The Agony and Ecstasy of the Summer Music Festival

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Gen X vs. Y confusion aside, I consider myself part of the Lollapalooza Generation, I suppose — I went to the original fest ages upon ages ago as a wee one, back when it toured arenas and outdoor amphitheaters. Isn’t that nuts, especially now that the big music festivals function more like pilgrimages now that you have to travel to and often camp at? So it’s always with a modicum of amusement that I go to Pitchfork Music Festival. I have been to Pitchfork pretty often because I grew up not incredibly far from Chicago, but it’s always a touch-and-go affair. Some years I go; some I don’t, and it often boils down to sheer whimsy.

This year I went. I wasn’t planning on it, but then my friend Tobey came to town to film it and had an extra pass and, well, I certainly couldn’t turn it down, especially for one afternoon, right? You can do anything for one afternoon. So I improvised with an old summer dress, some flat sandals and hoped for the best. I didn’t really have any goals but to spend time with my friend, and basically make like a social anthropologist, keeping my eyes and ears open for anything intriguing, fun or interesting.

Festival Fashion

Of course the first thing I notice is what people are wearing; it’s always what I notice. It’s interesting to see music festival fashion develop into kind of a trope over the years, at least for women: denim cut-offs with boots, “boho,” “tribal,” neon, “hippie,” aviators, etc The spirit of Kate Moss — who will always be the patron saint of this mode — is alive and well, at least among her spiritual daughters. But what interested me most was seeing the men’s fashions, which ranged from a weird deconstructed Gatsby preppy, the typical dude uniform of weird t-shirt and jeans or cutoffs, or what I call “imaginary Tom Cruise teen movie from the 80s,” which is basically Ray-Bans and neon. If I had my act together and some pre-planning down, maybe I’d have done an odd Celine-y take on the whole thing, but the whole foundation of Celine is its pristine quality — and you definitely cannot stay pristine at an outdoor music festival. But of course, I’m not a Celine-y person deep down, but if Pitchfork is really kind of a costume party anyway, does that even matter?

Bands? What Bands?

I wasn’t totally indifferent to the bands this year — there were a lot of great acts, and lots of women, which is cool because people have blasted Pitchfork about its lack of ladies in the past — but this year I definitely found myself more interested in the other parts of the festival, whether it was the food, the posters (which to me is one of the best parts of the festival), or the flea market:

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I have to be really honest and say that I enjoyed the H&M fashion tent because 1. free sunscreen and cold water; 2. air conditioning, which is no joke when it gets around 90 with no clouds in sight for awhile; 3. screens and animated GIF-making.

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I do think there is a need for a Zen tent, which would be basically a place you can take a nap and stare at a fish tank or blank wall. It’s not a ridiculous idea…after all, back in the rave heyday, there was always some kind of chill-out area where you could listen to ambient, lie back on a bean bag and stare at the light projections on a ceiling. I always get that “Too Much Six Flags Great America” feeling at a big event and feel the need to retreat. Come on, P4K organizers, I can’t be the only highly sensitive introvert at a festival, right? Maybe next year? This is why I enjoyed this weird light painting tent by Ray-Ban. You went inside and “painted” on a big Lite-Brite type of wall with brushes dipped in water, and it was literally cool inside and way more chill. I could’ve spent ages in there, just staring at a wall, moving a brush up and down, chanting to myself like a nutcase.

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The Pitchfork Diet

One thing I noticed this year was all the free food and swag…there are sooooo many sponsors at the festival now.

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I ate so much random stuff: Twinkies, Pop Chips, Kind bars. And it was…not good, let’s just say that, because one of my biggest strategies at an outdoor summer music festival is to avoid the Port-O-Potties as much as possible. At some point I was like, “WHERE IS MY FRESH FRUIT? I NEED A SALAD!” which made me feel really neurotic. But I have to give the festival props for allowing people to bring in water bottles and provide water for them to refill it up. Most events like these make a killing from banning water bottles and forcing people to buy water, so I think the policy is particularly kudos-worthy.

The Music

Okay, so I did manage to catch Yo La Tengo’s set. I haven’t seen them in ages, and I didn’t plan on it. But it was really, really nice to hear “Autumn Sweater” after all these years:

Overall, though, I’m tired of the 90s revival, as much as I’m excited to see the music of my adolescence gain a new appreciation. Let’s all rediscover the genius of Timbaland soon, okay?

In Conclusion

In a way, four hours of a Sunday afternoon was a perfect amount of Pitchfork for me; I felt I packed a whole experience in that time, and I’m always impressed by how well-organized the festival generally is, because it could be way more of a shitshow than it is. (And, really, it’s not a shitshow at all.) I had wanted to stay for M.I.A. on Sunday night, and I think everyone was really into the idea of watching R. Kelly, but I can only be trapped in the closet for so long, I guess. I sailed away on the subway, sun setting, and felt very satisfied. I do wish there was an adult-swim-like festival for introverts, but I guess they call that yoga retreat. But surely there’s a middle ground, no?

Oh, and here is a shot of my friend and me, hanging:

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