"What else besides music brings people together like this?" asked a day camper of Union Park this past Sunday at this weekend's annual Pitchfork Music Festival. He was sitting indian style with a group of friends–a notion that was mimicked across the entire park as the sun set and parties across the field's rested and rejuvenated for the weekend's closing acts.
I by no means consider myself a music expert–I determine what I like by how quickly a song gets me to instinctively move my feet or on the other side of the spectrum–cry–but judging by the lineup that was assembled this year, there's a reason Pitchfork has grown to become the record industry's go-to guru for what's under the radar records are most notable and worth listening to for years now.
This year's lineup reflected two reverse spectrums that simultaneously represented our generation's current obsession with the ultra-glamorization of hip hop and the intimate intricacies of indie with a little bit of room for the neutral people pleaser–electronic–in between.
The first day of the weekend long event was easily the mellowest of the three. With a roundup that was lacking the ferocity that Death Grips were destined to bring, a majority of the show-goers were enjoying the seventy degree temps and perusing the park whilst waiting for Beck, the night's headliner, to come on. Day one was all about Beck–anyone you asked in attendance that day was casually enjoying other acts to calm down their excitement for him.
The most eclectic day of the weekend was easily day two, with performances from SZA, Kelela, Perfect Pussy and TuneYards soundtracking Saturday. The crowds were bigger as was the anticipation for the acts. Neutral Milk Hotel, whom I define as musically genre-less, were the night's headliners and as the awaiting audience for the main stage grew, one could hear the different stories of how far some attendees came from to see the band, or how long they've waited their entire lives to do so.
The band's frontman, Jeff Mangum, and his booming voice echoed across the span of the park while the audience echoed his poetry they had been reciting from early cassette tapes, vinyls and CDs since the 90s.
I will admit while I perused the crowd before their set began I doubted how many audience members actually knew Neutral Milk's catalog since I was naive myself of their existence until a few years ago. Combined with the band's inconsistent touring pattern and nonexistent press presence, my eyes widened at the volume of the blended voices singing King of Carrot Flowers at the set's start. After the initial surprise however, I smiled, warmed to know that Mangum's melodies and lyrics had a reach that no doubt healed many hearts. I left their set ten minutes before I assumed it was going to finish not because I was bored, but because I didn't want to see it end. Walking back towards the trains while Mangum wailed and strummed and their signature horns blew–and young people danced, and old couples swayed–was an image I hope to never forget.
Day three ended up being a bigger overall crescendo of excitement than any other day of the festival. It had the biggest turnout as well as turn-ups; within the first two hours you already saw attendees scratched up, drenched in sweat and sprinkled in blood and not because of any violence outbreak but rather pure excitement for the lineups ahead. Acts like Schoolboy Q, Earl Sweatshirt and DJ Spinn attracted the biggest crowds who synonymously cruised from stage to stage to dance to their sets. It was obvious by the last day of the festival weekend that this was indeed a music lover's festival; sure there were people who shifted and shoved to make it to the front of the stage for headlining performances, but the overall atmosphere was one of respect for the artists and the attendees. The festival was intimate enough you could meet someone new and smile and wave at them later that evening while waiting for a set–maybe chat over a Goose Island, maybe realize you two had actually met somewhere previously before.
The passion that Pitchfork-goers had was evident through the anxiousness and desperation to alone get into the festival; a memorable highlight from the last day was a herd of twenty or more teenagers who busted through the security entrance lines and dispersed across the entire park in hopes of blending into the crowds of people in order to hear their favorite bands that day. Their fervent emotions were even more evident of those who were caught and escorted outside by security while gazing back at the booming stages with tear streamed faces. To some it may have seemed like a simple act of reckless rebellion, but to others, including myself, it showcased a realization of how fortunate one was just being able to attend a day of this festival, let alone an entire weekend. Some people go their entire lives without hearing their favorite artist play their favorite song live and experience that self sensation when one feels as if they were singing directly to them–as if they knew it's what they needed to hear and that they will remember that moment forever.
There's no doubt that from the moment the festival gates opened at noon that Sunday that there were people who firmly camped in front of the Green Stage waiting for Kendrick Lamar's closing set later that evening. The Compton created, Grammy nominated rapper performed an almost identical set that mirrored his 2013 Lollapalooza appearance. The only difference was his Pitchfork debut made last year's Lolla–a festival that based solely on numbers, is three times the size and velocity of Pitchfork–look like a mere rehearsal.
Lamar played through his brief but no doubt infectious catalog while all of Union Park danced and sang along. The moment that made Kendrick connect with the Chicago audience more so than Beck or Neutral Milk Hotel however, was a acknowledgment of cross-city understanding. Towards the last half of Lamar's set, he paused the music to ponder on an image reflected upon the Green Stage's jumbotron. It was a sign in the middle of Compton, Los Angeles that read "Jesus is Love". Lamar retold how many murders were committed in front of that very sign.
It was then that Lamar told the audience that there was more than the steep realities we live everyday; pain, poverty and their counterpart, luxury. "More than the money, the women, the weed" Lamar said, "There's something after all of this shit."
It was a brief but bold statement that Chicagoans, more than any other group of city folk in the nation, could identify with. Lamar served that evening's crowd a much needed reminder of reality that we often tend to disregard during hectic days and when reading repeatedly frustrating headlines.
There's more than all of this, Lamar said. And while we grasp onto the hope for something bigger to mend the mess surrounding us, we'll have music to narrate that journey.
–article by BIANCA BETANCOURT