The Scene: The MFJ Chief Reviews Pitchfork Music Festival 2014

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Front row seat at Pitchfork 2014

The annual Pitchfork Music Festival has long been on my bucket list for a “must-see” fest. Since the early days of the Intertubes, Pitchfork.com stood out as one of the leaders of the new media with a fresh style of reviewing music. So when they started a music festival back in 2006, it instantly grabbed my attention. It’s taken longer than I wanted, but a change in travel plans let me work in a 48 hour layover and a visit to the king of hipster festivals.

Check out the Pitchfork 2014 Photo Gallery

The Scene
Like the website, the Pitchfork Music Festival aims towards the edges of music featuring emerging artists with some national touring acts. Bouncing around the three stages meant seeing hip-hop to to experimental electronica to nineties classic indie rock and everything that might be found in between.

One of the first people I met described the crowd at Pitchfork as “aging hipsters”. Unlike the much larger Lollapalooza, Pitchfork sees about a quarter size of that crowd and a lot less of those darn kids. The vibe at Pitchfork is relaxed and chill with plenty of activities in between sets. After a red-eye flight from the West Coast on Friday, I arrived Saturday ready to experience the festival as a fan. I spent much of the drifting from stage to stage catching acts I have never seen live before like Circulatory System and Cloud Nothings. The reason people love music festivals so much is because of a day like Saturday. Lying in the grass under the warm sun with a cold beer enjoying music with interesting people is the essence of the experience.

The Venue:
Union Park in downtown Chicago is a perfectly pleasant park in a bustling metropolitan city. Located right off the train, the venue is easy to access and with plenty of green grass to enjoy the shows. All the events at Pitchfork are comfortably tucked close together which makes it easy to navigate, although late in the day can become fairly crowded.

Three stages at Pitchfork simply named Red, Blue, and Green. The two main stages Red and Green shared the bulk of the festival ground with a giant field. Acts rotated back and forth between the two so right in the middle is the perfect place for a base camp — Pitchfork does allow fans to bring in chairs and blankets.  A lack of trees at the two main stages meant shade was a premium and I found myself frequently drawn to to Blue Stage to cool off  in the late afternoon.

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Random Music Notes:

  • There’s nothing quite like when a set goes completely wrong and the artists have to improvise. A misbehaving keyboard led to a very intense Devon Welsh of Majical Cloudz asking the crowd for jokes, free styling sing songing, and letting a superfan take over the microphone to sing his favorite song. It’s just a treat watching a carefully crafted set get chucked out the window and seeing a unique performance.
  • This is not a slight, but I found The Range so comforting that I actually fell into a deep sleep with beautiful dreams for over an hour. It had nothing to do with that overnight flight or any of the drinks I had.
  • My favorite place in a festival is smack dab in the middle of the crowd…but one of the perks of living the festival life is snagging a photo pit pass which lets me sneak right into a front row view of Slowdive, one of the highlights.
  • Nobody got the Pitchfork crowd moving like Danny Brown got the crowd moving with one of the most energetic and fun sets of my two days.
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Audience participation welcome at Majical Cloudz.

Overall Verdict: Worth the trip!
It always helps when the weather is outstanding, but the organization and layout of Pitchfork made the venue seem more intimate and the smaller capacity venue kept crowds manageable. For $40 a day, this is definitely a budget friendly value for summer festival fans. Depending on the headliner for the evening, the main stages can get a little hectic, but overall an amazing experience and another excuse to visit Chicago.

Born during a sweaty, backstage, Bonnaroo downpour, the Chief Festival Junkie's mission in life is to dance, write, and travel to every great festival that this wide world has to offer. While his identity remains a mystery, you may have already met him, probably when he helped himself to your party favors.

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