Saturday 8 May 2021
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First Look review: Pitchfork Music Festival, with the help of Kendrick Lamar and St. Vincent, earned its stripes yet again

Kendrick Lamar

Pitchfork photo by Jessica Lehrman

By Scott Hartge
Photos courtesy of Pitchfork Music Festival

Once Chicago starts to thaw out from its gripping winter months, it’s hard for people to not get swept up in the excitement of festival season. Pitchfork Music Festival is certainly one of the festivals to get excited about. Located in Union Park, Pitchfork provides a staggering variety of music from intriguing, up-and-coming acts to large musical titans, as well as affordable food and drinks, and most importantly, manageability. This year’s version had a few hiccups here and there, but overall it was a great success.

Pitchfork crowd - Kristina Pedersen

Photo by Kristina Pedersen

Expectations going in: This was my fourth time attending Pitchfork, so my expectations were high. Pitchfork and its consistent layout always provide a stress-free environment. With three stages, two of which placed in a large field with another tucked away in a corner of the park, the organizers do a great job of using the space in Union Park. Unlike Chicago’s most popular beast of a music festival, Lollapalooza, all the stages here are relatively close to each other, allowing for quick trips from one set to another.

The music: The proximity between stages certainly came in handy with the amount of quality acts that played this year. Music veterans such as Neutral Milk Hotel, Beck, Slowdive and Sun Kil Moon graced the stages with their impressive live shows, while popular new acts like Grimes, Cloud Nothings, Deafheaven and Chicago’s own Twin Peaks played passionately.

My personal favorite act was the cathartic performance given by St Vincent (real name: Annie Clark), who provided a tight performance with her beautiful experimental pop and virtuoso guitar playing. Another favorite of mine, and for the crowd, was the new hip-hop phenomena Kendrick Lamar. He performed with a live band, adding substantial depth and detail to his songs. His Sunday headlining set was the perfect way to end the festival on a cool summer night.

The grub: The food at Pitchfork was what you would normally find at a festival. In other words, there were plenty of choices between burgers, pizza and barbecued meats. What really sets Pitchfork apart, though, is the amount of healthy options available. The tent I visited the most all weekend was operated by Whole Foods and placed strategically next to one of the only water refill stations (more about that unfortunate aspect soon).

The Whole Foods tent sold an assortment of fruits at affordable costs. Spending two dollars on a banana and an apple Beck at Pitchforkwas much more appealing than the eight dollars I spent on a lackluster cheeseburger that upset my stomach. You could also find free food at numerous places, most notably the Chipotle tent. If you had an hour to kill in line, the two free tacos and water bottle from Chipotle could be considered worth it.

Festival perks: The atmosphere at Pitchfork was another great pull. If you had time to spare between acts, you could browse the immense CHIRP Radio record fair. Dozens of record labels and local Chicago record shops set up tables with hundreds of records to dig through. The Flatstock Poster Fair was another enjoyable aspect. An entire street was blocked off for different vendors and artists to sell their music posters, many of which were not available during recent tours. Although the posters could be on the pricey side, they still provided a fun browsing session.

Complaints: The only issue I had was the very limited number of water refill stations — most only provided four or five fountains each. The lines were incredibly long as a result, tempting some folks to just cut the line altogether.

Final thought: Pitchfork, in every aspect, has stayed fairly consistent in recent years, and that is fine by me.