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Pitchfork Music Festival 2016 preview

Reader writers round up the locals on the bill, guide fans of hip-hop and R&B into the rest of the roster, and discuss the fest’s softening antipathy to emo, the gender balance of its bookings, and Brian Wilson’s white privilege.

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The crowd at the Flaming Lips’ set during the 2009 Pitchfork festival - CLAYTON HAUCK
  • Clayton Hauck
  • The crowd at the Flaming Lips’ set during the 2009 Pitchfork festival

The Pitchfork Music Festival celebrates 11 years this year—12 if you count 2005's Pitchfork-curated Intonation Music Festival—which is more than long enough for familiarity to set in. (The jury is still out on the contempt.) During that time, most of the changes to the event have been incremental: For 2016, for instance, three-day passes have gone up by $15 to $165, and they no longer come with a subscription to the website's print quarterly, The Pitchfork Review. (I'm among several Reader writers who've contributed to Pitchfork and the Review.) And the inevitable corporate partnerships seem likely to subtly tweak the flavor of the festival in its first iteration since Condé Nast bought Pitchfork—though I welcome anything that will replace the free carpet samples that littered Union Park last year.

Part of what makes Pitchfork a dependable event is its air of community—if you've got friends in music circles, the festival can feel like an annual reunion. With just three stages for its 45 acts and a layout that's barely changed in years, it can feel downright intimate compared to the likes of Riot Fest and Lollapalooza. Pitchfork also provides table space for local nonprofits (Girls Rock! Chicago, 826CHI) and brings aboard community organizations that align with its values: for the first time this year, the nonpartisan Public Action Foundation will help lead the festival's Voter Engagement and Mobilization Project, while the Old Town School of Folk Music's Wiggleworms early-childhood program will run a "Kids Area" where youngsters can get their hands on a variety of instruments. (The latter will be open 3 to 6 PM on Friday and noon to 6 PM on Saturday and Sunday.)


Pitchfork Music Festival
Fri 7/15, 3-10 PM, Sat 7/16 and Sun 7/17, noon-10 PM, Union Park, Ashland and Lake, $65 single-day pass, $165 three-day pass, all ages


The usual nonmusical attractions—the CHIRP Record Fair, the Coterie Chicago Craft Fair, Flatstock, the Book Fort—return to occupy the periphery of the festival grounds. But music is of course Pitchfork's centerpiece, and its 2016 bookings are the same sort of eclectic we've come to expect and appreciate. Even the surprises—the return of jazz artists to the lineup, Brian Wilson performing Pet Sounds—feel entirely in character, at least in retrospect. The daily schedules have begun to develop patterns too: Sufjan Stevens headlines Saturday, in a slot that's lately been reserved for indie-rock icons, and R&B singer FKA Twigs headlines Sunday, taking the baton from Chance the Rapper (2015) and Kendrick Lamar (2014). Both of those MCs were building up to a crucial release that fueled their rocketing ascents, and Twigs seems poised to leap to new level of stardom herself.

FKA Twigs performed at the festival two years ago, and she's hardly the only reason you may be feeling deja vu. More than a quarter of the lineup has been at Pitchfork before, including two of the headliners—this is Beach House's fourth rodeo. Fortunately, the rest of the bill includes lots of great first-timers, among them Canadian pop wonder Carly Rae Jepsen, soulful Australian garage rockers Royal Headache, reunited hip-hop heavies Digable Planets, and incomparable space-jazz collective the Sun Ra Arkestra. Chicago is represented by a record-setting nine acts, most of them new to the fest (though Whitney did back Jimmy Whispers for part of his set last year).

Essential information about how to get around at Pitchfork, what to bring, and what to leave home is available at pitchforkmusicfestival.com. It's best to show up with only stuff you can carry on your person—sunglasses and a fanny pack, for example. But if you had a lousy time in the downpour that briefly brought the festival to a halt last year, you can rent a locker on-site to help you prepare for inclement weather.

Pitchfork offers secure bike parking at Union Park's northwest corner, near Ashland and Lake. Divvy will provide valet service at its Ashland and Lake station, to help deal with an expected overload of inbound bikes. The Green and Pink Lines are likely the best option for nonbikers, at least on the way in—at the end of the night, you might consider hightailing it to one of the many #9 buses waiting on Ashland. It's also not a terrible walk to the Loop, or to the Grand or Division stops on the Blue Line. If you're not in a rush, consider dropping in at Cobra Lounge, Bottom Lounge, or any other nearby watering hole to take a breather and let the crowds disperse.  v


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