When I tell you I went to a music festival at Union Park in Chicago and experienced a set by a house music legend, it might surprise you to discover that I'm not talking about North Coast Festival. In fact, it was hardly an electronic music festival at all. It was the largely indie and very much uncharted Pitchfork Music Festival.
There’s something to be said for going to a festival that features all the big names and soaking up your favorite genres with a good group of friends. Still, sometimes stepping out of your comfort zone and taking in the new can lead to something better - as it did with me.
It was my first year here and I knew few of the artists. I was an electronic guy in a non-electronic world. I couch surfed with four complete strangers, listened to music I loved, listened to music I hated, and then missed the one artist that everybody came to see (spoiler alert: it was Brian Wilson), all while trying to figure out how to buy beer. It kind of reminded me of a time I visited Paris and had no idea what the hell was going on.
Yes, Anderson .Paak brought a huge crowd, Sufjan Stevens and FKA Twigs were showstoppers, and Chance the Rapper showed up, but these surface-level performances have been discussed enough. Here’s my report of everything else, house legend included, that has been largely unreported.
When RP Boo Broke the Festival
I made a point of dipping out of lunch early on a rooftop bar to get to one of Saturday’s opening performances, and I’m glad I did. House-O-Matics icon RP Boo — threw down his historied dance frenzy known as footwork with fury (and a lot of smiles). His crew formed a dance circle in an impressively large crowd as well as on stage. RP Boo even took a turn himself at the end. Apparently, this was all so intense that the stage never recovered. Seriously, the Blue stage was 20-60 minutes behind for the rest of the festival. For the rest of the festival.
When ‘Empress Of’ Played an After Party
After parties are a big part of the Pitchfork Music Festival. The venue is typically going from Noon to 10:00, but then you just have to know where to look. On Saturday night, we took to Schubas Tavern at Lincoln Hall, a notoriously cool and cozy venue north of the city. There, Empress Of worked the white walls with colorful covers of Queen, Aaliyah and more, donning a track jacket and armed with drumsticks. It was so good I had to make it back for her "real" set on Sunday.
When the Best Set Got Cut Short
If you read my previous article, you know how excited I was to see Lost Under Heaven. I missed seeing lead singer Ellery James Roberts as part of WU LYF, and I wasn’t going to make that mistake again. But then, I almost still did because the Blue Stage was so far behind. By the time LUH took the stage Sunday evening, people were already coming to the see the next act up, Oneohtrix Point Never. LUH actually ended up starting at about the same time Oneohtrix was scheduled, and was then cut off after about 20 minutes—the shortest set time of the festival from what I recall. I’m convinced that much of the crowd had no idea who LUH was, but after a couple songs they may as well have been diehards.
I thought I had Pitchfork pegged before I got there. This was going to be a straight-up music festival with more guitars than I cared to take in. But I was dead wrong. Amongst the guitars there was footwork. Amongst the footwork there were limited, screen-printed posters, art and vintage vinyl. And amongst all of the above there were plenty more surprises.
I managed to catch up with LUH’s lead singer, Ellery James Roberts, before the duo took off after their abbreviated set. I knew he had passed up record deals with his previous band WU LYF before abruptly departing the familiar for something new. He said the hardest part about following his dream was “breaking through self-doubt” and “finding the self-belief to do it.” And then I asked him what advice he had for other people scared to venture into the unknown, to which he replied:
“So you’ve got a life. A lifetime, you know. And it doesn’t really matter, you can stay working a job you hate all your life, or you can bum around and do nothin’ all your life. At the end of it, it doesn’t really matter, it’s what’s given you fulfillment. So I just try and let that guide me. Like follow your bliss.”