Ohh, Pitchfork…Lets see if this works out! I found it interesting in looking back over the weekend’s experience how appropriately lyrics in each of the evenings’ closers encapsulated my takeaway each day.
Ten years later since the last time I had the opportunity to cover Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago and it was everything I had hoped it to be and then some. Much of it was exactly how I remembered it to be along with some fine-tuning that's to be expected and comes with the festival’s maturity over the years.
What Pitchfork Festival does amazingly well is scratch past the surface of the music scene and reveal undiscovered, hidden gems while also spotlighting artists and bands who should be noticed, maybe more than some of the mediocre or “well-connected” bands many music listeners might choose to play. I never fully embraced—or maybe just never realized—it all in the past but doesn’t really matter at this point; what does matter is that I was able to see that enjoy the weekend with this new found perspective.
“Despite these slings
Despite these arrows
I'll force myself to
Despite these slings
Despite these arrows
I'll force myself to turn
—The Smile (Bending Hectic)
This may have been the first Friday in all of my Pitchfork experiences where I arrived early in the day and caught the majority of the Friday lineup. I'm pretty happy with that decision, as this weekend started off with guns blazing for me with local multi-instrumentalist Sen Morimoto. I have to admit, when the lineup was first announced, the overall theme for myself this weekend was embracing a personal comeback and finding that perspective throughout the day and how we evolve over time and can create things with a clearer perspective of what we want and who we are today.
There was a level of honesty and transparency shown through in both Morimoto’s and Grace Ives’ as well as Alvvays' sets which were both refreshing and beautiful. My biggest highlight and takeaway from the entire festival was hands down the Nation of Language's set. Such an explosion of energy from stage that I still feel a bit without words that can best describe the epic levels of their performance. I truly achieve a personal happy place when listening to their music, in general, but to witness and capture them life was on another level entirely.
Equally exciting to see and reconnect with Youth Lagoon and his music after his own rise from literal ashes was nice but felt somewhat distant. Having such a personal connection with his music made it easy for me to still enjoy the performance, but in person, Trevor Powers seemed slightly guarded but that might be him still reacclimating to performing live. Leikeli47, on the other hand, was absolutely guarded in her own way and I would say more so calculating, given her presentation of keeping her identity concealed by a bandana mask. But I also have to say that's the only thing the artist kept concealed as within her music and overall presence on stage she lets it all hang out!! The one downside to her set was, being over 10 minutes late to begin, time was our enemy in the photo pit as the super strict security on the blue stage shooed us away after one song.
The bonus for the Blue Stage for me has always been a nice way to discover acts I'm humbly and completely unaware of and on Friday the local self-described funk/hip-hop artist Ric Wilson was that artist for me. His performance was like an intimate musical celebration! The final two acts on the Green Stage really re-emphasized the tone for the weekend’s festivities as Perfume Genius embodied what I could best imagine to be this fantastical hybrid of David Bowie and Iggy Pop into one person.
And then of course, there's The Smile. The arrows referenced in the pulled lyrics above came with the restriction of photographers allowed to capture the evening's headliners. And despite those figurative arrows getting to capture and experience their performance from crowd was as much of an enjoyable time. Honestly, at times I felt contained within this personal bubble with the band as I tracked them and their performance through my long lens. The nice additions to their set since my last time seeing them were the slew of new songs they shared with us...And as Thom Yorke sang and closed out the evening “Despite these arrows I’ll force myself to turn turn.”
“From way up there it looks so small
From way down here it looks so small
One peculiar organism aren't we all together?
Everybody steps on ants
Everybody eats the plants
Everybody knows to dance even with just one finger”
—Big Thief (Spud Infinity)
Saturday came along with its own bumps and bruises, per se, in more regards to the day’s weather and the brief evacuation it annoyingly caused. The biggest downside was not getting to catch any of Vagabon’s set on the Blue Stage and Snail Mail’s performance all together (sigh). Another spotlight band for me opened up the second day’s action amazingly were the local guys Deeper on the Green Stage. Black Belt Eagle Scout over on the Blue Stage kept that momentum going strong with a high-energy performance and an equally excited crowd.
Luckily, it was the Green Stage again who brought life back to the party after the delay with King Krule and his angst ridden growl. As a perfect lead into the Red Stage’s headliner for the night, Weyes Blood, the Blue Stage’s Yaya Bey had an enchantingly magical set as the skies were fighting with themselves to either fall and wreck the rest of the night or break and hold off. We ended up somewhere in between weather wise, which ended up being just right.
As we were waiting for the last three songs in the Weyes Blood set to be escorted into the photo pit, she had orchestrated a cinematically fantastical experience for the festival’s crowd and the sky decided its time to rain. Given the atmospheric magnitude of her set at this point, it could’ve honestly been snowing on us and I wouldn’t have cared. For those three songs I was transported somewhere majestic and got to capture some sort of living fairy tale. I’m fairly certain I would’ve been fine if for weather reasons the rest of the evening would’ve been cancelled, but as it continued I regained my giddiness.
Thankfully, the clouds broke and the rain ended and in a calm, peaceful manner, Big Thief arrived onstage. Having never experienced the band live, I had no expectations and couldn’t have been happiner with how the second evening concluded. To give you a visual idea of the band’s light-hearted playfulness in their character, bassist Max Oleartchik arrived dressed as a mermaid. Their set was a two-hour-long love affair with the audience and not something I realized in the moment, but they introduced so many new songs throughout the set.
As mentioned in my preview for the festival, I'm still fairly new to the Big Thief fan club but the layers of amazingness they continue to create helps me realize there's so much more of them to discover and listen to.
“There's someone in my head
Tell them I'll be passing on
Tell them we're young mastodons
And it can't be that it's all
And it can't be that it's all
I'm telling you that I do feel you
It's suddenly paths, mama
It ain't about class, mama
And it won't be very long
Oh, it won't be very long”
—Bon Iver (Naeem)
Sunday brought heat, humidity and an action-packed day of so many different acts. It was busy but was also so exciting! It also brought a ton of musical surprises for myself, as I admitted early on there were many artists on the lineup who I initially had no idea about when announced. Honestly, the lineups always run so deep it can be overwhelming trying to get through everyone listed; the flip side to this is the pleasant surprises and takeaways from the weekend.
That sums up most of my Sunday, with Florist over on the Blue Stage being one of the bands I previewed and was looking for to seeing, I had no real plan or expectation from any of the bands starting the day off. Boy was I wrong, I'm kicking myself for not arriving early enough to catch more than the last couple songs from the Red Stage opener, Richika Nayer. But I am glad to had made it over to the Green Stage to capture Lucrecia Dalt. She’s a Columbian experimental musician who created these mesmerizing soundscapes that I could’ve easily spent the rest of the day entranced and listening to her play.
I believe this set the tone for the day for me and I had this reinvigorated energy that took me through all the heat and humidity, excitedly capturing probably more acts than I had initially anticipated. What's pretty amazing about the day was the array of genres spanned throughout the three stages that reminded me of why I've always appreciated what Pitchfork has accomplished and continues to achieve as a music outlet.
Florist was exactly as I had hoped and wanted and was perfection nestled over in the Blue Stage corner. Having no idea what to expect but equally excited to see them live, Jockstrap was next over on the Red Stage. Georgia Ellery dazzled us with her sparkling gold getup as she pranced around stage as her partner in crime, Taylor Skye, sat reserved, similarly to Peanuts' character Schroeder on a piano wearing what looked like a Slap Shot style mullet-like wig. There was something very reminiscent of their performance to past festival favorite alum Sleigh Bells; either way, I really enjoyed it!
The intensity and high energy definitely did not let up from there as the hardcore Philly quartet Soul Goo truly thrashed it over on the Blue Stage, followed by JPEGMAFIA on Green leap-frogging through the pit and making the best out of the heat-related technical difficulties with his mixer. My hometown rep out of ATL, Killer Mike, also did not disappoint as he surprisingly transitioned the tone of the afternoon into the evening with his recreated Sunday service-like performance eulogizing his own past. And towards my own past was where I was ultimately to conclude the third and final night of this wondrous Pitchfork weekend.
But first was a stop through the Red Stage for Kelela, who released her second album, Raven, back in February of this year and has received widespread acclaim. What she had in common with the evening’s headliner was that she was returning from a four-year hiatus, whereas Justin Vernon and his monikered crew Bon Iver were mostly (and probably) just getting us fans ready for something new to come soon.
The other similarity between the final two acts of the night was the volume of sounds the two artists created in somewhat stripped-down presentations. The difference was a little more grandeur and lights on Bon Iver’s part. In the end, where it felt like Kelela is moving forward with her life and the music she creates, Vernon seems to be hopefully starting to move forward with something new and exciting in the near future. Until that day, thanks, Pitchfork, for a wonderful weekend!