The Pitchfork Music Festival kicked off its twelfth year in Chicago’s Union Park on Friday July 14th. Pitchfork has ostensibly created itself a niche in the flood of large corporate owned and sponsored music festivals as a slightly smaller and more compact offering with a more laid-back vibe. The festival has traditionally found a balance between booking large notable headliners who are making the rounds during the summer festival season, talented artists on the rise, and a mix of local artists and designers. This year, while much of the festival stayed true to its roots, there were some minor changes. For 2017, Pitchfork added Pitchfork+, an expanded VIP option that included more amenities and access to exclusive areas within the park, and there was a noticeable increase in the amount of corporate signage spread throughout the grounds. Minor quibbles, honestly, and they must have been successful as single day tickets were in short supply and 3 day passes sold-out prior to the Friday kick off.
With increased ticket sales, comes increased traffic and Pitchfork did an admirable job of handling the growing pains on the fly. Friday saw long lines of festival goers trying to funnel through the single main entrance and there was some grumbling about wait times to access the festival. Organizers responded, and by Saturday a second entrance gate was opened to keep the crowd flowing into the Park. However, once everyone was in the park the lines quickly grew for concessions and restrooms, a nuisance that I am sure festival organizers are already planning to address next year and beyond. Growing pains aside, Pitchfork remains an eclectically curated music festival hosted in the easily traversed confines of Union Park. With only 3 stages in relatively close proximity, there is a minimum of scheduling conflicts and a dedicated music fan can manage to catch most of the scheduled performances… And there were plenty to choose from this year.
Greeted by slightly overcast skies and a wonderful cool breeze, Madame Gandhi launched into the first set of the weekend. Her performance mixed a strong pro-feminist message underpinned by infectious drum textures and electronic rhythms, and made for a powerful start to the day. Next up on the main stage was Washington DC’s Priests. Fronted by the magnetic Katie Alice Greer, Priests delivered a set of songs pulled from their debut album Nothing Feels Natural, that mixed raw punk ferocity with elements of indie rock and new wave. The first performance of the day on the more intimate blue stage, in the corner of the park, fell to former Danity Kane star and R&B singer-songwriter Dawn Richard. Dawn engaged the crowd with a high energy performance that even included backup dancers. With each of the 3 stages having been broken in, the great performances just kept on coming throughout the day. Notable sets included: Durham NC’s Hiss Golden Messenger; A slow building but ultimately satisfying performance from Vince Staples; A monumental drone heavy set from the Thurston Moore Group, that has to be considered one of the favorites on the day; The engaging Frankie Cosmos; Detroit rapper Danny Brown; A hit and miss experimental set from Dirty Projectors; and a headlining set from the mighty LCD Soundsystem. Unfortunately, due to photography restrictions from the band we were unable to capture their set closing out the night. But we did manage to catch a ton of other bands, check out the highlights below.