of their show in Denver earlier this year. Definitely a band that carried me out from under that proverbial rock and have been back in the studio recording new material for a second album. I'm looking forward to seeing how much this side project has become more expanded since it was conceptualized. In the past couple years the only hints of Justin Vernon Ive heard have mostly been in collaboration with other artists. I heard him in an excellent interview with Rick Rubin on his podcast, Broken Record talking about favorite artists of his and influences that led me down a rabbit hole of new finds. Otherwise that proverbial rock I previously mentioned I was under was definitely kept warm with the comforts of my favorite artists and bands. Bon Iver was definitely one of those. I keep imagining as a kid lifting up a rock and seeing all this life underneath it, I feel like in many senses that was me with Bon Iver being nurtured by the comforts of Vernon’s music through those otherwise darker times in my life. They close out the festival weekend on Sunday night and should be an experience!
As mentioned at the start of this preview, the weekend is jam packed with a lot of exciting artist and bands and I really can’t wait! Tickets are still available here but hurry before the prices raise. In the meantime check out the playlist I put together to get a better idea of why I chose these artists/bands and am looking forward to seeing them live.
Preview Spotify Playlist: