By Amanda Sprecher
1. You actually get to see the bands you want to. The Pitchfork Music Festival has expanded since its 2005 debut, working its way up from one day to a full three-day affair. For this past weekend’s event, the sound systems were improved immensely, and it was more organized. Rarely were there the giant overlaps between bands that force festival-goers to make difficult choices.
Due to the size of Union Park, only the festival was expanded and luckily not the crowds. This year attracted approximately 48,000 people over a three-day period, which might sound big, but compared to larger-scale indie festivals like Coachella, it was very comfortable.
Do you want to check out rising electronic artist James Blake croon at his keyboard from three rows away instead of all the way in the back? Great news: It’s totally doable! One of the best aspects of a smaller-scale festival is that it takes less time to get to the different stages, and there’s no need to camp out all day in front of one stage to see the artists you love. Sure, you might decide to hang around the stage an artist earlier to get closer to L.A. noise rockers Health, but that means you get to discover and dance to the poppy grooves of Toro y Moi before you start moshing. With the exception of the three headlining acts, it’s an actual possibility to get close to the stage for most of the artists you’ve come to Pitchfork to see.
2. The smaller-stage bands of this year are future headliners. The phrase “I saw them before they were big,” signifying the ultimate music cred, is a popular one in the indie world; if you went to Pitchfork, you could be saying it yourself. This year’s headliners — TV on the Radio, Fleet Foxes and Animal Collective — are some of the most successful indie bands working today. Fleet Foxes’ latest sophomore album, Helplessness Blues, is on the Billboard 200 list, and Animal Collective sold out Celebrate Brooklyn’s benefit show in Prospect Park last week. Both artists had played at the festival in earlier years, and retrospectively, that would’ve been a great opportunity to get to see them up close before they blew up. This year’s artists to watch out for will definitely be James Blake, Twin Shadow and rapper Curren$y.
3. The lineup is eclectic. The hipster crowd might start to blur into one homogenized, sweaty Urban Outfitters ad, but the lineup provided an enjoyable and diverse experience. Most notably different from other acts was definitely the overhyped Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, though the broken foot of ringleader Tyler, the Creator took down the energy a notch from his usual antics.
On the same stage following OFWGKTA were legendary indie rockers Superchunk, whose frontman Mac McCaughan was quick to point out they went “from Odd Future … to this,” referring to the traditional four-piece, punk-rock-inspired lineup. Odd Future weren’t the only hip-hop group in attendance: Both Das Racist and Curren$y were very well-received and attended, and they seemed quite at home in the indie-centric atmosphere. Curren$y even joked, “Man, I didn’t know you all were gonna be so chill!”
On Sunday night, one side of the park danced the sun down to electronic Aussie band Cut Copy, while Health fans crowd-surfed and moshed the ground into a muddy pit. Although many festivals offer an interesting lineup (consider Bonnaroo’s manic bill), there is diversity and consistency among the performers at Pitchfork. The festival attracts independent and DIY up-and-coming performers with similar sensibilities. They’re careful with such a small bill, and they cater to their audience. Fans of freak-folk group Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti probably would enjoy DJ Shadow as well, so attendees rarely have to worry if a band they’ve never heard of is going to be disappointing or uninteresting.
4. Your favorite retired band might be there. Pitchfork is known for putting up-and-coming acts onstage, but it most certainly doesn’t forget its indie roots. It’s become a staple of the Pitchfork lineup to showcase beloved older bands that have recently reunited. Past festivals included Slint, Sebadoh and Pavement, and for some fans, the chance to see these reunited artists alone is good enough reason to travel to Chicago from all over the country. This year was no exception.
On Friday, Guided by Voices played with “the classic lineup” led by 54-year-old Robert Pollard, and it was by far one of the most attended performances of the entire weekend by the most enthusiastic and passionate fans. The group exuded more energy with their high kicks and microphone twirls than many of the younger artists and played many crowd favorites from their indie-rock-staple albums Alien Lanes and Bee Thousand.
GBV weren’t the only reunion: Washington, D.C., spazz rockers the Dismemberment Plan, who had been defunct since 2007, stole the show Saturday as they danced, bantered and rocked the crowd with epic singalongs. They even surprised with a cover of Robyn’s “Dancehall Queen” — all while staring straight into the sun, which glared down directly at the main stage during their entire set.
5. It gives the most bang for your buck. High prices often deter music fans from festivals: The price of a ticket, food, water and merchandise can add up to spending the equivalent of a month’s rent for a three-day weekend. Lollapalooza three-day passes run up to $215, and although it has more artists, you must reasonably consider how many you can actually see within one weekend, especially with many shows conflicting. Pitchfork three-day passes were $110, and $45 for a day pass, which is incredibly reasonable. In fact, if you just wanted to see all three headliners at their own shows, it would run you about the same amount, if not more. With 45 artists performing, the whole thing comes out to about $2.50 an act.
The food was reasonably priced: A relatively large slice of Chicago-style deep-dish pizza was $4, and although water was around $2, it was regularly handed out for free by the festival staff before and during shows. A good festival doesn’t let you get dehydrated. On top of the show itself, the festival hosts several tents where local Chicago businesses and independent labels come to sell crates full of vinyl and original artwork. Pitchfork is definitely one of the most-affordable festivals around, and continues on a trend of improving every year. At this rate, you probably can’t afford to miss its 2012 incarnation.
Did you check out the Pitchfork fest? Share your reviews in the comments!