Posted Jul 31st, 2010 (5:27 pm) by Korvas Black
The Festival Review: Pitchfork 2010
Image by Korvas Black

Love ‘em or love to hate ‘em, nobody can deny that Pitchfork is a major force in indie music. July 16th, 17th, and 18th in Union Park here in my beloved adopted hometown of Chicago saw the publication bring together some of the best known (and unknown) indie acts around for the fifth annual Pitchfork Music Festival. Modest Mouse, LCD Soundsystem, and the recently reunited Pavement headlined a day each, bolstered by rising stars such as Sleigh Bells, Lightning Bolt, Neon Indian, and Wolf Parade. It wasn’t the biggest festival at 45 bands on three stages over three days, but it may have had the densest lineup of talent of any roster this year. If you like indie music and you like festivals, you’d be hard pressed to have found a better one this year.

Section 1: Festival Production (Organization)

Pitchfork’s organizers planned this thing to near perfection. The two main stages (A and C) hosted the better-known names in alternating fasion (besides the headliners, the likes of Broken Social Scene, Panda Bear, and Titus Andronicus played these stages), and a third stage (B) set up on the far side of the park showcased some of the coolest and weirdest bands of the event (including my single favorite show of the festival, Sleigh Bells). Between A and C stages there was almost never a moment without music for the main crowd, and over at B (which was far enough away not to mess with the acoustics of the other two stages) they were practically having a festival of their own. The pacing was carefully planned, with the bands divided up in such a manner to provide three days of music with the less known bands opening and better known bands following up to the headliners at the end of each night (you can check out my daily write-ups elsewhere on the site for details on performances).

The staff kept the park remarkably clean, though by the third day the litterbugs were outperforming them a bit, and trash cans and recycling bins aplenty were placed liberally throughout the grounds for those not too lazy to walk all of 20 feet to throw away their empty water bottle at a festival designed to be as “green” as possible. Food was reasonably priced (a person could eat and drink fairly well for $10) and adequate if mediocre (everyone I asked agreed with me on the faint praise), and bottled water was eventually reduced to a buck a bottle (granted, most of the time, staff just gave away bottles for free). I didn’t try the beer myself, not being a beer guy (hey, not everyone likes it, okay?), but I seemed to be about the only one, and the rest of Pitchfork’s attendees seemed by and large pretty contented with the selection and price. There were several banks of porta-potties set up (complete with foam hand sanitizer stations) plentiful enough that I never saw a line more than two or three people deep.

Security was respectful but tight, the grounds crew did their best to keep the park clean without getting in anyone’s way, and every member of the organizing staff that I spoke with was friendly and made the time to answer my questions with aplomb (my special thanks go to Alex and Jacob).


Section 2: Presentation

Not everyone appreciates the elegance of minimalism, but (thankfully) not everyone is writing this review. Superfluous decoration and advertising were kept to a minimum, and this reporter certainly appreciated the lack of tacky, distracting crap with which some festivals festoon everything in sight. That being said, the trouble with minimal, practical presentations is what I like to term “genericism.” While there wasn’t anything to detract from the music, unfortunately, there wasn’t anything more than the music to distinguish this festival from any other. Pitchfork 2010 carried out a perfectly music-centric presentation without ornamentation, but it was also pragmatically plain and uninteresting.


Section 3: Sustainability Practices

According to Pitchfork, the recycling effort went beyond just placing bins all over the festival grounds. The organizers also worked with vendors to ensure that as many waste materials as possible were recycled by means of a plan developed with the help of grad students from the Environmental Management Program at the Illinois Instutute of Technology. Pitchfork’s generators are also reported to have run on bio-diesel fuel, and for transportation, hybrid vehicles from Zipcar were used.

Also as part of their “green” push, Pitchfork partnered with the Chicago Reader to put up a “Biker Village” on the south side of the park where we cyclists could securely lock their bikes to rows of racks (great idea, but there should have been way more racks) under the watchful eyes of security guards. The festival even had staff on hand to go through the racks and give each bike a security report card (u-lock through the frame, a wheel, and the rack, boys and girls).


Section 4: Non-Musical Entertainment

There were several comedians who performed between bands for those looking for a break from the music, and a few places away from the stages providing still alternatives still further removed.

There were also a weird hybrid nightclub / marketing nightmare sponsored by Heineken that I steered well clear of, and some schwag contests along with various social-consciousness-raising/hippy-preaching booths in the vendor zone. There were the usual merch setups (really wanna support a band? buy their album or t-shirts here) and booths of homemade hippy jewelry, but the most interesting place away from the stages was the swap meet. There was pavilion under which rows of tables where vinyl-filled milk crates awaited music nerd worship and scorn. It was a stroke of sheer brilliance to set up a used vinyl record exchange at this indie music festival, one that was well-received by a huge portion of Pitchfork’s attendees. So, between the comedians, the venders, the contests, and the record swap, Pitchfork provided more than enough non-musical entertainment over the three days of the festival.


Section 5: Overall Festival Atmosphere

Union Park is just west of the Loop, the Chicago neighborhood that is loosely synonymous with “downtown”, and on one corner of it is an L train stop. Between all roads leading to downtown for those driving, the L and bus stops, and the “Biker Village”, it was easy to get to, even if you had to go a bit afield to find affordable hotels (this city’s not exactly known for dirt cheap lodging). For me, the metropolitan setting worked better than the camping offered by most off-the-map festivals (take note that this writer was an Eagle Scout, making him impervious to dirt, bugs, and sweat). Most music, indie or otherwise, comes from in or around great cities (including Chicago), and most independent music lovers inhabit major urban centers, so it makes sense to put on a festival where the kind of music being played is both made and heard.

Daily passes were $40 and three-day passes (which sold out very quickly) were just $90. Considering the quality of the performances (none bad, several good, many great) and of the festival itself, you’d be hard pressed to find a better way to spend that money. The consistently happy, friendly, and laid back crowd that surrounded me for those three days certainly seemed pleased to be there.



The stellar bands, friendly crowds, and professional, helpful staff are more than enough reason to find your way to Chicago’s Union Park for next year’s Pitchfork Music Festival. A word to the wise: if you do decide to come out next time, go out of your way to find B stage and see bands other than those you came to see. Though they weren’t bad, the headliners were not the highlights of this festival, and most of my favorite performances were by groups I didn’t know the names of until I checked my schedule. If you only end up at one festival per year, you won’t regret choosing Pitchfork.

Final Score (Multi-Day Festivals): 81/100

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