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written by Bobby Evers
On the second day of Pitchfork, my true love gave to me...a brief evacuation and a warning of a heat advisory.
As of this past July, I have been coming to Pitchfork for 12 years. I guess technically that is actually 13 festivals. I first heard of the festival in 2007 when my then-girlfriend Laura suggested we drive down to Chicago to see it. Iron & Wine. Cat Power. Even Yoko Ono, definitely a bucket list, must-see-before-you-die personality.
In 2007 I was in a rut; I was a year out of my college bubble, living “in real life” in a small city in Minnesota, not a lot of friends or job prospects, creatively stunted. I knew I needed a change. I had a college friend in Chicago named Stevo who said we could stay with him while we were in town for the fest. He also said there was going to be a room opening up in their apartment and I should definitely consider moving to Chicago. That sounded like too much at the time, but I assured him I would keep it in mind.
The plan was to drive from Rochester, MN to Appleton, WI in my car, hang out a day or two at Laura’s, then drive in Laura’s car to Chicago for the fest. I remember making a road mix that earnestly featured Sufjan Stevens song “Chicago” prominently. When I got to Troy street just south of Diversey, I was blown away by how picturesque the brownstones were, shaded under a line of tall trees. What if this was my street? I wondered. We found out that Stevo had not gotten a ticket for himself to attend the fest with us, and we would have to find our own way there. We were too nervous to drive there and didn’t want to deal with figuring out the deeply complex and unnavigable CTA (transferring from one line to another? Surely we would mess it up somehow). In our defense, for whatever reason that particular weekend the pink line wasn’t stopping at the Ashland stop, so taking the train seemed out of the question anyway.
I remember him describing the park as “definitely walkable” from Logan Square, and now that I have lived here for 12 years, I can safely say it is not a walk I would ever make or suggest anyone make especially in July, before an outdoor music fest. So based on Stevo’s advice, we took the train to the Western Blue line stop and then walked the 2.8 miles on a hot July afternoon down to Union Park. Except we missed our turn and walked all the way down to Roosevelt. We spent the rest of the day deeply uncomfortable and using an umbrella to blot out the sun.
Around the time of the magic hour, I was watching Iron & Wine on the main stage, playing the most beautiful music and I turned my gaze above them, to the Chicago skyline, and I thought to myself “What if I don’t move here?” Recognizing that the thought made me sad, I decided in that moment to move to Chicago, that my instinct was telling me everything I needed to know. It was Pitchfork, Iron & Wine, and the Chicago skyline that did it. Here is a picture of the exact moment I decided to move to Chicago.
Photo (and t-shirt) credit: Laura Phelps
In 2008, I was living in the house Stevo had invited me to live in. I had gotten a volunteer gig through 826CHI, and was able to see Jay Reatard, Spoon, Vampire Weekend, and Fleet Foxes. I missed Bon Iver. By 2009 I was volunteering with CHIRP and I remember seeing new CHIRP friends in the audience during The Flaming Lips, which was one of the most memorable performances I’ve seen of the fest, because of their theatrical stage presence and enormous confetti. And I just kept doing that, every year; volunteer part of the day, see the rest of the fest for free. I have been to every day of Pitchfork (including Fridays) since at least 2010, when I saw Modest Mouse and apparently that was the same year Robyn played for the first time.
Sometimes I would see bands all by myself. Sometimes out of town friends would come with me. Sometimes we would have brunch at Cyndi’s house beforehand and then walk over. Every year is a little different, and after being sunburnt and blissed out for 3 days, you need at least a year to recover.
This year, on Day 2 of the fest, I felt like such a noob because as I was transferring from the Red Line to the Pink Line to go down to Union Park, the Green Line was first, and I asked someone if this was going to the Ashland stop. She pointed at the train map above the door and I saw “Ashland” on it so I jumped on. It then went to Roosevelt and I realized I was no longer in the Loop and I had gotten on the wrong Green Line.
Something similar had happened to Laura and I in 2007. At the end of that Saturday, we decided we would brave the CTA. Sure, the Pink Line wasn’t stopping there (or was it the blue line in 2007?) but the green line was. We ended up going the wrong way and ended up in a section of Chicago that Fox News might hyper-scrutinize. When I think of how wide-eyed and pathetic we must have looked, I am embarrassed. A woman saw us and took pity on us, directed us to a bus going back North. “I don’t want to see you on the news,” she said, ominously.
Everyone on the bus looked hot and pissed off. At one point, two men on the street shoving each other actually rammed themselves into the side of our bus, propelling themselves off and continuing to scuffle. I understand that white people feeling anxious and out of place on the South and West sides is a cliche at this point, but nothing happened to us and we were fine. I even moved here afterward!
This time, though, I got off at Roosevelt, and just waited for the next train going back. As luck would have it, the next train was the correct Green Line train that was going to Ashland, and away I went. As I approached the festival, Katie and Ben texted me from the Chase Sapphire Lounge, which I am made to understand is what you get to enter if you have Pitchfork Plus passes. I am still not clear on the difference between VIP and Pitchfork Plus; I have never had either. Katie offered me the opportunity to use their guest pass if I wanted to come in and charge my phone. I did not get a chance to take her up on this. There were also apparently macarons and velvet couches.
The first band we watched is Lala Lala from Chicago. We sat a shady area stage left of the Red Stage and as the sun moved higher in the sky, the further away the shade moved, and soon I was in the sun again. Lala Lala was very pretty, and performed an incredible version of Perfume Genius’s “Slip Away.” I recognized it immediately. There was also a sax solo that I was very into. I felt a hot breeze and was deeply uncomfortable. When they were done, Ric Wilson began on the opposite stage. It sounded like he said this is his first festival. He lead the audience in a chant of “No sexism, no racism, no homophobia, no transphobia, no bullshit.” His set was fun and chill and just a super positive vibe. He also had a marching band at one point. Admittedly I was not quite as engaged, just enjoying it from the grass in the shade.
After Ric Wilson finished, Katie and Ben and I were treated to one of the breakouts of the 2019 Pitchfork Music Fest. CHAI is difficult to describe. They classify themselves as “punk rock,” but there is definitely a kind of '80s electro-pop feel to it like Le Tigre meets Delta 5, but in Japanese. They had coordinated outfits and dance moves and addressed us in an incredibly charming way. I immediately followed their Instagram. Here is their singer advocating for loving yourself despite the body complexes we all struggle with.
After CHAI wrapped, we had to take a breather in the cooling off bus. Pitchfork provides these buses every year and rarely if ever do I take advantage of them. It’s just never so hot that you need it, but this year I needed it. It was quite crowded, which is rare, and I saw Libby from CHIRP there. We chatted about previous cooling bus experiences until soon it was time to go to Cate Le Bon and try to run into Sean. I found a spot in the shade of the ADA stage. To be honest, I mostly sat in the shade and thought about where else I could be and didn’t give her set the attention it deserved; I was looking for my friend. Eventually, he wanted to move up closer. I let him know I was going to go see Jay Som by the blue stage. Here I found Jessi who interviewed Jay Som for CHIRP. I thought the Jay Som set was good, but would have been better if I had spent more time learning the songs first and trying to be closer. As background music to lying in the grass, it was fine. That is when I realized I should have done that as well with Soccer Mommy. We are in charge of our own good time; the band can only do so much.
However, during the set, I felt a very sharp, very cold breeze, that would have been pleasant as fuck if it weren’t so deeply unsettling. We were in the middle of a heat advisory and that breeze felt like a polar vortex. Knowing that when a hot day and a sudden cold front collide it means tornados, I braced myself for what was next. When Jay Som was done, I saw Cyndi’s crew, as well as Sean, talking with our friend Marion and Joe Monahan from CHIRP. As we were standing a while there was a sudden announcement at the blue stage “Attention! The Pitchfork Music Festival will be closing in 20 minutes. Please head to the exits immediately.”
I told Joe we should head to the Record Fair tent to check in with Jenna. During a previous evacuation day one year, I remember everyone leaving but me huddling under the tent of the Record Fair with the other CHIRP folks while the storm blew over. This time though, the park was evacuating everyone. It wasn’t a tornado or anything, just lightning, but definitely something the festival didn’t want to be liable for. I knew they would bring us back in 20 minutes or whatever. Joe and I walked back to find Sean and Marion and on the way we picked up our friend Amelia Buzzell, aka Buzz. This was her 10th anniversary and she wanted to come just for Saturday to see Belle and Sebastian and others.
During her first year the outfit that she wore that day prompted a photographer to ask if she would be interested in being on their fashion blog for Chicago summer wear. Amelia discovered recently that the blog is now defunct. Now that Joe and I had Amelia, we quickly learned that Sean and Marion had somehow gotten to the exit that was closer to the Record Fair tent near Ogden, while we were over by the exit by Ashland. A very loud thunderbolt exploded above us and park officials were not letting us try to cross the park again, so we had to say goodbye to Sean.
“I bet it won’t even rain,” I said. “It’ll just be 20 minutes and then when it’s done blowing over, we’ll go back inside.” No sooner had I said this than it started raining. I had an umbrella. Joe and Amelia did not. I tried to lead them over to Plummer’s Hall where we have the annual Record Fair in April, but it was raining very hard and they were getting very wet, and we found Cyndi, Brian, Cornell, Margaret, and Kelly, huddled under a thin tree near a restaurant on Randolph. We huddled with them and used their poncho. I think the rain from my umbrella was falling directly onto Brian and I felt bad. Eventually, the rain broke enough for us to make a run for it. Cyndi (or someone) knew of a bar we could go to.
When that was closed, I followed them further East, but soon realized I had lost Joe and Amelia. They were walking further and further and were way ahead of me and we weren’t communicating effectively about where we were headed, but still, I followed. We found ourselves at West End Bar, a sports bar full of people watching a game, who had not just been evacuated. We took over their back room and claimed several tables. If the fest had not been evacuated, Parquet Courts and Kurt Vile would have been playing, who I had seen before at previous Pitchforks. Really, the only thing I wanted to do during this time would have been to find a cooling station and charge my phone; that was my plan for that portion of the festival, and now I was able to be in a dry place, drink water, and charge my phone to nearly 100%.
I’m not sure how long we were gone for; let’s just call it an hour. My phone didn’t get all the way charged, and I was aggressively refreshing the Twitter to see when we could go back in. Unfortunately, they had had some sort of scheduled sponsored post on the Pitchfork Twitter telling people to head over to the Goose Island tent to pick up some beers. Everyone was responding, pointing out that they had been evacuated. They deleted the post. Eventually, they posted an announcement saying they would be opening shortly. I let the others know and we started to head back.
The next band I wanted to see in the lineup was Stereolab and I was so glad they hadn’t been canceled or postponed or anything that would cause me to miss them. At first, I stood with Amelia who shared some fries with me. Then she left to get a good spot for Belle and Sebastian who would be performing their “If You’re Feeling Sinister” album in full. I stood alone a while and soon realized Brian and Cornell were right behind me so I sort of went back by them. Stereolab was great, a lot of fun, and they even played “Lo Boob Oscillator,” a performance that stretched on and on, much to our delight. All the different elements of their band came together in an interesting way that made me glad I didn’t miss them.
When they were done, I believe Brian and Cornell gave me more fries and went to find Cyndi while I walked over to the red stage with Sean for Belle and Sebastian. I wasn’t trying to get as close to Amelia, but there were definitely from “Sinister” songs I wanted to hear. Sean and I shared the fries and then he went to go get a beer. The people around me were all in loud conversations so I moved closer to hear better, and I am glad I did.
There was one year when Belle and Sebastian headlined. It was sprinkling that night and was a beautiful performance, but Stuart Murdoch seemed like such a rock star or something, with girls dancing on the stage; it was as if he had outgrown his tweeness. Seeing him perform these old songs with his gray-haired band members, it was like we got him back, a more intimate place. Highlight of the performance was probably the title track, which was performed the way it was recorded on the album, with strings and the build and the pay off. So beautiful. When it was done, they actually left and came back for an encore. I found Katie and Ben in the audience and shortly thereafter I saw Margaret whose eyes were red.
“I could not stop sobbing,” she said and hugged me as if she had just been in a car accident. She said when she was 17 she went and saw them with her cousin and she listened to the album over and over again. Somehow hearing it now took her back to that time and place in a way she wasn’t expecting and a deep well of emotion started pouring out of her. Like she thought she was going to be sick. She began to compose herself and said, “I’m so glad it’s over.”
We left and found Cyndi and Amelia and the crew and began to watch The Isley Brothers. Davo was very excited for The Isley Brothers who had grown up listening to. Of course, we all had, even if many of us didn’t know it was The Isley Brothers at the time. When the singer came out, he was dressed like a total pimp or a made man. They had perfected a very good funk show with oldies and songs they had made famous. And they had many stories, some of which seemed fudged a little for entertainment value. For example, they said something like “We met Bob Dylan in 1961 and he gave us this song.” It was “Lay Lady Lay” which Dylan released in 1969. Of course, maybe he meant, “We met him in 1961 and became friends with him and then covered his song in 1971,” but the way he stated it made it sound like in 1961 they were given “Lay Lady Lay.” Maybe I misheard him. The entry for “Lay Lady Lay” on Wikipedia also states that Dylan showed it to the Everly Brothers who weren’t sure if he was giving the song to them as a kind of audition or just showing it to them to show off. So maybe there was truth to it.
They also introduced “Twist and Shout” by saying they flew to London and taught it to The Beatles (even though their version was already very popular, The Beatles easily could have just taught themselves from the radio, and also The Isley Brothers didn’t write it). Not to say that The Isley Brothers don’t deserve every accolade, it was just in the casual atmosphere of a music fest his anecdotes and stage banter seemed a little tall. Amelia and I felt old and took the train back up North. I went to bed and recuperated for Day 3.
To Be Continued...
Previous entry: Same Time, Next Year: My 12 Years of Going To Pitchfork (Part 1)