Hitting the Long and Winding Road to Pitchfork: A Journey, a Destination, a Delight (Part 3)
photos by Makeda Sandford
The next day started off well. We were tired from the day before, but after toiling out in the hot sun for music that turned out to be incredibly well worth it, we were ready to do it again. This time, however, I was sneaking my DSLR in because the security was pretty much a joke, and there would be much candid audience fun to capture, as is usually the case when you take a bunch of people, place them in a park, and allow them to drink and smoke to their leisure.
We didn't even stay for this set, really. Just a few minutes of watching a troupe of randomly incoherent, vocally out-of-sync rappers all going in their own directions on stage was confusing. Added to the fact that, as Makeda pointed out, the audience was mostly just white kids taking selfies and talking amongst themselves in between puffs of Mary Jane, there was not much incentive to stay.
Mr. Twin Sister
Appropriately so, as they were leading us insidiously toward this sonic black hole, the brilliant Chicago sky that had been so sunny and clear the day before had turned gray and the wind had started twisting the leaves and ruffling the banners above the stage. The crowd, however, was still obnoxiously detached as they were at the prior stage. What happened next I can only view now as useful at capturing their attention.
We left their set halfway through to go across the park to the red stage, where a band I was highly anticipating, Ex Hex, was about to play. But before we had arrived there, drip! drop! drip! drop. Yes, it started lightly raining. I heard some people enthusing about how they needed it, as it would finally cool them off, but I was not so sure. Living in a fairly humid environment for many years and knowing that Chicago is a city of weatherly extremes, the clouds looming overhead only seemed to reveal deeper and deeper levels of grey. But it was Ex Hex...and so we wavered. "Let's go see them. We can withstand the rain!" was our conclusion before we got to the stage and the drops started pouring harder. Makeda questioned our decision yet again, and I came to what I thought was a reasonable solution: if the drops became leaden with a type of aggressive weight, the weight of a strong storm, we would retreat.
So, of course, they did. We have the brilliant idea to run toward the media tent and take solace before everyone else did, but just like when it starts raining in an amusement park in Roller Coaster Tycoon, humans always flee for cover everywhere they possibly can, and the tent was stuffed. Even as I stood at the fringe of the tent in the closest possible space, half of me was still getting rained on. It was gross. I couldn't see because my glasses were soaked, my dress was soaked, my shoes were soaked (and sure to develop that inevitable musty smell that rises once they get exposed to water) and we were missing Ex Hex! I had been silently disdainful of the people who were wearing pastel and black ponchos that looked like trash bags, but now I secretly admired their intelligence. After what seemed like 20 minutes, the rain began to slow down and people crawled out of the media tent.
We debated going out, but the one thing that I have noted about storms is that even when it looks like it is clearing up, it is the best idea to look at the ground and see how strongly the drops are beating in order to accurately gauge the level of the storm. Sure enough, it looked clear, but a nearby puddle showed that the rain really hadn't calmed down. So we stayed inside. There were small cups of Cafe Bustelo coffee in the tent, which I was ever so grateful for. At some point after I had finished the coffee, the sky let its bucket overturn and the rain poured down in what I initially thought was a storm of hail.
Screaming! Mud! Ponchos! All of these things were happening at once as people began scrambling toward the entrance gate. I felt like the old kid sitting on a bench at a party watching the underage crowd book it when they hear the cops are coming and their drinking ticket resume might receive some fresh ink. But no, some asshole had to come to the tent and shout, "Everybody move! They're closing the festival down!" So into the rain we went.
I don't remember the specific details of what happened while I was running through the rain. It was just a muddy, blurry, uncomfortable flash of dim colour as I shoved past the crowds and start running toward the above-ground subway station. Makeda was running in the crowd along the same sidewalk that I was, and I assumed that it was just agreed upon we would climb up the stairs into the station entrance. The stairs were not fun. I think I remembered someone asking if I was ok, and responding a simple "yes!" before continuing my flight above ground, but it felt like I could barely lift my feet up from one to the next. When I got to the top, I just stood in an open corridor amongst the other festival goers, and continued getting drenched. The storm doubled in strength, propelled by the wind, and it funnelled into the corridor along the side. I realized that Makeda was not there, and it was probably likely that she had gone for the street-level entrance, if there was one. I didn't know. I texted her, but there was no response. It was then that I was thankful that I had brought my DSLR, for nothing else but taking pictures of people being wholly uncomfortable while caught in the midst of a massive storm. One by one, they filed up the stairs, drenched to the bone, their trash bag ponchos clinging to them like Saran-wrap.
As the storm started dying down, Makeda responded that she had gone all the way back to the car, which was freaking impressive considering that I barely had made it to the train station. After about 10 minutes of waiting for the storm to die down, the crowd dispersed in a manner much like a knot disentangling itself and going in different directions, and we tried to find each other. She was going to come underneath the station, but I wasn't sure which side she would come on, so I told her I would just wait by the intersection that we crossed on our way to the festival that morning. We then tried to call each other, but the reception was horrible, and after a few minutes of standing around, we both came to the agreement that we would just meet back when the festival resumed at 4:30, as had been announced.
So I got back in the line that almost wound itself along the entire length of the park, smoked a cigarette, and cleverly re-hid my camera another time. The security didn't even search me again, they just asked if I had been there earlier. It was at this moment I regretted paying what I had for my ticket, as it would have been incredibly easy to sneak in. We met back where we had dispersed, the media tent, and re-calculated our plans. Apparently, the sets were continuing on just as normal, which was surprising, but admirable that Pitchfork didn't cancel some of the performers' spots and just let them keep the money. We could hear the melancholy sound of Kurt Vile and the Violators starting at the nearby red stage, but we decided to venture to the blue stage again to check out Ariel Pink before seeing the band that I was most excited about, Parquet Courts.
I've listened to Ariel Pink before, and yes, it was specifically just when I found out that I was going to the festival. That being said, their music is pretty enjoyable to listen to, and the crowd seemed to think so as well, as the stage was packed! It was also, of course, the blue stage. I wasn't expecting them to be as weird as they were, and it was intriguing. If there was a prison on a beach in California, the members of Ariel Pink looked like they had been there for a long, long time. The lead singer, who has stringy blonde hair with aptly pink streaks, looks like Kurt Cobain and came out in an orange jumpsuit. The attractive guitarist was wearing luxe, printed pants and a printed velvet shirt and looked like he crawled off a fashionable street corner in the 70s. Unfortunately, it didn't seem that the band was super enthusiastic about being there. They just sort of meandered through each frenetic, beachy song like part of a checklist, at least from what I saw of the set anyway. However, the audience was dancing and definitely a lot more involved than they had been prior to the day-changing thunderstorm. Who knows? Maybe Ariel Pink crowd-surfed and confessed his deepest woes and joys with the audience that day after all. We'll never know that either.
As stated above, this was probably the band that I had been looking forward to seeing most. Their punky, distorted riffs make my heart beat a little (okay, a lot) faster, and I was hoping they were as good in person as they were on record. The atmosphere was ideal, as the sun had returned with a vengeance, and the audience had a slight fever to them that Parquet Courts picked up and danced with. They launched into their set with a riot, thumping along heavily into songs twinged with a Ramones-esque fury. Singing about suburbia, politics and muzzles, amongst other metaphors, there was a lurking, lo-fi quality to their music that built upon the energy of the audience. It was a truly great thing to see that around 15 people felt comfortable jumping the fence to land in the mud before the stage and be removed, grinning, by the gruff security beef-heads. The crowd had begun chanting the name of the band midway through the set, so to say that the post-storm enthusiasm for muzika was restored would be an understatement.
Makeda had left halfway through Parquet Courts' set to go snap A$AP Ferg, and after it exploded to a sudden, inevitable close, I took off to go check him out as well. Just as in the other rap set earlier, there was the usual assortment of bros and hipsters. The music was trap-rap, which isn't my cup of tea. Ferg was, however, definitely engaging, declaring "I came all the the way from Canada just to fuck with y'all!" At least from what I saw of it, it was a strange, strange set. In addition to Ferg encouraging the audience to throw their middle fingers up and chant "suck my dick," he crowdsurfed, and so did a garbage can that someone randomly threw up into the air. I think the most annoying part for me was the "crowd pushers", or the people who are either shoving their way forward into the crowd or pushing through the crowd to leave the show. I'm not a dictator, by any means, but for the sake of the people attempting to enjoy the concert, there should be a rule established that if you come for the set and amble your way to the front, stay there and don't annoy everyone else by twisting everybody's limbs around. Just stay near the back if you aren't sure about staying for the whole performance! GOD.
One of the best performances of the festival, by far! In a thrilling, ebullient set, Shamir, who had been mingling with the crowd before his performance, leapt onstage and had the audience, including myself, bouncing like they were willingly trapped inside a hip underground disco in 1970s New York. He has a killer falsetto, and, with a pace, timing and tone reminiscent of Little Dragon, brought a healthy, fun sense of positivity and funk that only built itself further. Stating "Be happy, be healthy, and always keep your your head in the clouds," he shook himself into "Head in the Clouds" and then proceeded to crowd-surf while smoking a cigarette. True love.