It may not be as well known as other festivals, and it may not have the biggest names or the most mesmerizing recap videos, but that’s what I love about the Pitchfork Music Festival.
It’s not trying to impress anyone. It’s not trying to be the best dressed at the bar, it’s just doing what it does. And what it does is provide a more chill environment for discovering diverse, new music in an amazing city. Because as much fun as massive crowds and otherworldly environments are, sometimes I just want to avoid the chaos.
So for the second time in a row, I decided to make the seven-hour drive from Minneapolis to Chicago for the Pitchfork Music Festival.
There were some groundbreaking moments, amazing after parties, and one artist in particular who I’m convinced will soon be a household name.
Despite my talk about not having big artists, there were still some big performances. A Tribe Called Quest performed their first US concert without Phife Dawg. LCD Soundsystem performed for the first time since their synthesist Gavin Russom came out as transgender. Solange brought a 25-person ensemble on stage and sang individually to fans as she walked through the crowd. Then there were the likes of Nicholas Jaar, Vince Staples, Dirty Projectors, Derrick Carter, and Madame Gandhi, among a slew of others.
Last year’s Pitchfork Music Festival brought in local Chicago-house legend RP Boo, and this year Derrick Carter spun some grooves, so it was good to see that theme continue.
On the hip-hop side, the irony was palpable with Danny Brown, who pranced around on stage in a preppy suit with a razor-blade pattern shirt while sticking out his tongue before playing “Grown Up.”
One particularly notable discovery I made at the festival this year was Joey Purp—a local Chicago rapper who put on a great show before pulling out all the stops for the finale and introducing a surprise guest. The guest was Vic Mensa, another Chicago rapper, who the night before put on a pre-album release party at the brand new Ace Hotel, which I’ll get to later.
Amongst all this, it was a performance Saturday afternoon on the smaller Blue Stage that really caught my attention, and one that made me think I might be witnessing the artist’s last performance on a stage this modest. That artist was Francis and the Lights.
Outfitted in black with red trim, Francis’ spin and slide moves were apparently too much for the electricity which cut out at one point. So what did he do? Crawl up on a speaker, and then on top of a speaker on that speaker. From there he crawled up the stage support beam before leaping back down. All of this before disappearing behind the stage, only to reappear climbing a tree, and singing half a song while perched 15-feet in some branches. Having recently worked with Chance the Rapper, and sounding like a combination of Prince and Phil Collins, it won’t be long before this guy blows up.
Every night the festival ends precisely at 10 p.m. That might sound lame to you, but it’s actually a great opportunity to explore the city and hit the after-parties.
There were plenty of good spots right around Union Park where the festival is held on the Near West Side. On Friday night though, after seeing LCD Soundsystem closed out day one, we made our way East to the Virgin Hotel and partied on a balcony overlooking the city. On our way out in the elevator, we met a couple girls from New York along with some locals and all decided to head to Estelle’s in Wicker Park which is open well into the morning.
On Saturday night, we were lucky enough to be invited to Vic Mensa’s album pre-release party at the brand new Ace Hotel. Mensa played his entire upcoming album, The Autobiography, pausing in between tracks to explain their significance. “This ain’t elevator music. I really appreciate those who really listen to it,” he said while dedicating the album to his dad who was in attendance and apparently wearing Yeezys. Mensa even noted that he helped produce one song himself which samples a track from his favorite Weezer album Pinkerton.
I still feel like we missed a few good parties, but I can’t complain. There’s only so much you can fit in a day, even in Chicago.
When we arrived at the festival on day one, my friends and I all went our separate ways. I went straight to the Renegade Craft Fair tent to search for the rare WU LYF album in the pop-up stands from various record companies. One friend went to one stage, and another friend went to artist poster gallery. This was no issue though as it’s incredibly easy to find people at this festival.
There are only three stages, and two are in an open field which contains a softball diamond pretty much in the middle of the grounds. So getting everyone together was as simple as sending a group text saying “Meet you at second base.”
On the last day, we got our entire crew together in shallow right field and just chilled for a few hours, drinking Goose Island, eating Leghorn Chicken and listening to tunes from Ride and Jamila Woods before letting Nicholas Jaar turn us into zombies.
Of all the performances, and all the parties, this was the best part. I know it sounds sappy, but it’s true… and it just felt good to chill after the long weekend.
After my second year here, I’m starting to think that the Pitchfork Music Festival might secretly be one of the best festivals in the Midwest. If you’re near Chicago, or even thinking about traveling there, I recommend checking it out and not concerning yourself too much with the lineup. If fact, the less you know, the more you’ll discover.