For the past seven years the Pitchfork Music Fest has been the centerpiece of my summer. For better or worse, I've headed to Union Park, usually with little to no idea who I was about to see.
My love of the Pitchfork Music Fest wasn't fully realized until last weekend. After getting sucked into a conversation with some folks after the West Fest, I realized that I have incredibly strong feelings about the fest. The Union Park institution has been the impetus for every promoter to think they can and should host a large-scale festival. So why do I care about this one?
I'm not a music nerd. In the past I've been a college radio station program director, DJ, band member and music writer, but I would never consider myself a music nerd. Why? I never read Pitchfork on a regular basis. Sure, I've been to the site, but it's never been bookmarked. The site has nothing to offer me. Though it may sound sacrilegious, I never cared about bands like Destroyer or Fleet Foxes. There's nothing wrong with them, they're just not my cup of tea. Whatever is coming out of Brooklyn has no appeal to me. I'd rather listen to Cheap Trick's first record than anything ever released on DFA Records. Yet I love the festival.
The Pitchfork Music Fest and Pitchfork the site are separate entities. Both are wonderful at what they do and both have critics. Most of their critics are folks attempting to do the same thing but not as well. I'll venture to guess no festival that is targeted towards roughly 20,000 people has been as good as the Pitchfork Music Fest.
The main criticism I hear about the fest, from industry folks, attendees and people angry at life is that the fest is too something. Too crowded. Too small. Too hot (weather, people really complain about the weather at a music festival). Too dusty. Too many big name acts. Too many unknowns. Too corporate. Too many hippies. Let's confront these in order.
It sells out ever year but doesn't push the boundary. The grounds can hold thousands of people more but the festival organizers want people to be able to breathe. They set attendance restrictions so claustrophobic souls can have fun. Rather than pack in 25,000 people, the fest made the right decision to be comfortable. Can you think of one fest that would give up any square footage in exchange for potential dollars?
Any bigger and you're Lollapalooza. Why would you ever want to be Lollapalooza? What's wrong with medium? You know those awesome bands that influenced all the good musicians? How many were Beatles or Stones sized? Quantity does not usually equate quality.
Wear a hat. Bring a fan. Drink water. If the fest were in August it'd be hotter. June is too busy for college aged kids. July is perfect.
See: Too Hot. Rain can not be controlled by man.
Too Many Big Name Acts
Check out the side stage. It's smaller and acts that are now big played there first (Best Coast, Zola Jesus, etc.). It also has shade.
Too Many Unknowns
Go to Lollapalooza.
There is 0 corporate presence at the Handmade Fair, Record Fair, Flatstock and for the first time, Book Fair. Complain about the Axe tent all you want, that simple sponsorship allows local vendors a chance to peddle their wares at a reasonable table rate. The Pitchfork Music Fest is more Chicago friendly than any street fest. Use the big names to make it cheaper for the locals.
Too Many Hippies
I agree. There are too many hippies. This is more of a world problem than music festival issue, but I'll concede this point.
It doesn't matter if you're an uber-fan or a bored urban dweller, there's something to enjoy at every Pitchfork Music Fest. I'll be there this weekend to see as many acts as I possibly can. If I find two acts that I didn't know about before the show like I did in 2011, Curren$y and Kylesa respectively, I'll be a better person. For those that still wish it was bigger, go to corporate festival heaven in a few weeks on the Lakefront. You can buy a three-day ticket for as low as $320! That is super reasonable!