Pitchfork Music Festival is usually a mixed bag in terms of the musical offerings found at the festival, and this year the same was true for the weather. From scorching heat to total a downpour, we went through it all at Pitchfork this year. The festival is renowned for its lineup and includes other festival experiences including a Renegade Craft fair, Book Fort and readings by young local poets. And since we all know Midwesterners love to talk about the weather, we figured what better way to reflect on the shows we saw at the 2019 Pitchfork Music Festival than by doing just that.
The Isley Brothers: hot and sunny
Hot and sunny is classic summer weather, and The Isley Brothers are classically talented performers. Their Pitchfork Music Festival set included coordinated dancers and backup singers, impressive showmanship and monochromatic outfits. The Isleys entertained the crowd with stories of how they rubbed shoulders with musical greats like Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan and The Beatles. These Rock and Roll Hall of Famers thrilled the crowd with classics like “Twist and Shout,” “Love The One You’re With” and “Shout.”
Ric Wilson: so hot you could fry an egg on the sidewalk
Ric Wilson’s 1:45 p.m. Saturday set was my favorite of this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival. He started the show hot, flashing smiles at the crowd and sharing new singles “Dan Ryan Traffic” and the horn accented “Yellowbrick.” In true Chicago fashion, he brought out Kweku Collins for the song “Sinners,” on which Collins is featured, and the Lane Tech College Prep High School marching band for his new bop, “Trunk Music.” Wilson appeared to be having genuine fun, challenging the crowd to break the Soul Train world record and coming down to groove with the audience. His was the only performance at Pitchfork Music Festival where every single member of the crowd was dancing along, and I was happy to count myself one of them.
Grapetooth: feels like 98% humidity
When I think of Chicago, I think of Grapetooth. Clay Frankel and Chris Bailoni cut through the heat with their disco-inspired songs and lent a dreamy quality to the afternoon as their synthy pop tunes floated through the heavy air. Frankel and Bailoni’s outfits can only be described as “dad chic,” providing an eccentric backdrop for crowd favorites “Violent” and “Trouble,” which called attendees from the main gate to come join the party. Grapetooth’s set was made more fun by the numerous collaborators they called onstage, including Lala Lala’s Lille West and fellow windy city residents OHMME.
Mavis Staples and the Young Chicago Author’s Louder Than A Bomb Poets: a cool breeze on a hot day
Fact: a smile from Mavis Staples contains enough positive energy to power the city of Chicago for a week, or it at least seems so from where I was standing. The indomitable R&B singer made a triumphant return to Chicago just over a week after her 80th birthday with the goal of bringing the Pitchfork audience “some joy, some inspiration and some positive vibrations.” By all accounts she succeeded.
My favorite discovery at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival happened at the Blue Stage, when I arrived at a performance early to find a member of the Young Chicago Authors’ Louder Than A Bomb Poets reciting their work aloud. Fifteen poets from the organization’s youth poetry festival performed in between sets at Pitchfork this year, and my only complaint is that I didn’t hear about it sooner. These young authors spoke eloquently on the topics of connection by means of technology, romantic relationships and the value of education.
Lala Lala: cloudy and cool
There were about seven people standing in front of the Green Stage 10 minutes before Lala Lala’s early Saturday set, and two songs in I turn around to see a large crowd behind me, drawn to the band’s rumbling, bass heavy rock. Lead singer Lillie West was charmingly aloof, addressing the crowd after a handful of songs with only “What’s up, we’re Lala Lala and we’re from Chicago.” The highlight of the band’s set was a spirited cover of Perfume Genius’ “Slip Away,” complete with an extra drum that propelled Lala Lala’s sound across the park.
Parquet Courts: impending rain
The massive crowd at Parquet Courts’ set denied to be intimidated by the ominous looking clouds making their way towards Union Park. There was a literal dark cloud over the stage and Parquet Courts exuded their trademark energy nonetheless. It is rare that I go to a show where people are throwing the “rock on” sign unironically, and this was one of them. Their set was cut short by the threat of thunderstorms, but not before they delivered a rollicking performance of their noisy, dance-friendly hit, “Wide Awake” to a sloshing pit.
Sky Ferreira and Earl Sweatshirt: thunderstorms
The last type of weather you want to encounter during a music festival is a thunderstorm. It’s disappointing and you end up wandering around in your wet clothes wondering where to go until the festival starts up again. This is not unlike Sky Ferreira’s Friday performance, which started 20 minutes late and was plagued by sound issues and three unsuccessful attempts to perform her new song, “Descending.” Earl Sweatshirt’s bare-bones performance lacked the fun of “Some Rap Song’s” production and left me struggling to find a groove to latch on to.
Tasha: warm and cloudy
When Tasha addressed the clouds hanging low over her Sunday set, she thanked them for providing a cozy atmosphere in which to share her songs. The most tender of the weekend’s performers, Tasha sang her poetic lyrics softly, covered in tulle and sporting the slightest hint of a smile. I, for one, was absolutely charmed. Despite the crashing sounds of black midi’s show seeping in from the other side of the park, with the first clear notes from Tasha’s sparkly blue guitar during “Kind of Love,” Tasha had the audience in the palm of her hand.
Khruangbin and Whitney: 75 degrees and mostly cloudy (perfect festival weather)
Khruangbin took to the stage early Sunday evening at a point when most festival goers were feeling a lull, settling onto picnic blankets and chatting with friends on the grass. The globally influenced trio complemented the calm atmosphere with some of their lighter, guitar led tunes and commanded attention when their later songs came crashing in.
Right next door, Whitney played their hometown first show after a recording hiatus to an adoring crowd. The band appeared positive and refreshed, debuting new songs from their upcoming album, “Forever Turned Around.” As someone who loves Whitney and is resistant to change, I was happy to hear new songs that sound like a continuation of 2016’s “Light Upon The Lake.”