"If you a trill n---a..."
"Get your motherfucking hands up!"
That first quote is from A$AP Rocky, who's working the crowd at the 2012 Pitchfork Music Festival like a man possessed and grinning from ear-to-ear like a six-year-old with a secret. The second quote is from my 57-year-old father, who's standing front and center in the pandemonium at Chicago's Union Park and having an unexpected blast studying this 23-year-old Harlem hip-hop prodigy perform on Friday, July 13. Rain is pouring on us; my dad's Springsteen '99 tour tee is getting damp. I tug at his sleeve and ask if he wants to head somewhere dry. "I'm okay!" he yells back, and when A$AP asks the audience "Rocky where you been?" the two of us (and hundreds of others) casually yell back, "I been thuggin' with my team, ho!"
Father and Son @ Pitchfork
My dad wasn't supposed to enjoy this.
Pitchfork Music Festival is in its seventh glorious year, and this is the first of the five times I've been to the fest that I opted for some self-appointed parental guidance. I invited my dad, an attorney from South Jersey, to Chicago, to spend some time with him at a festival that wasn't too overwhelming and had a few indie rock acts -- main draw Vampire Weekend among them -- that he recognized and appreciated. I also thought it'd be interesting to receive a pure outsider's take on a music gathering that is based primarily around the critical currency of a popular web site's system of album ratings. My father doesn't care that Feist's last album did not get Best New Music'd; he likes "One Two Three Four" and wanted to check out her other stuff.
Interestingly, this year's Pitchfork lineup included nary a veteran act, save for Chavez and maybe Godspeed You! Black Emperor, that could draw in the older indie fans the way that Pavement, Yo La Tengo and Guided By Voices did in years past. In 2012, Pitchfork Fest is all about pimping the hottest new flavor of hip, an outlook that bestowed several raw acts with massive, curious crowds. I wanted to experience these buzz bands with someone who could offer an honest opinion on their sound and potential longevity, someone who had attended a James Taylor concert during the prior weekend, someone who raised me and taught me a lot about what I know about music today.
But first, he has to watch the A$AP Mob prance around in the rain. "Bass! Bass! Bass!" Rocky is yelling, as his correctly titled "Bass" comes to a roaring close. The entire crowd is bouncing to the production and fueling Rocky's call-and-response tactics and goads of "Get yo' hands up!!" My dad has never appreciated rap music, outside of a few Will Smith songs and Young Jeezy's Obama-endorsing "My President" (both of my parents are diehard liberals). I had played him songs by more forward-thinking hip-hop artists like MF Doom and Cannibal Ox in the past, only to be met with ambivalence or disdain. But in the span of a few minutes, he has gone from looking shell-shocked at the profane, formless mess onstage to gleefully adopting the refrains and steadily understanding the sinewy sensationalism at the heart of the "LiveLoveA$AP" mixtape.
After the set ends and we're walking over to the Blue Stage to see Japandroids, I ask him how he actually felt about what he just saw. "It was fascinating," he says of A$AP Rocky's admittedly thrilling set. "I like energy in a crowd, and it was there from the beginning. It was ridiculous to the point of being fun."
And then he asked what time the set of the next scheduled rapper, Big K.R.I.T., started.
NEXT PAGE: Feist Inducted Into Dad's 'Hall of Shame'