Current DJ: Mary Nisi
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written by Bobby Evers
On the third day of Pitchfork, my true love gave to me: dancing with my friends, no brief evacuation and no warning of a heat advisory.
In the early afternoon of the Sunday of Pitchfork 2019, I got off the red line at Jackson to transfer to the pink line. At this particular CTA station, the escalator had stopped working and was blocked off, with a sign that said “We’re restoring your escalator!” Every time I see this, of course, I am reminded of the Mitch Hedberg "sorry for the convenience" joke. It was still raining when I got to the Ashland pink line stop, despite the fact that the forecast said only a 15% chance of rain. Surely this will add a fine muddy texture to everything.
None of the bands had started yet, but I was here because of my volunteer shift. As stated previously, if I volunteer at the CHIRP table of the Record Fair tent for 2 hours, I get to see the rest of the fest for free. This is after doing 100+ hours of volunteering for the year with the radio station, including producing a storytelling series, spreading the word of CHIRP at live events, and writing CD reviews for our internal music library. Every year I try to bang out as many hours as humanly possible so I can go to Pitchfork for free every year. It is the one example I have in my dumb life of setting a goal, working to achieve it, and having it pay off. Now if I could just apply that to the rest of my life…
Seeing the clothing and jewelry vendors in the Record Fair tent setting up, you could tell day 3 had an electricity about it; today was going to be magical. I stopped by the CHIRP table to check in, though my shift hadn’t started yet. I said hello to a few of the volunteers in the shift before me (shoutout to Alex Gilbert, Melissa Blood, Amanda Mayo, and Bri O’Reilly who officiated a wedding I DJ’d at last Spring), and then went to go find a Kind bar. Every year there are food sponsors who hand out samplers and snacks like Kind Bars, Clif Bars, or a couple years, Twinkies, keep you full until it’s time to gorge on the food vendors festival food.
This year the Kind bars were near the Blue Stage, and while I was there, I noticed that Snail Mail was doing a soundcheck. I stayed and listened for a bit because I love Snail Mail and I had already decided I was going to have to miss her in favor of seeing Charli XCX. The influx of women and femme guitar bands has been a boon to the independent music industry. There are so many inspired and talented artists achieving a sound that is evocative of '90s alternative or pop punk in a way that is fascinating to be a part of as an audience member. To think about an artist who is like 20 being inspired by sounds and styles that sort of came and went 20 years ago is weirdly validating. Like it reminds you what music can do and what people can do with it.
Anyway, I stayed for a song or maybe part of a song, and then went back to start my shift. The Record Fair tent is of course filled with many distros, labels, and record store owners who are selling new and used records, some of which are by the artists at the festival, but some are favorites and rare gems from all over. The CHIRP bins specifically are from donations we receive from our listeners and volunteers, and when you donate, you can get a tax write off.
As soon as I got here I had to start going through our bins. I found a CD called Our Floating Image of Youth that was a compilation of Japanese pop bands, a compilation called The Subway Organization, and a comp of Columbia Country Classics. A lot of the work of shifts like these is trying to make eye contact with people and then nodding at them, which maybe makes them feel compelled to look at your bin. There were a few purchases, I remember one being fairly large and requiring a lot of addition. Towards the latter half of the shift, Jessi took over as supervisor and we agreed to find each other during Charli XCX. Yes, it is fun to see different bands, but really it’s about spending time with your friends. What do we have in this life without human connection?
After my shift ended, I forgot to buy the CDs I found, and went to go watch Clairo. In the haze of 12 years of festivals, sometimes artist performances don’t impact you that deeply and you walk away without a clear memory of what you just saw. It is embarrassing, yet, I have to say I don’t remember what Clairo’s set was like. It was pop. It was fine. Here is a video of her playing the fest; I don’t remember it being like this. I’m sure if I knew all her songs it would have been amazing. That was something I learned towards the end of college; live music is the best thing… to a point. Your level of investment is somewhat determined by how well you know the music, and sometimes that’s on you. I also wasn’t that close and was scanning the crowd for people I recognized. Sometimes Pitchfork feels like this ongoing negotiation of… am I going to watch this band and ditch my friends or am I going to ditch this band and find my friends?
At a certain point, Sean texted me to say that he had seen Tasha and told her she had a great set, even though he had missed it but telling her that made him feel absolved for having missed her set. I asked him where he was so I could come find him and he didn’t write back, so I asked if he was trying to see Amen Dunes (at the Blue Stage) or Khruangbin (at the Red Stage). I wandered over to the Blue Stage and saw him hanging out with all our friends, and my fragile Scorpio heart became Mindy Kaling asking “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns)?”
I was just annoyed because I had been alone for like an hour needlessly and my friend wasn’t responding to my texts, probably because he was talking to people that were present. When I asked him why he hadn’t texted me back he shrugged and was like “I just assumed we’d run into each other eventually.” Which was technically correct, but I would have just come and found them had I known where he was, but also I hadn’t said: “I am alone and looking for people, where are you?” I also saw my old friends Aliza and Becca and chatted with them a bit and watched as Sean and the rest of our friends began walking away from us to move on to the next thing, but again without communicating with me, which brought on a deep insecurity inside me reminiscent of high school or even middle school miscommunications. But also it’s not their job to babysit my tiny Scorpio baby ego and so like whatever. I sat with it a time and decided I needed to just let that shit go. I walked with Becca and Aliza to Khruangbin and watched them for a bit and then both of them were like “beer” or “bathroom” and then I was alone again.
Sean found me and we walked back over to the Blue Stage to watch Neneh Cherry. I was not super familiar with her music but had known her name for years through CHIRP. The other option was Whitney who I had seen before at this festival, so Neneh Cherry it is. Her set was electric; she had a harpist and a percussionist doing bongo drums and weird keys and intense strobe lights that penetrated my brain. I’ve never been high at a Pink Floyd laser show but I imagine this is what it felt like. It was a fascinating experience. And the beats were sick and got me to dance, despite the weight of 2 previous festival days on top of me. At one point her microphone wasn’t working and she said “Technology is amazing until it doesn’t fucking work.” (cut to an image of a broken escalator that could be a perfectly good staircase if it wasn’t blocked by an “under construction” sign). This performance at the 2019 Glastonbury Fest best represents the set we were treated to at Pitchfork.
When she was done I split with Sean to go find food. I decided now would be the time for my annual Connie’s pizza. One slice. Six dollars. Let’s do this.
For Charli XCX I started the set with Katie and Ben and then ended the set with Jessi and her friends as well as a bunch of newer CHIRP friends like Jessica Danglemier and Kathleen Volkers. I had seen Charli XCX once before at a Lolla aftershow. I remember being struck by how not-pop it was. She had a live band playing electric guitar for all her songs. It was basically a rock show. However, what we were seeing that night was definitely a pop show with autotuned vocals, a synth music track, and dancing. She played some favorites, including “I Love It,” a Spice Girls cover, and “Boys.” At one point she introduced a special guest as the queen of Chicago, and then Cupcake came on stage. She ended the set with "1999" which had been on my morning shower playlist for months.
The time had arrived. It was time for Pitchfork to give us Robyn. She’d had her incredible peak in 2010 with Body Talk, which was preceded by several EP’s with singles and it had been 8 years without a full length. Finally, last year we got Honey. It didn’t have the bangers of Body Talk but it was good to have her back. And now we were seeing her. And thanks to Jessi, who had gathered a number of CHIRP friends, I was exactly where I wanted to be; far enough back to not be crowded by the mob, and with enough space to dance, surrounded by friendly faces. I checked in with Sean. He was in the front and expressed some regret about that, but said he would be “dancing on my own” which was very funny. But I was happy with the position we had chosen. At first, the build seemed really slow. Robyn and team seemed to want to create an experience for us at first, a long synthy preamble, smoke, flowing sheets. Where were the bangers? Where were the Fembots? It felt like it was taking forever to actually get started, even though technically it already had. Patience is a virtue.
“Sent to Robyn Immediately” flowed seamlessly into “Honey.” “Indestructible” is when I started to dance. This set gave me a deeper appreciation for her newer single “Ever Again,” which I finally broke down and made my own clean version of so I can play it on the air. In the middle of the set, there was an 8-minute performance of “Between the Lines” where she was doing some theatrics with one of the guys on stage, but we couldn’t really see it from where we were, and the momentum of the set was somewhat derailed for me because of it. Just do the bangers! She came back with a vengeance though on “Dancing On My Own.” It was me and Jessi D, Jenna Chapman, J Dang, Kathleen Volkers, and Sarah Brooks and a bunch of others dancing barefoot in the grass and it was the freest feeling. It was the magic of Pitchfork, manifest. It was me and ten thousand people screaming “I’m in the corner! Watching you kiss her! Whoa oh oh!” Such a perfect way to end the fest. That’s not to say that the set was over, just that they really must have known what they were doing to put Robyn last. My god.
After “Call Your Girlfriend,” I thought it would be good to skip the encore and make it home, rather than compete with a million people trying to get on the pink line. Thus concluded the Christmas of Summer for 2019. I sprang to my sleigh, to my team gave a whistle, and away I flew under a thin layer of gristle. But they heard me exclaim ere I drove out of sight: Happy Pitchfork to all and to all a good night. Same time next year, Pitchfork
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