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written by Bobby Evers
On the first day of Pitchfork, my true love gave to me...a warning of a heat advisory. Over the years, I’ve come to think of Pitchfork Music Fest as the Christmas of Summer, and there are many parallels. Very music-heavy! Lots of seasonal fatty foods! Holiday specific fashion choices! Rituals that oscillate between tired cliches and sacred traditions (sometimes simultaneously!) And of course, being around your dear ones. At least that is what the experience has been for me; show up, see who I run into.
This year was no different; I dashed out of the office at about 2 pm, ready to find my friends, and hopped on the 66 bus to Ashland, waited just a few moments for that bus going South, and immediately saw people in festival clothes: band t’s with loud colors, sunglasses, fanny packs. Typically, there’s no one I really care to see during the first slot of the Friday portion of the festival, which is probably a tough spot for a working musician.
I’ll sometimes walk the less than 2-mile distance from my work to Union Park, since it’s a straight shot down Ogden once you get that far West. But, the aforementioned heat advisory made me think I should bus it. Embarrassingly, I didn’t plan my stop correctly and ended up having to backtrack on foot a bit to the vendor entrance (as a CHIRP volunteer, I am able to get in through the vendor entrance (all three days if you play your cards right) which is even further south than the main entrance). I say embarrassingly because I feel after 12 years I should have the bus stops on Ashland memorized by now. Alas.
The vendor entrance leads you around and past the blue stage, passing pallets of bottled water sitting in the hot sun, to the back end of the row of all food vendors. From this angle, you can see teams of food prep staff, some sweaty, some in uniforms, laboring over smoking hot grills or other food prep machinery, wiping their heads with their forearms.
Continuing on your path, you pass one chaos for another, and you’ve entered what the average Pitchfork attendee sees when they get to the food area; to your left is their walk-up counters, and to your right is Black Dog Gelato and then an entire marketplace of Flatstock concert poster screen printers. Turning back to the left, I scanned the food vendors to see what’s what. All I wanted in the world for dinner is a Robinson’s BBQ pulled pork sandwich, but I quickly noticed Robinson’s wasn’t there this year. A cursory glance, and I concluded someone would be able to provide me some kind of pork product and I needed to stop worrying and move on.
I headed right and followed the road to the CHIRP Record Fair tent, located on the Union Park tennis court. This pop-up version of the Record Fair hosted by CHIRP Radio has been happening about as long as the fest itself. It was here in 2007 that my girlfriend at the time bought me a pink Joanna Newsom t-shirt that I have been unable to part with even though it is too stretched out and gross to wear now.
Was that the same year that I bought “Come On Feel The Illinoise” on vinyl? It very well might have been. Presently, I walked through the craft vendors, past a tape label, and found the CHIRP table, where I had volunteered 2 hours every year for 9 years to gain entry to the fest. Here I located Jenna Chapman who runs the fair, Jack Ryan whose radio show I am jealous of, and Linh Nguyen who does design and social media for The First TIme, a storytelling show I help produce. We chatted about this and that and I took the first of like 40 selfies.
A few years ago I noticed that one of the more delightful things about attending the fest was seeing who I could spot in the chaos. The following year I decided that I wanted to get a selfie with every person I actually recognized (always making the same dumb face) and now it’s become a tradition . I’ve also seen some other people start their own as well. In 2018, I even got a selfie with Michelle Zauner from Japanese Breakfast who was doing an artist signing at the Record Fair tent.
Pitchfork provides opportunities for tiny miracles.
Around the corner from the Record Fair tent, on the basketball court, is the Book Fort, where it has lived for the past few years. I reconnected with Martha Bayne who runs Soup and Bread, a food event at The Hideout that raises funds for local pantries for food-insecure people. She told me she also runs the Chicago leg of Belt Publishing, a Midwestern small press. I picked up a copy of her book and mosied over to a table belonging to The Point, a leftist Midwestern magazine. Around the time that their PayPal wasn’t working and I agreed to Venmo the tabler directly, I realized that my entire body was now glazed over in sweat and that I was now feeling the effects of that aforementioned heat advisory. If I recall correctly, the temperature was about 93°F and the “Feels Like” was like 279°. I began to wish I’d brought a second shirt.
I had it in my head that I wanted to see Rico Nasty, possibly based on word of mouth. They were playing at the Blue Stage at 2:45. After a song or two (and talking to my old friend Mary Delaware working the ADA stage) I realized I was not feeling their vibe at that moment and walked back to the large grassy area on the softball field that houses the crowd space for the Red and Green Stages. Standing on the Corner was just finishing up and they had strings and sax and it was much closer to what I was feeling at that particular second. I laid in the grass and hydrated. Valee started at 3:20 on the Red Stage and as I began to immerse myself in the Pitchfork headspace, I started to get self-conscious of existing in my own body.
One of the most jarring aspects of attending the festival (and probably any summer fest) is the per capita amount of conventionally and unconventionally attractive and confident people wearing incredibly creative and amazing clothing (or creative ways to not wear clothing). I gradually became aware of my baggy t-shirt covering my overweight, out-of-shape beach body and had to check in with myself about how I felt. I posted the below self-deprecating IG story and rallied internally.
Around this time I saw my first friend! Davo noticed me before I noticed him but we sat together and talked about how our mutual friend Cyndi (his Feyonce) was on her way. Cyndi is in fact, the queen of Pitchfork, having attended nearly every year. Cyndi even attended the 2005 Intonation festival (the so-called “first Pitchfork”) and saw A.C. Newman. She caught The Decemberists after missing them twice back in Michigan and has told me that every year is better than the last. She told me, and I have noticed this as well, that as she aged out of her twenties, the preoccupation with nervous bullshit concerning other strangers at the fest falls away (what Jenny Slate calls the sharper, more-precious image of oneself). The lore and mythology of the magic of Pitchfork get bigger the more times you participate. I looked forward to Cyndi’s arrival.
After Valee, Davo and I parted ways and I headed closer to the Green Stage to see Sky Ferreira. I had actually seen her before at Pitchfork 2013 and had incorporated her synth-pop songs into my own DJ nights. This time around, she was starting late due to sound problems. You’d think after 10+ years of doing various forms of DJing I would be able to tell you specifically what the problem was, but I don’t know. I just assumed it was a problem of her being able to hear herself in her earpiece. I thought she did a good job despite the handicap, tried to keep it together while performing, but there were a few times she needed a sound person to come out and help and I noticed she did not berate them the way Lauryn Hill did. By this time Cyndi had arrived, as well as our friends Brian and Cornell, and my friend Sean who I lived with in college and who just yesterday I listed as my emergency contact on an apartment rental document.
At 5:15 we had to choose between Julia Holter and Earl Sweatshirt. One of the stresses of the Pitchfork life is you are constantly faced with impossible choices: do I want to see this weird folk artist or this hip hop artist? Do I want to be alone for this set or follow my friends? Do I want to stand in line at this porta potty / food stand or can I hold it til the line dies down? In the end, I chose to follow my friends and we sat in the grass for Julia Holter. We were soon joined by Mary Delaware who had just finished her shift. There weren’t a lot of people there, as a lot of them had chosen Earl Sweatshirt. I found out our friend Kelly had flown in from California for Pitchfork and had even convinced our friend Margaret to come for the first time ever.
Before Julia Holter began, I learned that they were prologuing some of the sets, especially on the Blue Stage, with local poets from the Young Chicago Authors. A lot of them sounded like the slam poets you might hear at Green Mill on Sunday nights. Julia Holter began and we took in her airy weirdness. Her band had electric bagpipes! She even played my favorite song of hers and it has been in my head since then.
After checking in with myself, I decided now would be a good time to find my friends Ben and Katie and maybe figure out this pulled pork situation. I kept seeing Ben and Katie last year but I felt like I didn’t really hang out with them at the fest and had leftover shame about that and wanted to make sure I spent time with them as well. I found them on a blanket in the Julia Holter crowd and laid my bag down and head over to the food. So the very first-world-problem dilemma I was faced with was… Robinson’s was absent.
There was a restaurant that had a pulled pork po’ boy but I didn’t know how much food that would be and I felt insecure about future hunger. And Chicago diner didn’t take cards, so I also couldn’t get any sort of meatless BBQ thing there. I checked with the Beat Kitchen stand to see what the deal was with their BBQ rib taco. They explained that it was a single rib with BBQ sauce, bone-in, served in a blue corn taco shell. It was $6. It’s possible I misunderstood, but I assessed that $12 was a bad price to pay for 2 ribs, or 2 tacos, and I bought a $10 gyro from a gyro place and it was worth it. I quickly grew disenchanted with the food options this year especially because Connie’s pizza raised their prices. Connie’s is there every year, it’s always $4, and is the quintessential festival pizza. You always want a second slice and you always wrestle with it (and sometimes cave and then regret it, or don’t cave and then regret it). This year it was $6 for the same slice and I was so salty about it.
I ate my messy gyro next to Ben and Katie’s blanket in the crowd of the Blue Stage as Soccer Mommy played. I brought Roberto with me (who also does a good radio show) after running into him at the food stands and lamenting at him for like 15 minutes. Soccer Mommy was one of the bands I wanted to see most after becoming obsessed with their song “Still Clean.”
To my chagrin I found that from where we were sitting the sound wasn’t that loud. I wondered if maybe I should have been up front, since they are kind of a quiet, intimate band. They played “Last Girl” and “Your Dog” but they didn’t play “Still Clean” and I was disappointed. I did, however, start composing a playlist in my head of a progression of songs that starts with The Stooges “I Wanna Be Your Dog” followed by, almost as a clarification, “When I Said I Wanted To Be Your Dog” by Jens Lekman, and ending with “Your Dog” by Soccer Mommy where she says “I don’t want to be your fucking dog.” Full circle! Love yourself! When I stood for the last song I found I could hear better and felt bad about sitting and wishing it was louder.
I missed Low in favor of seeing Mavis Staples, the honorary queen of Chicago. On her last live album, she did a blues version of Talking Heads “Slippery People” that is fucking legit, and the ghost of Pitchfork present smiled down on me because she played it live for us that night. They say that every time Mavis Staples covers Talking Heads, an angel gets its wings. Although something odd happened during her set. I felt like, sitting on Ben and Katie’s blanket, I had somehow disengaged from what was happening at the fest and was just letting it be background noise while I tagged along with friends. I felt like I should more attentively be festing, or something. But sometimes that’s the experience you have and it’s not illegitimate. As the meme lords spake, “It really do be like that sometimes.”
By the time HAIM started, I had re-upped my investment in what I was seeing. They did an impressive job of building up the entrance of HAIM. The empty stage was clogged with smokey vapor and on the big monitors the feed cut away from advertisements and the Pitchfork logo and focused on a handheld view of the band members backs as they slowly walked down whatever backstage hallways exist on the Pitchfork stages, making their way, ever closer to the stage. It was trance-like, as if they were going to do some Stevie Nicks spells on us or something.
When they entered the crowd went wild, as crowds often do, and each of the three HAIMS banged on a timpani drum. Also, to my delight, they opened with “Falling.” It was a bold choice. Also bold was performing two Paula Cole songs back to back. Prior to this Sean had questioned HAIM’s value, and upon a closer listen I began to appreciate them as like an indie version of an Adult Contemporary soft rock band, a genre I had grown to appreciate as I got older. Now I liked HAIM more than ever, and it seemed totally appropriate that they would play Paula Cole. They also have a funny Shania Twain cover but they did not play it that night. The culture is eating itself and I am here for it. Plus, it’s always good to just decide the thing you’re doing is fun and find an angle into enjoying yourself, especially when you might not have seen them otherwise if not for in a lineup at a festival.
Around this time I left Ben and Katie’s blanket to go find Sean, Margaret, and Kelly. They were parked on some seats on the softball diamond near a truck hosted by a company that was raising awareness about empathy and diversity, being cognizant of biases, and putting yourself in another person’s shoes. They also had a big board where people could write inspirational messages about why inclusion and intersectionality are important. I wrote about white fragility, saying even if it’s uncomfortable to be confronted with your own biases, you need to hear that shit, so listen, instead of being defensive.
HAIM wrapped and Kelly and Margaret were going to go hang out at a bar nearby since Kelly was visiting for the weekend. I decided to take it easy and ride the hour-long commute back up to Rogers Park. The Ghost of Pitchfork Future had two more full days in store for me, and I wanted to be fresh and crisp and greet the day with my best foot forward. Plus I wanted to take a cold bath to soak off the 100+° heat advisory.
To Be Continued...
Next entry: Same Time, Next Year: My 12 Years of Going To Pitchfork (Part 2)
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