June 13, 2024


Life is art

The National, cool vendors and rain

Pitchfork Music Festival opened in Union Park on Friday in a steady rain that puddled in the mud, drained off food vendors’ tents onto their iPad cash registers and broke a string of dry summer days that had pushed much of the Chicago area into near drought conditions. Good news for backyard tomatoes, bad timing for a concert. On the other hand, familiar territory for a big Chicago music festival.

“I love you Chicago, thank you so (expletive) much for standing in the rain for an hour!” said rapper Tierra Whack as she closed her afternoon set on Pitchfork’s Red Stage, one of the three music stages at the festival that runs through Sunday.

Pitchfork is back in its usual pre-Lollapalooza time slot this summer, having moved to September last year and been scuppered altogether by the pandemic in 2020. A fest that prides itself on an eclectic lineup, the headliners Friday were indie rockers Parquet Courts and The National as well as Dawn Richard, whose sound was a cocktail of pop, R&B and electronic.

For many in the young but for gosh sakes not teenage crowd, only Pitchfork will do.

“We come every year,” said Joanna Seo of Buffalo Grove, at the festival with a friend. “We don’t even look at the lineup.”

Seo was sporting a designer blue blouse and crafted eye makeup and looked untouched by the rain — they had just shed their ponchos during a break in the clouds. Pitchfork was their demographic, she said, “and it has a really positive energy. It feels very chill.”

What about Lollapalooza? “That’s like half my demographic,” she laughed. “I did Lollapalooza in high school.”

Saturday opens with Chicago rapper CupcakKe and concludes with Mitski. Sunday wraps the weekend with The Roots, the hip-hop band founded by Questlove and Tariq Trotter.

As organized by the formerly Chicago-based music publication that shares its name, Pitchfork has a daily capacity of about 20,000, drawing both local music lovers and out-of-towners. Along with music, it sports a wide array of food vendors and — with the CHIRP Record Fair, Flatstock Poster Fair and Renegade Craft Fair — what are surely the best shopping opportunities of any major Chicago music fest.

The smell of incense filled one of the tents Friday, while the sound of water sloshing filled the other as someone used a broom to sweep out the pooling rainwater.

The tented area offered a welcome respite for many attendees, including Jacob Curtis, from Baltimore, and Hannah Manley, from New York City, who were browsing the shops during a particularly heavy downpour.

Curtis, who was last at Pitchfork in 2015, said the tented areas were coming in handy with the rain.

“It’s great to have more variety, to have music vendors and other small businesses here,” Curtis said, gesturing to the long tables full of bins with records.

The pair were both clad in plastic ponchos, as well as masks.

“I’m personally still stressed about COVID, especially with this new variant,” Manley said. “I’m comfortable with the level of risk I’m taking, but I do wish more people were wearing masks.”

Curtis said he understood that it was an outdoor festival so it makes sense that not everyone is wearing a mask, but he said he wished there were signs to encourage people to wear them in the more enclosed indoor areas.

Following current protocol for major music festivals, Pitchfork is adhering to local COVID-19 guidelines for outdoor events, as set by the Chicago and Illinois departments of public health, and is not requiring face coverings or proof of vaccination or a negative test for entry.

As of this week, all counties in Illinois including Cook were considered high-transmission areas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to the Chicago Department of Public Health, mitigation changes such as mask and vaccine requirements will be made based on Chicago’s hospital burden, which remains low.

Michelle Harned said she’s been living in Chicago for four years but this was her first time at Pitchfork, as the pandemic had hampered previous plans to go.

“It’s great, it’s a good use of the space and has a little bit of everything, music, art and food,” she said.

She had just purchased a permanent bracelet.

“It’s the first of many purchases, there are so many good things here,” she said with a laugh.

The other concern for public gatherings this summer is security, with Pitchfork coming just two weeks after the mass shooting in Highland Park. Attendees and vendors the Tribune spoke with said that didn’t feel like an issue at Pitchfork. Precautions included rules about what you can bring in and all bags were being checked at the entrances.

On July 12, the North Coast Music Festival of electronic music planned for early September in Bridgeview reported on social media that threats had been made against the festival, with a suspect since arrested as well as banned from the festival.

Over by the Blue Stage on Friday, Nicole Schonitzer of Brooklyn looked like she had made her peace with the rain. In a steady downpour, she watched the band SPELLLING sans umbrella or poncho. Formerly of Chicago, she said this was her 10th Pitchfork and it seemed like it rains every year. “But I was only kicked out once” by a storm, she said — fans last had to evacuate the fest in 2019 because of severe weather. As for being soaked, “I’ll dry,” she said.

By the time The National went on the Green Stage at 8:30 p.m., the skies were clearer. The indie rockers from Brooklyn via Ohio, making a Pitchfork return appearance, played their breakout hit “Bloodbuzz Ohio” early and ticked through songs from recent studio albums “Sleep Well Beast” and “I Am Easy to Find,” fully hitting stride with “Day I Die.”

Lead singer Matt Berninger leaned into the song with his signature stage posture — half stiff, half antic, hands clasped hard behind his back and straining toward the microphone. At the end of the night, he left the stage altogether for “Terrible Love,” wandering through the cheering crowd with a cord and camera lights following his path. A few raindrops returned. “Good night, Chicago!”

Pitchfork runs through Sunday in Union Park, 1501 W. Randolph St.; pitchforkmusicfestival.com