In the past few years Pitchfork has started booking a stage at Primavera Sound in Spain and collaborated with All Tomorrow's Parties for a festival in the UK, and this fall it launches a festival in Paris. But Chicago is still the influential online music magazine's home base, and the 2011 Pitchfork Music Festival is the seventh large-scale event it's hosted here. This year's Pitchfork fest runs Friday 7/15 through Sunday 7/17 in its customary Union Park digs, at the intersection of Ashland and Lake, and brings together approximately 50,000 fans and 45 artists—including rappers, weirdo electronic musicians, hardcore punks, and a few bands playing the kind of indie rock qua indie rock that the site's best known for championing.
Gates on the east and west sides of the festival grounds open at 3 PM on Friday and at noon on Saturday and Sunday; the festival ends each night at 10 PM. An on-site box office will be open from noon until 8 PM on Thursday 7/14; it also opens at noon on Friday and at 11 AM Saturday and Sunday (and closes at 9:30 PM all three days), though it's a better idea to buy tickets in advance online. Single-day tickets are $45; Sunday passes and all flavors of multiday passes are sold out. This year the fest's stages have been renamed Red, Green, and Blue (rather than Aluminum, Connector, and Balance), but as usual the bigger names play the park's two northernmost stages—meaning they'll alternate between Red (northwest) and Green (northeast). The smaller Blue stage at the southwest corner of the grounds hosts music throughout the day.
The festival is all-ages, and admission is free for children under ten accompanied by an adult. Reentry is prohibited. Outside food and drink are prohibited (except for sealed bottles of water), but there are plenty of vendors willing to sell you some once you're inside; also forbidden on the festival grounds are cameras with detachable lenses, audio and video recording devices, tents, musical instruments, and pets. Cameras with nondetachable lenses are permitted, as are folding chairs and small or midsize backpacks and bags.
Street parking near the park is limited, but festivalgoers can reserve spots at a lot at 1640 W. Jackson for $20 apiece at pitchforkmusicfestival.com/info. If there's any way you can, it's a much better idea to walk, bike, or take public transportation (the Ashland and Madison buses as well as Green Line and Pink Line trains all stop nearby). The Reader is sponsoring a secure bike-parking area in the park that offers free water, air for tires, and chain lube, plus separate restrooms and hand-washing stations. You can also enter a raffle for a chance to win a custom bike.
Nonmusical activities at the festival include the Chicago Independent Radio Project's CHIRP Record Fair & Other Delights, a bazaar of recorded music with an emphasis on independent labels, collectibles, and vinyl; Coterie, a similarly independent-minded fashion emporium; and the American Poster Institute's long-running Flatstock exhibition, a sort of outdoor poster-art museum that doubles as a marketplace. Local charity Rock for Kids, which provides musical education for underprivileged Chicago youth, will once again be auctioning off memorabilia donated by Pitchfork performers.