Pitchfork Music Festival Day 1: A little heat won’t stop the fun!

Pitchfork Music Festival Day 1

Hello from Chicago’s Union Park! You know the drill. Andrew Goldberg, Catu Berretta and Chris Triunfo will be reporting from Pitchfork Music Festival throughout the weekend. Be sure to check out WRBB’s socials for more content as well! Day 1 was a great start. Here are our thoughts:

Chris: There’s no doubt about it, when it comes to music festivals, Pitchfork’s always manages to take the crown for the year’s most entertaining. While it may not be Chicago’s premiere music festival, and is by no means as large as other festivals like Coachella or Boston Calling, the charm that radiates from Union Park each July is incomparable. The day started with one of my favorite up-and-coming artists, MIKE. The NY rapper is somehow both a mentor to and a student of Earl Sweatshirt, who also gave one of the most energetic sets I’ve seen to date. The rest of the day was just as riveting, with a performance from Pusha T that oozed of professionalism and a passionate set from Mavis Staples. Low gave Chicago one of the most mind-blowing hours it has seen in a while, and left my jaw hanging open. The night ended with HAIM, who premiered a new song and gave the crowd just what they were looking for. My only complaint? Sky Ferreira. I just can’t wrap my head around her music or her personality. Regardless, it was still all worth the heat. Tomorrow will only prove to be better (and hotter), in my opinion. Bring the heat!

Highlight: Low

Lowlight: Sky Ferreira

Andrew: Through thick and thin, Union Park seems to know how to keep moving forward. With waves of heat and sweltering humidity, those heading for Friday’s kick off of Pitchfork Music Festival left it all on the field. Almost every face that I passed presented as defeated, sweating profusely before the first act had even landed on stage. Even with the less than ideal set-up, the music and atmosphere was still ripe for a jam packed day of quality live music. With a lukewarm water bottle in hand, I stepped into the soupy grounds and began the day. 

Early stunners MIKE (a WRBB Block Party alum) and Great Black Music Ensemble were genre-bending, eye-boggling performances. The perfect backdrop to this summer affair, MIKE’s low key and lackadaisical rap has been incredibly influential as of late, helping to push the boundaries for leading voices like Earl Sweatshirt. Great Black Music Ensemble, led by Ernest Dawkins, is an imprint of the Chicago-based Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. With enough musicians on stage to staff a small chamber orchestra, The GMB Ensemble delivered with intricate and interweaving melodies, crafting intense and visceral moments of expression on stage. For the most part, the performance sat between being both spectacle of movement and of musicianship. 

As the day carried on, so did the quality of Friday’s lineup. Rico Nasty confirmed the hustle and bustle behind her meteoric rise as one of rap’s top new acts, and was an absolutely treat to her command the crowd’s energy. Earl Sweatshirt proved his absence at last year’s festival would be forgotten, performing most (if not almost all) of 2018’s critically acclaimed Some Rap Songs. Veteran Pusha T followed up to lead a clinic on delivery, poise, and one of the most electric sets of the day. Later day highlights included an appearance by Mavis Staples—one of the only times I had personally seen the day’s crowd grooving and relaxing. With closers Low and Haim, Friday proves Pitchforks still holds reason to be called the city’s most innovating and exciting festival. 

Highlight: Mavis Staples

Lowlight: Sky Ferreira

Catu: The morning begins with Hoosier Mama pie and coffee, which is to say it starts wonderfully. We board the CTA train. We transfer from the Blue line to the Pink line. Chris and I remark on the fact that our bodies are completely covered in a layer of sweat. We finally reach our destination, Union Park. There is no long winding line and post security, we are greeted with a tub full of icy waters. The first set of the day is Great Black Music Ensemble at the Red Stage, and it sets a high standard for the rest of the weekend. As it advertises, it’s an ensemble of musicians with six different saxophone players huddled in the front, the brass gleaming in the scorching sun. They create a cacophony of deafening, beautifully coordinated sound. The bass is thick in the air, cutting through the waves of heat that suffocate the air. We make our way to the Blue Stage, where Rico Nasty emerges in a long pink wig, holding a joint. She brings an undeniable excitement and confidence to the stage, clearly enjoying herself up there and in turn, the crowd is right there with her. Left and right, people scream, jumping up and down.
I find a patch of grass to sit on. A shirtless glistening man in jeans strolls across the park. I sip at my water and try to will away the headache forming from the sun. The Great Black Music Ensemble is still going, reaching a beautiful conclusion to their set, the instruments flirting with each other they fade in and out of the air. Suddenly, air horns attack the air with vengeance and we are all draw to the Red Stage. Valee is not deterred by the heat and I bop my head along.

At this point, I am ready to sample the festival foods and follow Andrew’s suggestion to get a Polish Sausage at Billy Goat. It’s delicious! With my strength restored, I am ready for Sky Ferreira’s set. Minutes pass and the sun seems to mock us, as we wait at the mercy of the sound team. I watch a crew member dance and belt out the lyrics to Talking Heads’ This Must be The Place as a way to distract myself. Finally, Ferreira walks onto the stage in a beige camisole as Fame by Davide Bowie plays. Lips painted red and adorned in black sunglasses, she looks like a rockstar. Her set is fun, the right amount of pop and alternative rock filling the air. The crowd adores her and sings along to every song. I dance along and then shimmy my way over to see Julia Holter. As a disclaimer, I’ll admit I am not a big fan. I’ve listened to very few of her songs but enough to know there would a bagpipe player onstage. Yet, despite the variety of instruments present (including a violin), I found her stage presence to be non-existent and the set to be utterly unsatisfying.

I give myself a quick break and sit on the curb of a street. I take a picture of my beaten up shoes and wonder what exactly are the symptoms of sun fever. I regret taking AC for granted. But I then decide that if I am going to be defeated by the sun, it cannot be on the first day. So I lug my body to the Red Stage, where Pusha T is about to perform. At first things do not seem promising. The DJ who takes the stage to hype us up comes across as cheesy and I watch as a guy in khakis try and fail to start a mosh pit. But as soon as Pusha takes the stage, the crowd roars with unbridled enthusiasm. It’s an explosive set, whether you’re a fan or not and overall takes the cake for best set of the day.

Soccer Mommy plays simultaneously across the park and I stick around long enough to dramatically sing along to “Your Dog”, before heading into the press tent, in search of pizza. There is none. There are, however, fans so I am satisfied. With only a couple sets left, I gather my strengths and step out, my camera at the ready. Mavis Temple sounds incredible, and the crowd can’t help but move with the rhythm. She’s magnetic. It’s up there with Pusha’s set in terms of energy and just the right pick-me-up as the sun drops and the breeze cools. HAIM is a pleasant set to end the night with, as the weather drops marginally. It’s not exactly an incredible set but wraps the day up nicely. Pitchfork Day 1 has my certified approval and I leave the park feeling content, albeit utterly exhausted from the sun. I guess we’ll find out tomorrow if foregoing sunscreen was a bad or a good.

Highlight: Pusha T
Lowlight: Julia Holter

Photos by Andrew Goldberg, Chris Triunfo and Catu Berretta!

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