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COVID safety protocols abound as Pitchfork Music Festival 2021 gets underway

Festival organizers recommended attendees wear masks “except when actively eating or drinking.” Signs were posted at entrances to emphasize the message.

Fans watch as DEHD performs on Day 1 of the Pitchfork Music Festival on Friday.
Fans watch as DEHD performs on Day 1 of the Pitchfork Music Festival on Friday.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

This year’s Pitchfork Music Festival kicked off Friday in the West Loop, where thousands of festival-goers converged in Union Park.

A nearly 15-year-old summer tradition typically set in July, Pitchfork Fest organizers canceled last year’s iteration due to the pandemic and pushed this year’s back to September, citing the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Friday’s festivities were happening amid the nation’s rising COVID-19 cases, the recent reinstatement of an indoor mask mandate by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, the recent COVID vaccine mandate for city workers by Mayor Lori Lightfoot, the recent return to schools for Chicago Public Schools families and the addition of all 50 states to the city’s travel advisory.

In the months and weeks leading up to the festival, Pitchfork announced its own COVID protocols, similar to those announced by venues and other festivals in the last few months. Festival-goers are asked to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test obtained within 24 hours of each day they attend.

Organizers also recommended and encouraged attendees to wear masks “except when actively eating or drinking.” Signs were posted at entrances to emphasize the message. A line for the festival had stretched down Ashland Avenue by noon Friday, as a majority-masked crowd waited to be let in.

Security checks vaccination cards on Day 1 of the Pitchfork Music Festival on Friday.
Security checks vaccination cards on Day 1 of the Pitchfork Music Festival on Friday.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Among those masked and waiting in line before the gates opened was Anna Ives-Michenver of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. The 21-year-old had already flown in from the East Coast for Lollapalooza in July and decided to make the trek again for Pitchfork. She said it was important for her to experience concerts in person.

“It means a lot. That’s pretty much the one thing that I really love to do — is go see live music. So not being able to see live music for a year and a half was awful,” she said.

Further down the line was 23-year-old Chicagoan Gabriel Schubert, who said they’d been to several festivals this summer, including Lollapalooza. Schubert said they felt comfortable with the way summer festivals had been taking COVID precautions, although they ended up contracting the virus while in Iowa for the Hinterland Music Festival in early August.

“Funny enough, I actually got COVID while I was in Iowa. But you know I quarantined and everything — feeling all good now,” Schubert said. “If you’re vaccinated, it’s not as bad. Not as horrible. You’re not gonna go to the hospital, probably, fingers crossed.”

A sign asking for people to wear a mask when shopping at a fair on Day 1 of the Pitchfork Music Festival, Friday, Sept. 10, 2021.
A sign asks people to wear a mask when shopping at a popup art fair on Day 1 at the Pitchfork Music Festival.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

By the time the gates opened around 12:25 p.m., some people continued to wear their masks as they stepped up to security checkpoints for what amounted to a slow, steady flow of fans. Many would do away with masks as they ventured further into the festival grounds.

Security checked proof of vaccination or testing and IDs multiple times, before sending festival-goers on to another lineup of security checking bags and frisking, while Pitchfork volunteers scanned tickets and handed out schedules.

To 20-year-old Andrew Lindaas, of Madison, Wisconsin, the process seemed thorough, noting security checked proof of vaccination and IDs more than once for many fans moving through the line.

Haley Leonhard (left) of Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and Andrew Lindaas, of Madison, Wisconsin, pose for a photo at the Renegade Craft Show popup at Pitchfork Music Festival.
Haley Leonhard (left) of Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and Andrew Lindaas, of Madison, Wisconsin, pose for a photo at the Renegade Craft Show popup at Pitchfork Music Festival.
Matt Moore/Sun-Times

“They checked the vax card a lot,” Lindaas said in between checking out vendors the Renegade Craft Fair popup inside the park. “It was better than most establishments I’ve been into that do require that.”

Artists like Philadelphia’s Hop Along — who performed Friday — have enacted their own COVID precautions for their shows, which mostly align with Pitchfork’s. Before heading out on tour last week, the band shared on their social media they would be requiring proof of vaccination or a negative test to enter their shows, and requesting audience members to wear masks.

“Please don’t be the unmasked person in the center of the front row,” the band wrote in a recent Instagram post, saying their lead singer “doesn’t want to have to call people out every night.”

For 29-year-old Ben Stevens, a five-time Pitchfork goer from Dayton, Ohio, the festival felt like “a going away to the summer months” and a chance for fans to support artists who have struggled through canceled tours and show dates.

“I think that people are appreciative,” Stevens said, “because they know a lot of the artists have canceled shows and canceled tours, and this is an opportunity for you to see a lot of artists in a little bit of time.”

It’s just important for fans to remain safe and respectful of the protocols, Stevens added.

“I’m hoping that people will follow the rules and realize that there’s less for us to enjoy so let’s really enjoy the things that we can enjoy.”