What surprised and provoked me at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago’s Union Park? A bunch of things.
First, the people. New this year: Metal rimmed non-sunglasses, striped tanks, fitted shorts rolled up exactly once at the hem and Keds. There were also numerous jock/hipster hybrids, who sported the tanks or no shirts at all with Keds or sandals and a bandana. I’m making fun of these trends on men, I can’t do the same for women, which were mostly beautiful whatever they were wearing.
The crowd was mostly youngish in its early 20s. I felt on the older end. I saw a couple of silver-hairs grooving to everything from Liturgy to Schoolboy Q, though. Speaking of Liturgy, I’m disappointed to see few/no pictures of moshers completely covered in mud as a result of the metal band’s set. I thought photographers, some for Pitchfork itself, would surely capture the moment as iconic of the early afternoon rains. Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera phone on me because I didn’t want it damaged.
Liturgy’s sound, when not chaotic, uses chants and humming to produce eerie ambiance. At the beginning of their set, the rain clouds inched closer, and a steady rain began to intensify in stride with opening chanting. The rains were being summoned. It made it OK to get drenched, and a band of aggro-dudes started thrashing in the mud. Some were pushed over and arose caked in fresh mud. Later after the sun came out, some still covered in dried mud wore it as a medal for having attended the day’s early show (Liturgy played at 2:40).
Perhaps the wildest and most dangerous moment of the day came when I was posted up on a convenient tree for Danny Brown’s set. About midway through, a shirtless lad began to scale the tree’s side to gain a better view over the sea of onlookers. In the immediate vicinity, hundreds if not thousands were transfixed by the climber’s laborious efforts, and audible gasps punctuated cheering as the climber struggled his way to a sturdy branch about 20 feet off the ground.
My friend Chris handed the climber his beer, which the climber accepted and grabbed with his toe. He transferred it athletically to his hands and sipped. The crowd erupted at this. Me, being a sensible (and sober) dude, declined this guy’s invite to climb up alongside him. Others did, and struggled their way up. Nobody fell, but if they had, it might have gotten ugly.
Predictably, festival security finally arrived about 15 minutes later. The guard was infuriated, screaming at the top of his lungs and spitting on another would-be tree climber to cut it out. I don’t know if they were kicked out. The last I heard the initial climber say was his name, to which security shrugged him off. Maybe they let him stay and simply made sure nobody else climbed. That tree will either be roped off or gone next year.
Other interesting points came during Schoolboy’s set, when he insisted the mostly white crowd sing along the “N word” during one song chorus (“If it’s ever OK to use the word, now’s the time,” he crowed).
Later on, on the same stage, Danny Brown shocked the non-virginal ears of the crowd by going a cappella with some of his raunchiest lyrics, to prove further he doesn’t give a frick. This while wearing a pair of skinny jeans and a fitted “Jaws” T-shirt. As my friend Nick said, who isn’t a big rap guy, “It was entertaining.”
The last shows of the night were at 8:30. One in the main field where two large stages sit and one at the smaller “Blue” stage among the aforementioned trees where I spent most of my day. A deluge of people rushed to the blue stage to try and catch Canadian hipster du jour Grimes perform, while an older, less stimulated (stoner?) crowd gathered solemnly to observe political post-rock mystery Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
We chose the latter, gazing at the flickering sepia-toned images behind the band before being carried into the Chicago night as the beacon-white needle of Willis Tower peered through the treeline.