This past weekend, the Pitchfork Music Festival took place at Union Park in Chicago, and largely succeeded at bringing large-scale production, artistic talent and amenities to medium-sized crowds. A far cry from a huge festival like Lollapalooza, Pitchfork offers music lovers a chance to check out some great rising artists and up-and-comers without the massive crowds, intense elements and heart-wrenching conflicts of huge festivals.
The majority of the artists Pitchfork slotted in its lineup delivered, especially its headlining and subheadlining acts. Broken Social Scene reunited for their second U.S. show in six years (they had played their first U.S. show the night before at the Metro a few miles away) and assembled a setlist of hits and anthems. Meanwhile, rising sample-based producer The Range drew many passersby through his eclectic sound and DJing. Saturday brought more heat to the festival in the form of a defining Sufjan Stevens headlining performance, with acts like Brian Wilson and Blood Orange warming up the day. On Sunday, FKA twigs defied criticism by putting on a headlining-worthy show while electronic producer Oneohtrix Point Never drew an impressive crowd despite his otherworldly productions.
Festival logistics and organization were some of the best we’ve ever seen. Lines to get in were never too long, workers were friendly and helpful, food and drink options offered a lot of variety and the grounds spread out the festival in a nice, cohesive layout. The Green and Red stages were staggered well so that each time an artist finished on one stage, another artist began performing on the opposite stage. Technically, one could never miss an act on either stage if staying at the festival’s main field since the artists on either stage never conflicted. The sound at all three stages remained powerful and pristine throughout the weekend, and screens at the stages allowed attendees to watch performers even if they were located at the back of the crowds.
As great as the Blue Stage looked and felt around some of the festival’s only trees, it continually experienced technical difficulties that delayed artists’ performances. Artists like Moses Sumney, Anderson .Paak, Holly Herndon, NAO and others compromised with shortened sets due to the myriad technical difficulties. We aren’t sure why this stage constantly juggled with technical issues, but we hope the issues are alleviated next year as artists slotted for the Blue Stage may reconsider playing the festival at all.
While crowds were reportedly thinner than in previous years, some amenities were lacking. The festival apparently took away a number of bathrooms from the site, causing many lines to extend as the nights progressed. While this logistical adjustment makes sense in theory, it was clear Pitchfork underestimated the amount of attendees who would show up later in the weekend (Friday felt very light, but Saturday packed out Union Park as well as any festival). Despite warnings of rain, lightning and thunder, storms missed ruining Pitchfork completely, a thankful nod from Mother Nature.
Overall, Pitchfork Music Festival remains a welcome medium-sized festival in an industry where it seems each festival continually tries to one-up each other in scope. This year brought an assortment of rare acts to Union Park, and despite technical difficulties, the weekend felt like a considerable success. This was our first time attending Pitchfork, but we can see ourselves returning in future years.