McNally Smith Students Participate in Chicago’s Pitchfork Music Festival (Part 2 of 2)

Over the past few years, McNally Smith College of Music has made its presence known at Chicago’s venerable Pitchfork Music Festival—an annual summer extravaganza of indie rock, rap and hip-hop, dance and electronica music organized by trusted Internet tastemakers Pitchfork Media. This summer, McNally Smith students not only witnessed a slew of world class musicians up-close and in the flesh; they also gained valuable experience in helping with hands-on operations that kept the well-oiled festival running smoothly. Below are written the accounts of the McNally Smith students who came, saw and rocked Union Park over the weekend of July 13–15.

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All photos by Michael Stangler

The Trials and Tribulations of a Pitchfork Volunteer
by Peter Day

Volunteering was somewhat how I expected it to be. Hot and muggy, standing for hours, doing tedious tasks that kept the time going, whether it felt like I was watching every second pass by or couldn’t catch my breath with the excitement. You will be asked questions you probably won’t have the answer to. You may have a high chance of being rained on and getting your shoes ruined. But no matter what happened, one thing was inevitable—by the end of the day every ounce of energy you have will be sucked from every part of your body from your fingers to toes.

In all honesty though, what I didn’t expect was the amount of fun I had getting rained on, sweating in the muggy heat, and absorbing everyone and everything around me. Sure my shoes are now a very different color than when I started, and I don’t think I’ve ever been that exhausted ever in my life, but it was SO worth it. While I did the tedious tasks such as watching for fence jumpers (which, lets face it, you can only keep yourself entertained for so long staring at a fence for five hours), or checking VIP passes, or putting on wrist bands, I also got to explore on my breaks.
MSCM student and Pitchfork volunteer Peter Day (right) chats with David Lewis, MSCM Director of Career Services 

I got to take full advantage of my bright yellow Pitchfork volunteer shirt, which surprisingly doesn’t do much in the appearances department but holds a power—a lot of power. I had chances to talk to new and great people in the VIP section as well as watch bands I was into from the side stages. I had time to hang out with my new volunteer friends, and see everything the festival had to offer. Not only was I able to experience new live music,  I also tried mouth-watering new foods and saw amazingly designed posters. While walking around, indie labels and other music vendors were easy and friendly to talk to, and even though we were told what to do at times, it was still a very laid back environment. All in all it was a very chill festival. From the VIPs to the fans, everyone seemed to have a common “chill factor” to them. I legitimately felt like a part of Pitchfork this year and not just another volunteer, which is a huge responsibility, but also a big honor.

The Different Sounds of Pitchfork
by Lauren McCauley

From R&B to indie rock to post-rock to psychedelic the music genres at Pitchfork were vast. Because the students, including myself, had to volunteer much of that day my personal observation of music is limited. However, I heard from numerous people that the Dirty Projectors where fantastic (most of whom I talked to were raving about the vocals and precision of their set). The Olivia Tremor Control was also another favorite of many, and drew in listeners fond of indie-rock music. Other then that I wasn’t too pressed or upset by missing any of the other bands playing that day. By the end of my shift however I was able to see headliner Feist bringing a close to day one. Feist consistently puts on a solid show (this being the third time seeing her live), despite forgetting the words to one song by chuckling and saying, “I’m supposed to sing the next verse here, but let’s play through it once so I can remember the words” as the band kept playing and she joined soon afterwards. Even though she performed popular songs such as “I Feel it All” and “My Moon, My Man,” and got a great crowd response, I feel some people were a little disappointed by the fact that she left out other popular songs “1 2 3 4” and “Mushaboom” off of her set list.

Fiest demonstrates her groundbreaking hands-free guitar method for the Pitchfork audience.

Day two of the festival included acts such as Cults, Danny Brown, and Sleigh Bells. Several other volunteers and I were stationed right in front of the blue stage, which most of the time was pretty empty. However this all changed once Youth Lagoon’s set time arrived as crowds flocked to the blue stage to see Trevor Powers accompanied with a guitar and drum set. Crowds did not leave this performance let down as the driven vocals and intensity matched that on his record if not more. Other notable performance was the all girl band Wild Flag. Never hearing them before I was surprisingly impressed by their style both musically and on stage, as they kept the crowd entranced by their intense lyrics and upbeat energy on stage. Putting an end to day two was the experimental music of Grimes mixed with post-rock group Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Both not my type of music, but it was nice, which was what I heard a lot of people in our group saying.

Despite the heat of the last day notable performances were plentiful. Real Estate, a band from New York, resembles west coast indie-pop surf bands with their chill style that was accepted by many and highly appropriate for the raging temperatures of the day. Moving on to other chill performances, Beach House put on a memorable show with the trance-like vocals of Victoria Legrand. Making the set more memorable was the set up itself with Legrand even with other band mates on stage instead of front and center. Other noteworthy acts include Ty Segall and King Krule. Vampire Weekend brought an end to the festival with a bang as their performance brought back energy to many exhausted concertgoers and got them on their feet dancing and asking for more.

One flaw I’d like to point out though is the fact that since there was a wide range of genres, sometimes you would get caught listening to what most of the concert attendees deemed complete garbage. Except for some enthusiasts (that were by far rare) fist pumping at the front for rap groups, most people grumbled and complained until the set was finished and they could listen to the next act.

Pitchfork Fest or Hipster Fest?
by Bree Melechinsky

If not for the music, if not for the scene, if not for the vegan food, Pitchfork is at the very least a prime time people-watching rendezvous. Or, if you are into all of those things but don’t want anyone to know, then grab your American Spirits, pull up your high-waist shorts, and go sit under a tree to stare apathetically at trendy passersby. You wouldn’t be alone by any means, so don’t think you look thoughtful or special with your cigarette under your shady canopy.

MCSM alumni and Sacha Mullin and MCSM student Bree Melechinsky find themselves adrift in a sea of hipsters.

During a lot of the drone-tone jam bands I witnessed in the afternoons of the fest, I casually made my way to the front with ease, as the people who filled the audience were shy of each other and at least two feet away from one another, their bodies lacking the effort to dance. The few I caught with a swayed move or two had only portraits of indifference.

For the amount of self-proclaimed individuals that attended, I had never mentally tallied seeing so many octopus tattoos in one place. I personally thought owls were the hipster stereotype, but apparently no longer.  And they are particularly to be done on the shoulder, so all of it’s inked tentacles can flow down your skinny bicep. Half of the Pitchfork fest presented itself more like a Fashion Fest. With 3-inch wedges, mini (high-waist though of course) skirts, and sandals abundant in the crowds, the majority of Pitchfork citizens didn’t appear to be dressed for a weekend of shows.

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