Pitchfork remains people's fest even as buzz has grown
A Festivus for the rest of us
07/13/2011 10:00 PM
Pitchfork Music Festival turns 7 this year, and though itís suffered criticism from some purists as having lost its credentials as the perfect alternative festival, it still retains its trademark independent vibe.
The festival hasnít gone the way of South by Southwest and lost its identity, but there doesnít seem to be as much room on Union Parkís three stages for less recognizable bands. In previous years, headlining slots were occupied by highly esteemed, cult-adored acts like Slint, Os Mutantes and Silver Jews. This year, those slots have been supplanted by unit movers like TV on the Radio and Fleet Foxes. Theyíre big names, but they garnered much of their initial and subsequent success through favorable press on Pitchfork.com.
The big names are a shift from the festivalís humble beginnings. When Pitchfork launched the festival in 2005, they used it as a way to let small bands (whose popularity the site had manufactured) pretend to be rock and roll legends for a day. But because of the influence that Pitchfork has come to wield, many of the buzzy acts the website covered early on are legitimate festival headliners today. The site has blossomed into a virtually omnipotent behemoth with the ability to create and dictate careers, but it still remains at its core a simple Web publication dedicated to rock music criticism.
While the festival has changed, it spares us the trappings of contemporaries like Lollapalooza or Coachella, whose frat party appeal has become the paradigm for whatever it means to be a summer music festival. Even if the Pitchfork Music Festivalís choice of artists has shifted, much of what makes this event comparatively appealing has little to do with the caliber of artist and more to do with logistics and planning.
At Pitchfork, you wonít spend more than $90 for a three-day pass. Your bike will be safe and secure amongst thousands of other cycles locked on special racks located in the park. You will be delighted to find reasonably priced, delicious food with options for people with specialized diets. You will have no trouble getting to and from the fest, as itís easily accessible via major arteries like Ashland and Ogden avenues, Lake Street and Washington Boulevard. It ranks highest in bikeability and walkability, but itís also at a Green Line stop and thereís a shocking amount of street parking.
You will also be enchanted by the rare festival commodity that is an abundance of portable outhouses. The now-legendary record tent is a music festival in and of itself, where most of Chicagoís independent labels and record stores have booths selling rarities, used CDs and vinyl. Chairs, blankets and even fanny packs are welcomed and encouraged.
In terms of quantity of acts you can actually see vs. the dollar amount you paid to get in, economy is undoubtedly on Pitchforkís side. There are 45 bands total, and you can actually see 24 of them play an entire set. No matter what equation you use to determine a Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo or Coachella experience, itís physically impossible to see more than 15 percent of the artists in full. And at Pitchfork, you neednít walk half a mile traversing half a million people to get to another stage. All you have to do is turn 90 degrees.