Pitchfork and Prejudice: A Review of Pitchfork Music Festival 2012

When I found out my great little gig here at Gozamos afforded me a pass to my first Pitchfork Music Festival, I was excited to check another fest off my music festival bucket list. In the past, the lineup has definitely caught my attention, maybe even slightly more than Lollapalooza’s, but be it due to monetary or schedule reasons, I’ve never been able to go. This year, not only would I be lucky enough to catch one of my favorites, Sleigh Bells, but I would do so from the photo pit, to boot. Thank you, rock gods. As the festival neared, I did my due diligence researching the lineup. I was happy to see Danny Brown and Kendrick Lamar, two hip-hop artists I’ve been digging lately, playing Saturday and Sunday. Japandroids were on the lineup as well; a welcome surge of rock to the festival scene, which has swayed to the electronic trend as of late. I had never heard of Grimes before reading her name on the lineup, but she seemed cool and kind of weird and definitely worth taking the time to check out. And speaking of weird, this Willis Earl Beal cat was on another planet, but in this organic and captivating way that had me watching every YouTube video of his I could find.

And onward I continued, making notes in my little Moleskine of which bands were local, which would draw the most interesting crowd, and when there would be good breaks in the schedule to check out the rest of the festival grounds. As I reviewed my notes, I was bummed to find a lack of Latino presence in the lineup. As far as my musical investigation showed, there was but one Latino on the bill, the Dominican/ Guatemalan producer/dj AraabMUZIK. Now, good music is good music no matter the musician’s skin color, nationality, hairstyle, fashion choices or what have you, so I only point this out because I was looking forward to discovering some new Latino indie rockers or djs. Growing up in a predominantly white suburb, the only exposure I really got to Latin music were the corridos my dad and grandpa played. It wasn’t until college and more so joining the Gozamos team that I was exposed to the vastly diverse Latino music scene and I’ve loved getting the chance to explore these new sounds. So I was disappointed, but there were plenty of other musical acts I was stoked to see. The aforementioned Sleigh Bells, Beach House (a review of their album Teen Dream was one of the first pieces I wrote for Gozamos) and of course this era’s version of Paul Simon, Vampire Weekend.

But a music festival does not exist in a vacuum of music alone. A good music festival experience is also dependent on the weather, where it’s being held, and of course the rest of the music lovers that will be joining you for 2-3 days of sun and sounds. A promoter that hasn’t thought of the needs of the crowd or a likewise a crowd full of meathead douchebags could ruin everything. Seeing as this particular festival was being put on by a music blog whose readership was known to be comprised of more than a few indiespirited, ahem, hipsters, I was a little worried my fellow revelers would be unfriendly music snobs dressed in items of clothing that could have very easily come from my mid-90s 5th grade closet. You know the type, the folks you see wandering around Wicker Park and more and more in Pilsen, with an air of superiority and nonchalance because they’ve seen, heard, and done everything long before you have. I was actually sort of starting to dread going to this thing and surrounding with these people. Would they even allow themselves to show any enthusiasm if they liked a band or were getting into a dj’s set? They’d probably just stand there staring at the stage through the large, plastic non-prescription glasses they picked up from a vintage store on Milwaukee Ave and go home and blog about how they were so “over” that band.

Well folks, I’m an asshole. My preconceived ideas of what Pitchfork would and wouldn’t be could not have been more off. In as many years as I’ve gone to Lollapalooza, I cannot remember a crowd more diverse or friendly than what I encountered during my three days at Pitchfork. Whether it was new parents with their young offspring catching some shade near the expansive row of food tents, middle-aged concertgoers sitting towards the edge of the crowd in lawn chairs or college-aged coeds anxiously awaiting a set to begin, everyone was more than willing to share conversation or a sip or two of water. As I sought shelter from the sun beneath the canopy of trees at the Blue Stage, I found myself deep in conversation with a young man from Mexico, discussing everything from the small little ranch town where my dad was born, to the authenticity of my husband’s healthy carnitas recipe. (Verdict: If it ain’t fried, it ain’t real carnitas.)

And for a music blog I assumed would be so blasé about putting together a music festival, I have to say that Pitchfork really cared about its music fans, and it showed. A first aid tent stationed prominently near the front gates offered free sunscreen and had large bins of ice available to dip a bandana or hat into to cool off. Water bottles were abundant, not only at the front of each stage for the fans pressed against the barriers, but in the less dense parts of the crowd as well. The large mud puddles created by Friday and Saturday’s rain storms were covered with a few layers of wood chips: a stark contrast to the gigantic mud bath that was Grant Park at last year’s Lollapalooza. And most importantly, when it came time to use the facilities, I was never sans TP, nor did I have to wait in a line that was more than 2 or 3 people deep. It may seem trivial, but that sort of stuff is crucial when you’re using port-a-potties for three days. Hats off to the Pitchfork folks for one of the most comfortable, enjoyable festivals I’ve been to yet.

I can’t wholeheartedly give the same kudos to S3 Security, a private security company hired for crowd security. Shortly after AraabMUZIK began his set on Sunday, two gate crashers jumped a fence near the main gate off of Ashland. They appeared to be independent of one another, both young men, no more than 19 or 20 years old: one black, one white. Security stopped the white gentleman shortly after he cleared the fence. The black gentleman on the other hand took off running, with at least two security guards, that I could see, in pursuit. He got so far into the crowd, I could no longer keep track of the chase. Meanwhile, the white individual that was caught was sat down on a folding chair near the gate as a female security officer went through his backpack. As she pulled out a ziploc bag full of pills out of the backpack, which I presume were ecstasy pills he intended to sell, (I do not know for certain, but who brings a ziploc bag full of anything else to a concert,) security made its way back with the other gate jumper. As the female security guard gave a stern talking to the man with the bag, the other jumper was lead to the same spot, hands behind his back, where his pockets were immediately emptied. All that fell to the ground was his wallet. Now, as I said, I do not know what happened when the chase snaked its way through the bulk of the crowd, but I do know what I saw, and that was this individual being handcuffed (with real cuffs, not even zip ties like I’ve seen at other concerts) and forced to sit along the fence, wallet still on the ground, out in the open for the taking. Both men were in the wrong. And maybe it was because one gave chase while the other was apprehended pretty quickly that they were treated differently, but from what I could tell, one was treated like a criminal while one was put on timeout, and the “criminal” wasn’t the one with a backpack full of drugs. He just had a darker skintone than the other. In the end, it looked as though both were escorted off the grounds and left free to go, but the incident left a bitter taste in my mouth. And made me miss the Chief Keef cameo at AraabMUZIK’s set to boot. As the old adage goes, you can’t always judge a book by its cover. That holds true whether you’re judging said book by their vintage clothing, or the color of their skin.

See slide show of Pitchfork on Flickr »