A Belated Reflection on Pitchfork Music Festival 2016

Pitchfork Music Festival 2016 was a trip down 2010 memory lane, meaning it was fraught with music nostalgia I didn’t know I never wanted to hear again live. Against the dense, suffocating summer humidity and heat exhaustion inducing 90 degree weather (leading to my being confined to a couch all of Saturday), introverted indie rock headlined the festival while up-and-coming R&B artists provided stimulating, exciting sounds.

It was cute how little I cared for the music I once played exhaustively on repeat over six years ago. People clambering with excitement over headliners I barely registered as an afterthought (excluding FKA twigs – love you forever, twigs) seemed to disregard the stellar sets on Blue Stage from Nao, Anderson .Paak, The Range, Shamir, Jlin and Empress Of. As a festival boasting a lineup of mostly women and black artists, I felt bugged out by the moody indie pop rock of yester-year.

Granted, I was too physically sick for the festival to not be cynical, but even with my addled mind trying to take in the artistry around me in the name of work, my usual disdain for everything still crept through. I felt salty, not just from the film of sweat coating my entire body, but from the general over-expectations of today’s festival culture. We wait for the gimmick, even if the gimmick is an artist trying to rediscover their authenticity (looking at you, Sufjan). People dissed my real excitement over seeing Carly Rae Jepsen to add to the tongue-in-cheek outlook of the festival. The blissful sets from Carly Rae Jepsen and Miguel provided the grounds with real jubilation, even more so when Chance the Rapper skipped on stage with Jeremih celebrating the latter’s birthday. I couldn’t bring myself to care about legends or performers who were expected to draw in crowds, like Beach House and Brian Wilson, when genuine youthful energy permeated the grounds.

Roaming through booths provided a brief respite from my crotchety curmudgeon brain. Listening to readings at the Book Fort, watching people make vinyl, walking away with free swag from sponsors gave breathing room to a festival full of music journalists and industry bros. It was in these moments that I wasn’t sour about shitty sound, people trying way too hard to steep themselves in irony, or main stage sets that couldn’t hold my attention.  

Accepting my increasingly sick body as the reason why I felt even less thrilled at being in public, I was rewarded with a beautiful set from longtime favorite FKA Twigs. She closed out the festival with performance art – an operatic, fluid piece of artistry that was as captivating as it was cerebral. This year was as theatrical as it was politically important for the collectivism on festival grounds to bring everyone together. It wasn’t a festival of hedonism but of understanding, which further irritated me with sleepy Beach House, an obviously kitschy, overdone Sufjan Stevens, and bummer psychedelic Neon Indian.

When I finally left Union Park and walked up the stairs to wait for the ‘L’, I looked back over the park and the moon illuminated the grounds in a loving, quiet embrace. With the drifting final notes from FKA twigs and Oneohtrix Point Never intermingling with each other, I settled into a calm reverie, smiling as glitched electronic noises comforted me. Maybe my body hates being at festivals and perhaps I am getting too old for these things. Even then, when I heard those final two sets in the air, they guided me home with begrudged satisfaction and I thought maybe, just maybe, I should come back next year.

Online Editor