This review previously appeared on Alt Philanthropy, an online music publication active from March 2016 to April 2020.
PITCHFORK MUSIC FESTIVAL, NAMESAKE OF THE INFAMOUS ONLINE MAGAZINE, TOOK PLACE IN UNION PARK FROM FRIDAY, JULY 19TH TO SUNDAY, JULY 21ST.
Amidst record high temperatures, Pitchfork Music Festival worked to maintain the safety (and sanity) of its guests with copious amounts of free water and cooling vans - a ploy that, for the first time ever, had me thrilled to be sitting on a CTA cooling bus for hours on end. There was something poetic about sweltering heat coinciding with an event designed to bring together the Windy City's eclectic music scene, as if it gave Pitchfork an outlet to make all of the Chicago nuances I have grown up with seem infinitely more charming. For a weekend, I practically survived off of Intelligentsia cold-brew and copious amounts of Connie's Pizza, all to a soundtrack of Mavis Staples and Whitney tunes.
Looking back, here are six acts that made the Pitchfork 2019 experience spectacular:
#1: Sky Ferreira
After a multi-year touring hiatus, Sky Ferreira made her comeback performance on Friday afternoon. Her aspirations for a tenacious comeback were cut short when, after a performance full of technical errors, she was forced to leave the stage with only a parting wave to her fans. Despite it all, she performed beautifully - giving her audience her all amidst a situation that shined light on her candor and professionalism. While I would have loved to hear more from Sky, what she was able to give was more than enough to convince the crowd that she would return full-force.
Friday night I watched sister trio HAIM crush a discography that they have been curating for the greater part of the decade. All multi-instrumentalists, Danielle, Este and Alana began their set with a drum intro to "Falling" before moving onto old favorite "Don't Save Me". It was the first festival that they headlined, so bookers take note...HAIM shines, through original hits to Paula Cole covers. To indulge trendy wording, these "left-of-center" folk icons will surely permeate the genre for many more years to come. This was their first festival headline gig but I am sure it will not be their last.
Bedroom pop queen Clairo stunned with a set of chill favorites, from star-making "Pretty Girl" to amply covered "4EVER" (loved by the likes of Alt Philanthropy staff favorites San Cisco and Sara King). Clairo provides a soundtrack to adolescence, engaging her listeners with stories of conformity, crushes and finding yourself. Growing up is hard enough to figure out and listening to Clairo make songs about what it means to be young is oddly comforting...as if a melodic 'we're all in this together' moment.
Watching Whitney, Chicago local legends and token soundtrack of my youth, was a pure delight. Fans were mesmerised by their set of both tried-and-true tunes from Light Upon the Lake and songs they debuted on the day. I am seldom touched by stage speeches, but I was particularly taken by an anecdote they told about "Follow" being about lost loved ones. I was touched by the emotional breadth contained in a song that I have sung, cheery and clueless, from the passenger-side of a friend's car since I was sixteen. I greatly enjoy that duality - and the idea that traditionally difficult subjects do not have to be met with melancholic piano ballads.
#5: Charli XCX
The Charli XCX name speaks for itself. From the get-go audiences expected a high energy set with stunning outfits and fearless dancing. These expectations were so palpable that, standing in line for the photo pit, I found myself rivalling another photographer to recreate her most iconic moves. Much to our dismay, our erratic arm movements looked nothing like the refined spectacle that Charli provided that day. And maybe that's just it. You can try to recreate the magic behind Charli XCX by wrapping yourself in extravagant trappings and filling your soul with as much girl-power as your chest can hold but she is above mimicry. At the end of the day, all you can do is watch and marvel.
With long-running hits like "Call Your Girlfriend" and "Dancing on my Own", Swedish pop sensation Robyn is an unparalleled talent. She brought her all to her Pitchfork set, surrounded by gaudy, flowing linens and background dancers that shined without detracting from her own splendor. Like Charli, Robyn is a masterful performer, gaining iconoclast status with edgy pop hits that seem to grow in notoriety every year.
During some of her most well-known songs Robyn took a step back, allowing her audience to scream her lyrics into the dead, night air. The crowd lacked no enthusiasm and the space was quickly filled with a sense of spirit that replicated the feeling of dancing, unhinged in a European dive-bar. I've seldom felt that close to an audience. I was just as engaged as a reviewer as I would be if I was there with my closest friends.
It takes someone like Robyn to curate that kind of magic, and it takes a festival like Pitchfork to sustain it.
You can keep updated on next year's Pitchfork Festival here.