As a precursor to this review, here are what our volunteer attendees expected when going to the festival: Sid was more focused on the vibe of the show, while Mike was more concerned with how the artists sounded.
Before going to Pitchfork Fest at Union Park, I planned on focusing on a few artists that I really appreciated from my “pre-P4kfest Playlist” (available on WIIT’s tumblr. page).
Those included Open Mike Eagle, Saba, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Tame Impala, Noname, DRAM, Ms. Lauryn Hill, Zola Jesus, and Nilufer Yanya. I realized that not all artists can properly deliver live. That is not necessarily a bad thing. They brought experimental ideas to the festival, and I enjoyed the ideas more than the performances. Other artists really demonstrated how they could dominate a whole crowd and change the vibe of the festival to their themes. And some artists seemed like they could only entertain their niche groups of superfans from minority groups.
(Before the review starts, I just want to point out that I have no specific education in music. I enjoy music a lot, but this review is going to be unpretentious as it was my first festival, and I was not high enough as everybody else was at the festival to properly feel the vibe.)
Going in to Pitchfork, there were only two acts that I was extremely excited to see: Fleet Foxes and Courtney Barnett. While I was into a few other artists I knew I would be seeing (Tame Impala, Open Mike Eagle, Earl Sweatshirt (despite his eventual cancellation), Girlpool, Noname), I planned on making a point of seeing a bunch of acts new to me and hopefully finding a couple I would enjoy. As far as this goal I had was concerned, Pitchfork Festival did not disappoint (not counting Earl’s cancellation).
Open Mike Eagle
Sid: Open Mike Eagle was a great opener for me. His crowd was average in size, but most people seemed to know his songs. I was very familiar with his best tracks featured from his Spotify, and he went through most of them, including "Ziggy Starfish," "Feel at Home," "Dark Comedy Morning Show," "Hymnal," and "Brick Body Complex." It would have been awesome to have Open Mike Eagle just rap, but I loved how he went the extra mile to make his show into a theme. His music usually revolves around dark comedy. He underlines the ironies of life and its struggles and does a pretty great job at it. So at Pitchfork, he decided to do a therapy sketch. Before starting his performance, he introduced himself as being part of a therapy group that was dealing with anxiety, and throughout his performance, he stopped and asked a member of the public about his problems, before chiming in with oblivious advice. His performance was truly great. As an anxious person myself, I felt like I was really connecting to what he was saying. At some point, he said, “I am giving you permission to put your hands in the air,” and I truly felt like he was talking to me, as I was trying my hardest to blend into the crowd (and I did put my hands up because I am a sheep).
Mike: Hailing from none other than Bronzeville, the South side rap veteran was a great show to kick off the weekend. Open Mike Eagle provides a hip hop concert like no other including his bigger hits, new songs, and even some rhymes off top. Not only that, the crowd was a full part of Eagle’s show. This included the entire crowd being initiated into a new “gang” named after the “greatest thing of all time”: The 1993 Chicago Bulls. A sincere bond was formed between the performer and his crowd as he discussed his mental health issues and gave a sort of friendly conversational discussion with the crowd. If you are looking for a rapper who clearly appreciates his fanbase and crowd more than anything, Open Mike Eagle is the man.
Sid: I then switched stages to see Saba. I was pretty sure that Saba and Open Mike Eagle were performing at the same time, but apparently, they shifted the performance hours because Earl Sweatshirt cancelled at the last minute, and that went along with my schedule perfectly. Saba crushed it. Saba is from Chicago, and yelling to the crowd that you are from Chicago, while performing in Chicago actually pumps everyone up. His energy was always at 100%, and he was amongst the few artists that could shake the crowd and control it. Amongst the few songs that I know of Saba, he performed "Calligraphy," "Photosynthesis," "Stoney," "Broken Girls," and "Life." I do not have much to say about Saba other than if Saba is in town, go see him. He deserves it, and so do you.
Between Saba and Tame Impala, I got really tired, and I realized how exhausting festivals can be, especially when you go alone, with a bunch of camera gear strapped to your back and without the proper dose of alcohol or weed.
Mike: Continuing the day with another Chicago rapper, Saba was on his home turf in the West side. This was very apparent from his obvious excitement and immense energy. With songs like "Broken Girls’" and "Church/Liquor Store," the entire crowd was screaming the hooks with both hands in the air. Using his West side home court advantage, Saba was able to keep the crowd just as energetic as him, even if I did overhear countless jokes about his “PIVOT” chant later in the weekend.
Mike: Formerly “Syd tha Kyd” of Odd Future and known as lead vocalist of Los Angeles based R&B/funk band The Internet, Syd proved her great vocal abilities. She began with an array of her solo work and a Kaytranada cover and closed out her set by first bringing Steve Lacy, and eventually other Internet bandmates, out onto the stage while she performed some of their new work and the single “Girl” from their last album “Ego Death.” While the bandmates prancing around the stage with Syd did seem fun, I must say I was a bit disappointed that the set did not include any live instruments. Although, this was not unreasonable, as the band as a whole did perform at an afterparty, that I unfortunately did not get into, later that night.
Mike: I went into day one of Pitchfork Fest thinking Courtney Barnett would be my favorite act, and I was exactly right. The Aussie rocker came to show off both her vocal and guitar abilities, and what a show it was. Starting her set with newer songs, “Hopefulessness,” “City Looks Pretty,” and “Charity,” the crowd was immediately given a taste of Barnett’s diverse sound ranging from mellow indie pop to riot grrrl. Continuing with fan favorites like “Avant Gardener” and “Elevator Operator,” it seemed to me like her crowd was having more fun than anyone else at the whole festival. Concluding with the more slow and soft “Depreston” followed by back to back guitar heavy jams “History Eraser” and “Pedestrian at Best,” Barnett’s stage presence was great enough for my friend to tell me, “I didn’t know she was so Rock and Roll! I loved it.” If you are looking for your new favorite woman who can f***ing shred, Courtney Barnett is my number one recommendation.
Sid: Tame Impala drew a crowd that I did not expect. I personally discovered Tame Impala by watching Donald Glover’s "Atlanta." However, I got the impression that many people in the crowd have had special moments in their personal lives while “vibing” to the Australian group’s music (like smoking your first joint or having sex for the first time). At that point, I was standing in a tight-packed crowd that was way larger than that of any performances of that day. The crowd was way louder than what the festival had prepared for. Tame Impala opened with “Let It Happen,” while displaying a bunch of electromagnetic field-like animation on the screens to properly give the experience that their music is supposed to give. However, the music was not loud enough. No one could feel the bass and the climaxes of the song. People kept yelling “TURN IT UP,” and even though I am not the greatest Tame Impala fan, I could feel that that was not the performance the crowd deserved. I ended up leaving early.
Mike: Finishing up night one was Kevin Parker’s Australian psychedelic rock band, Tame Impala. Drawing a much larger, albeit more chill crowd than any other show I had seen that day. Providing a light show and visuals clearly meant for a heavy acid trip, as well as unplanned wind that blew Parker’s hair like a model in a bourgeois cologne commercial, the band came ready to provide their infectious rhythms to the crowd. Despite slight rain and wind and a lower than preferable volume, the band completed a full 14 song set followed by a two song encore. While I had only heard Tame Impala in passing prior to Pitchfork, I must say that after seeing their show I have been listening more. While certainly not the best show of the weekend, Tame Impala still did not disappoint any expectations I had for a headliner.
Sid: Although Fleet Foxes was performing that night, I was more excited to see Zola Jesus, Nilufer Yanya, and especially Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith. As a video creator, I love to find music that makes me think visually, and I was really excited to see how those types of artists would perform live. I also listened to Fleet Foxes before the festival, and I did not connect to their music. I am sorry, Fleet Foxes fans.
Sid: I’ll give a full disclaimer about what I thought Zola Jesus’s music was about. I thought that they were a dark techno experimental band. I was very surprised by their hard rock performance during the whole show, but then I realized that I was not properly prepared for them. The hard rock crowd was not that present at Union Park either, although there were a few people that were excited to have Zola Jesus jump down from the stage and touch them. I was expecting more dark techno, or anything close to their album "Okovi," and I have myself to blame for being disappointed at Zola Jesus.
Sid: I listened to very little Nilufer Yanya too for my pre-Pitchfork fest preparation, and I loved “Hey.” I knew from that song what kind of an artist she was, and she was the only artist that I knew would be relaxing to watch perform at the festival, and I was not wrong. The best attribute to Nilufer Yanya’s show was her saxophonist and Yanya’s charm itself. Although I do appreciate artists that can control a crowd, I also loved how Yanya seemed like a shy character that was just doing her songs, and the crowd did not seem to mind at all. I would not pay to see her show again, but I will definitely listen to her on Spotify when my girlfriend leaves me.
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith
Sid: I was awaiting Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s performance the most out of all the artists at Pitchfork. I had listened to her songs, and I wanted to know dearly how she would perform on stage. Her music is very experimental. She produces the kind of music that your friend who is into astrology would listen to. I am not that friend, but as a video maker, her music helps me think of ideas, and I wanted to see whether she would give that same vibe at the festival. It was not the case, but her live performance was less about the music, and more about her. The bass was over the top, and no one seemed to be vibing at all to her music. I was expecting her crowd to be smoking joints and dancing kumbaya all the way throughout. It was more of people just standing around and having conversations with one another. No one was really into the music at all. It was quite disappointing. However, what personally fascinated me was how she was producing the music live. She was essentially singing into the mic. Her voice would then go through her machine and distort her voice into a cosmic sound. She would at the same time be mixing music on her midi keyboard and sound boards. That caught my eye, and I thought that it was fascinating to produce music in that way.
Mike: Back to the topic of girls rocking, Girlpool f***ing rocked. And not only does the group represent women in rock but the LGBTQ+ community as well, as guitarist Cleo Tucker recently came out as transgender. The duo kicked off day two with great energy and noise and kept it up for the entire set. It is quite a spectacle to see best friends Cleo and Harmony jam together on stage. The two have an unmistakable chemistry that persisted during the whole show, and oftentimes the voices of the two seemingly blended together to form one. Girlpool’s uniquely grungy folk punk is surely something to see.
Mike: I went into Blood Orange’s set not knowing much about the band other than their high critical acclaim. The British alternative R&B/electronica outfit fronted by Dev Hynes proved exactly why they have received such acclaim. Starting their set with a Sky Ferreira cover followed by the soulfully groovy “Desirée,” the entire crowd was on their feet and dancing along. Complete with visuals of young men riding wheelies on dirtbikes through the streets of a city and a magnificent live sound, Blood Orange was a show that truly compelled me to dance. Infectious grooves like “Best to You” and “Charcoal Baby,” a single off of their newest album "Negro Swan," made Blood Orange’s set one of the most enjoyable of the weekend. Needless to say, Blood Orange has been on heavy repeat for me after the festival and was the act I was most pleasantly surprised by.
Mike: Fleet Foxes is in large part the reason I decided to go to Pitchfork in the first place. The Seattle folk band has put out some of the best and most important albums in the past 10 years and I was not going to pass up the opportunity to see them live. That being said, Fleet Foxes's alternative indie folk is the absolute best kind of music to see live. With up to ten instruments being played at once, including frontman Robin Pecknold’s flawless vocals, each song of the 82 minute set was truly magical. Introspective, complex ballads like “Cassius, -” and “If You Need To, Keep Time on Me” had the crowd attentively admiring the group, while fan favorites like “White Winter Hymnal,” “Blue Ridge Mountains,” and “Mykonos” had the entire crowd singing along. Finishing the set was a tribute to Chicagoan Curtis Mayfield with The Impressions’s “Fool For You” and a solo encore by Pecknold. Overall, the entrancing melodies and completeness of Fleet Foxes as a whole has made me consider this quite possibly the best live show I have ever seen, but perhaps that is biased.
Mike: The Canadian rock band Japandroids was the next act I saw. Although I did not know any of their music going in, I recognized that they must have been a pretty big deal when they had a special Goose Island Japandroids Pale Ale for sale at the festival. National Public Radio's (NPR's) Will Hermes has described Japandroids’s music as “one part classic rock, and one part punk,” and this was apparent during their performance. The duo had thrashing drums and heavy guitar and provided a great stage presence. It was impressive that just two people were able to fill a stage and keep great energy with the loud rock they played. I had a great time watching the band perform and would definitely see them again.
Sid: Before going to the festival, I had just listened to a few Noname tracks. I enjoyed her casual vibe, and I understood the undertones that she was covering for the LGBTQ+ community. However, when I saw her live, I was disappointed by her lack of energy and childish ways. She had 20 minutes left on her set, and she was already tired. It seemed as though she was counting the minutes until she was over. Luckily, she had friends like Ravyn Lenae to boost her up. Now, I am no performer, and I have no experience about onstage performances and the burdens of it all. However, as an artist with a huge crowd, performing for an hour on that day should have been a piece of cake. At some point, I felt like her complaining made her “CHICAGO! SING WITH ME!” cheers seem like a gig, and it seemed like she did not even care. After that performance, I removed her songs from my personal playlist because her voice was a constant reminder of how awful the performance was.
Mike: Next up was Bronzeville’s own Noname. I had high hopes for the young rapper since I like her first album "Telefone," however I was a bit disappointed with the set. While she did sound very good, the energy was just not there and the performance hardly lasted 45 minutes. While it was cool to see Smino, Saba, and Ravyn Lenae all join her on stage, the set was just not as complete as it should have been.
Mike: Oregon native Michelle Zauner, under the name Japanese Breakfast, and her band were the first act I saw on day three. The indie act brought very smooth sounds and attracted a very enthusiastic crowd. While starting a little slow, after playing some more popular songs like “Road Head” and a cover of The Cranberries “Dreams” the band and crowd had great energy. Being relatively unfamiliar with the band, I was able to enjoy both the few songs I knew and all of those that I did not. Plus, I saw Zauner herself just walking past the artists’ tents later in the day which was pretty cool.
Sid: I was so glad that DRAM was next after Noname. DRAM was a beast. I have not really kept track of DRAM’s tracks throughout the years, although I have listened to his hits "Broccoli" and "Cha-Cha," but that was about all I knew about the man. DRAM is the type of artist that will bring the whole crowd together and make everyone feel great. He cheered the crowd to raise their hands if they loved their mother. His smile was contagious and electric. He debuted his new album “That’s a Girls Name” on that day, and although no one had heard of it, everyone was in the mood to dance and sing to his verses. He also talked about his success and how he became rich. DRAM could have easily closed the festival on that day, if it was not for Ms. Lauryn Hill performing at night.
Mike: Like a fair amount of people there I’m sure, the only D.R.A.M. songs I know are “Cha Cha,” “Broccoli,” and his appearance on Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book. While he had a cheerful stage presence, I was honestly not very impressed with his set. While the songs I did know were fun to see, the lack of live instruments and overall vibe left me a bit disappointed.
Ms. Lauryn Hill
Sid: Ms. Lauryn Hill was late apparently, and no one even noticed that she was late. They had a DJ open her set with some hits from the 1990s. The crowd from where I was standing seemed to enjoy those more than the actual Lauryn Hill performance. When she arrived, the whole crowd seemed to be amazed by this legendary figure. I felt like I was part of a historical performance, and that seemed to be very close to the truth. Now, as aforementioned in the intro of this whole review, I am no music expert. I am 21 years old, and I listen to music that comes to me, and I do not look for music. That means that, before Drake released "Nice for What," I had no clue who Ms. Lauryn Hill was. I do realize that a lot of people feel like I need to be stoned to death for that bit of information, but as I mentioned before, this review was meant to be unpretentious, and that is how it is. However, I kept enjoying Lauryn Hill for the rest of the night until a lady next to me passed out, and everyone around me felt like it was wrong to keep having fun when something like that happened.
Pitchfork Festival was great. It could have been better, but it was great overall!
Mike: To end the festival, and only arriving 30 minutes later than scheduled, was the hip hop legend Ms. Lauryn Hill performing a special show for the 20th anniversary of her classic album "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill." With a great stage live band and tremendous stage presence, Hill performed the entire album including both bonus tracks, out of order. Nevertheless, the performance as a whole was just as smooth and well flowing as the album. The energy was great as the crowd was able to really appreciate the last act. While I was not incredibly familiar with Lauryn Hill’s music, the show definitely still felt special and Hill herself seemed to have a great connection with the crowd. Hill’s classic soulful rap was an incredible way to close out such a great weekend.