In its 10thyear, the Pitchfork Music Festival at Union Park has become a Chicago institution.And this year, organizers of the internationally recognized gathering rewarded its hometown with the most local artists ever.
From Jimmy Whispers — who caught the crowd’s attention earlySaturdayin a dramatic cross-dressing performance — to Chance the Rapper, Chicago artists were given the Pitchfork blessing this weekend as about 18,500 people filled the park each day.
It’s a place for artists to sink or swim, to get attention at the beginning of their career or appreciation for decades of surviving the industry.
Headlining veterans Wilco and Sleater-Kinney packed the parkon FridayandSaturdaynights, the festival wrapping upSundaywith Chance the Rapper. “I’m just trying to keep this show going as long as I can,” Chance said in the festival’s final minutes, grinning ear to ear.
A decade on, Pitchfork is still a must-see, manageable festival which hasn’t tried too hard to change or expand its ways. With just three stages, the fest makes it easy to catch more than one act during a set. The food and drinks are inexpensive, and ticket prices are reasonable: $180 for three days.
This year the weather prompted some hiccups. Dozens sought medical treatmenton Fridayas high temperatures caused dehydration and heat exhaustion. And an ominous thunderstormon Saturdaycaused a temporary mass evacuation and at least one artist — Vince Staples —to cancel his set because of a flight cancellation.
Fans brave the rain Saturday at the Pitchfork Music Festival. | Rosario Zavala/Chicago Reader
The sounds of thunder boomed through the park about3 p.m.on Saturday. An announcement was made as punk rockers Ex Hex were just five songs into their set.
People ran, some hid under trees during a sudden downpour. Earlier, some watched the band from nearby porta-potties, propping the door open to listen to the music.
Within an hour —after much puddle jumping and squeezing of rain out of clothes — thousands were back in, enjoying rockers Kurt Vile and the Violators.
Kurt Vile performs Saturday at the Pitchfork Music Festival. | Rosario Zavala/Chicago Reader
It took a bit of time for the band to get back on stage after the rain. Crews tested out equipment as the band looked on from the side. Then, Vile took the stage and simply said “Thank you,” to the thousands of fans who came back to listen to him play. People were damp, their shoes muddy, but they still enjoyed a mellow, pleasant set. Vile, a former member of the War on Drugs, was a perfect lo-fi welcome back to the festival after the torrential downpour.
Though less dramatic, it was a flashback to Lollapalooza 2012, when thousands were evacuated from Grant Park for hours. The rain caused $350,000 in damages to the park. The Chicago Park District said it will begin evaluating the damage caused by this year’s storm when equipment is loaded outon Monday.
A day after releasing “Star Wars” as a free download, Jeff Tweedy of Wilco donned a white cowboy hat as he closed outFriday, rewarding the crowd with a performance of the entire new album.
“These are all new songs on our new album, ‘Star Wars,’ ” Tweedy told the crowd, playing 35 minutes of new songs. Some in the crowd audibly complained about not knowing any of the songs, but Tweedy had some nostalgia in store. After debuting the new songs —many on the mellow side —the Chicago band played fan favorites “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” “Via Chicago” and “Handshake Drugs.”
“It’s good to be home,” Tweedy told the hometown crowd.
Earlier, Lauren Mayberry of Glasgow band CHVRCHES jumped around stage energetically, the crowd bouncing to match her enthusiasm. The synthesizer-driven pop dance band debuted several songs ahead of a new album this fall. The large crowd sang and dance along the band’s biggest hit so far, “The Mother We Share.” Their energy was a much-needed boost after a long hot day.
Vic Mensa performs Saturday night at the Pitchfork Music Festival. | Rosario Zaval/Chicago Reader
Hip-hop artist Vic Mensa, the hometown kid – he’s only 22 — packed the tiny Blue Stageon Saturdaynight, where fans tried to avoid giant mud pits. Many people climbed up some large trees ahead of the stage, some falling short and plopping into the mud from above. If you don’t know Mensa, you soon will. He’s been blessed by Jay-Z and is on Roc Nation, which is pretty much a guarantee of making it big. And he’s collaborated with fellow Chicagoans Kanye West and Chance the Rapper. As the sun went down, Mensa started his own party, as fans threw water and glow sticks in the air. Hands went up in the air as Mensa sang “No Chill,” his hip-hop anthem with EDM king Skrillex. Mensa let the crowd know he’s proud of being from Chicago, and he said he’s sad to see the violence on the streets. Mensa wrapped his 45-minute set with “U Mad,” his collaboration with Kanye.
FROM THE READER
Australian rocker Courtney Barnett stole the showSundayduring a midday performance that drew a giant crowd. Barnett has just three albums under her belt, debuting in 2012. And a lesser known but much-buzzed-about Barnett played the Empty Bottle last year. Buton Sunday, Barnett, 27, banged her head, thrashed on the guitar and belted her heart out. Barnett was no-frills, wearing a baggy red t-shirt and black long shorts. She seems to not care what you think but is supremely confident in her musical abilities, and rightfully so. Barnett’s tunes are mostly fast-paced. You’re often left wondering just how many words are in her songs. But when she slows it down a bit, as she did with “Small Poppies,“ she’ll break your heart with a deeply talented voice and honest lyrics. “I don’t know quite who I am, oh but man I am trying.I make mistakes until I get it right,” Barnett sang.
Finally Sunday,Chance, performing with his touring band Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment, started with a bang — backup dancers and all —performing “Home Studio.” Chance smiled. He danced. He thanked Chicago dozens of times. And he told the crowd the rousing, soulful 50-minute set was all for them. “This is the show we’ve been waiting for,” he announcedHe performed “Acid Rain” with a spotlight on himself on an otherwise dark stage, despite a choir aiding him. He sang “Hey Ma” for his mother and other strong women in his life.
Donning a White Sox cap, and later a Chicago Bulls jersey, Chance said he’s entering a “new chapter” and is ready to begin new experiences. EarlierSunday, he posted that he recorded an album with rapper Lil B. It seemed every time Chance heard the trumpet and the beats dropped, his face lit up and his legs started moving. It seemed fitting to end the Chicago festival with a local artist with humility, and a lot of talent.
Chance the Rapper wraps up the Pitchfork Music Festival on Sunday night. | Logan Javage/Chicago Reader