The Top 20 Things My Dad Loved About Pitchfork Festival 2017
For the sixth straight year, there he was: in the middle of the crowd, in a t-shirt and jeans, jotting observations into a notepad that he kept in his back pocket. My 62-year-old father, an attorney based in New Jersey, lives for Pitchfork Music Festival.
Ever since we started going together in 2012 -- he keenly and hilariously reacted to sets by A$AP Rocky and Grimes, I wrote down his words, turned them into a festival recap, and now he writes alongside me each year -- my dad has found a second home in Chicago’s Union Park each July, loving and hating and thoughtfully critiquing the artists onstage, just like any tastemaker.
In 2017, however, his notes skewed almost entirely positive. Where were the grizzled dismissals, the harsh sarcasm, the snark? The 2017 Pitchfork Music Festival — with LCD Soundsystem, A Tribe Called Quest and Solange as a wrecking crew of headliners — had too strong of a lineup compared to years past. That’s why I asked my dad to turn his 20 favorite things about this year’s experience into a list. He pulled out his notes, and obliged.
Here are the 20 things my dad loved about this year’s Pitchfork Fest, presented with commentary from yours truly to keep him honest.
20. Dawn Richard’s Comedy
One of the first performances of the festival came from the former Danity Kane star and current avant-garde R&B songwriter, who probably thought she would never end up at a Pitchfork Music Festival. “A smooth performer with high energy and good backup dancers,” says my dad. “She had a nice rapport with the crowd — some goofing around that I liked.” I was just happy she did two songs from Diddy-Dirty Money songs; #JusticeForLastTrainToParis.
19. Isaiah Rashad’s Change-Up
“Non-frantic rap,” my dad, who is not the world’s leading hip-hop expert, noted of the TDE standout’s Sunday afternoon set. “Singing instead of spitting! He had some nice R&B melodies, almost dreamy.”
18. Dirty Projectors’ Trial-and-Error
When Dawn Richard joined Dirty Projectors mastermind Dave Longtreth onstage for their new duet “Cool Your Heart” to end this set, my dad turned to me and said, “They should have a female vocalist as part of the group!” I then had to explain to my dad who Amber Coffman is.
“They had the most experimental music of the festival,” my dad said later, “and unfortunately, some of the experiments failed, like a way-too-long guitar riff and weird, random sounds thrown together. But some really pretty, thoughtful songs.” The DP’s are always going to be a grab bag with some gorgeous moments, but Longstreth seemed more playful than he was when he last played Pitchfork in 2012.
17. The ‘Moms Demand Action’ Booth
“They were giving out literature, buttons and stickers urging sensible gun restrictions and safety,” said my dad of one of the dozen kiosks set up on the far side of Union Park. “I told the volunteers that they were doing great and important work, and they were.” Well-said, pops.
16. Pinegrove’s Fan Worship
The emo-adjacent Montclair, NJ collective Pinegrove released one of last year’s best albums with sophomore LP Cardinal, and my dad was tickled to see hundreds of people show up to scream along to it on a Sunday afternoon. “I loved watching the enthusiasm of the hardcore fans,” he said. “They knew all the songs, and surged to the front of the crowd to dance maniacally!” I appreciated the set’s quieter moments, like the open wound that is the beginning of “Cadmium.”
15. The T-Shirts and Hats of the Crowd
Being a stereotypical liberal dad from New Jersey, my father got some dap for his Bruce Springsteen and Bernie Sanders t-shirts on Friday and Saturday, respectively. Some of his other favorites from the weekend: “I Like Obamacare,” “Consent - It’s Not Just For The Bedroom,” “Fuck Trump,” “Icky Trump” and “Abortion is Freedom.” Personally, I adored all the unexpected rock t-shirts I saw all weekend, including Max Tundra, Casiotone For The Painfully Alone and I’m From Barcelona.
14. Frankie Cosmos’ Chord Progressions
I love Frankie Cosmos’ mini-songs when they’re bundled into an album, but couldn’t vibe with her Friday afternoon show, simply because her many minute-long vignettes would end before fully blooming. My dad, however, was more forgiving. “I found myself playing air guitar with the songs,” he said. “That’s always a good sign.”
13. The festival Itself
At this point, I completely take the amenities of a major music festival for granted, having attended a few dozen over the last half-decade. Meanwhile, my dad likes to high-five staff members, calls out “Great set!” to performers who stroll by us in the VIP lounge, and remains forever appreciative of the outdoor experience. “There were helpful volunteers, fine acoustics, the acts generally started on time, and there were interesting artists booked this year,” he said. If he was reviewing Pitchfork fest the way Pitchfork reviews albums, my dad would treat it like a Vampire Weekend LP and slap that Best New Music on it before side one was even done.
12. Derrick Carter’s Deep Grooves
On Sunday afternoon, my dad and I ran into two friends (including Pitchfork’s own Jeremy Larson) on the festival grounds. I told them that they we were going to check out some vinyl at the record fair. Jeremy told us to check out the DJ playing great house music on the Blue Stage. My dad and I proceeded to make a beeline to the Blue Stage, and danced like idiots to Chicago’s own Derrick Carter, a “masterful” producer according to my father. “I always wanted a great DJ who could just spin great dance music at this festival,” said my dad. “Derrick Carter was it!”
11. Francis and the Lights’ Gymnastics
So Francis and the Lights’ Francis Farewell Starlite scaled the scaffolding of the Blue Stage at one point on Saturday afternoon, and hoisted himself into a tree overlooking his audience at another point. His energy proved a great supplement to his electro-R&B, but not as great as my dad’s top Dad Joke of the weekend: “I’m not sure if this guy is climbing the charts,” he said, “but he climbs everything else!”
10. Madame Gandhi’s Feminist Message
My dad and I arrived at Pitchfork Fest early on Friday specifically to see Priests; he wasn’t interested in Madame Gandhi, the preceding act, until she not-jokingly promised to read some feminist poetry and his diehard liberal heart soared. “I liked the passion, and her ‘The Future Is Female’ shirt,” my dad said.
9. Priests’ Blondie evocations
I was personally amped to see Priests on Friday — Nothing Feels Natural is on my album of the year shortlist, and I’ve heard tales of Katie Alice Greer’s electric stage presence. I thought my dad, who rails against too-heavy music, would turn his nose up at them -- but he bought what Priests were selling. “Their punk music worked in large part because of the lead vocalist, whose moves and voice and even physical appearance reminded me of Debbie Harry,” he said. High praise from an old-schooler.
8. PJ Harvey’s Elegance
Another one I was not sure how my dad would react to -- he hasn’t been too keen on patient art-rock auteurs in the past -- and I thought Polly Jean had lost him when she began with what he called “an annoying drum roll/marching band sound that lasted way too long.” Nevertheless she persisted, and my dad went all in: “After that, it was excellent pop music that was not overbearing,” he said. “PJ has fine vocals and clever lyrics, and the harmonies worked perfectly!”
7. A Tribe Called Quest’s Fiery Finale
I was much higher on Tribe’s long-awaited reunion show than my dad — the combination of mourning Phife Dawg’s death in public, venting frustration with political enemies, celebrating lifelong friendship between MCs and playing one hip-hop classic after another yielded an extended emotional moment, and one of the festival’s best headlining sets to date. My dad has never fallen in love with straightforward rap, but understood the skill and passion of Q-Tip, Jarobi and Consequence nonetheless.
“I loved the synchronized dance moves, the three guys rapping simultaneously, the angry social commentary and the knockout final number,” he said, referring to 2016 single “We The People…” He also wanted to point out how much he appreciated “their ability to enunciate, so everyone can actually understand what they’re saying.”
6. Hamilton Leithauser’s Expert Songwriting
“One of the top experiences of the entire festival for me,” said my dad, a huge Hamilton Leithauser fan who practically squealed when I told him in March that the Walkmen frontman would be playing Pitchfork this year. Want to catch a 62-year-old stanning for a respected indie-rock mainstay, bellowing every word of every song back to him? Look for the bald guy with the greying mustache. “This performer has such a unique sound,” he gushed. “He’s got giant rock vocals, basic guitar melodies and a hint of doo-wop. They all work together spectacularly.” Hamilton, if you’re reading this and looking to staff up your fan army -- my dad will gladly serve as your general.
5. Kamaiyah’s Call-and-Response
Another one on my own must list, after her debut mixtape A Good Night in the Ghetto blew me away last year. Kamaiyah is everything you’d hope for as a live performer, and my dad was grooving along to “How Does It Feel” with the rest of the audience. “‘High-energy’ doesn’t do this justice,” he said. “It was a frenzy of rapping and dancing. Mesmerizing!”
4. Solange’s Heart
After watching Solange perform her True EP at Pitchfork fest a few years ago, my dad was looking forward to seeing her again, although he was totally unaware of A Seat at the Table or its more nuanced sound. The Sunday headlining set, however, was so spectacular -- with horns, harmonies, dance breakdowns and enormous vocal showcases -- that he even appreciated the more subdued moments. “Just superb R&B songs,” he said, “and Solange’s vocals are masterful. She gave a sincere thank-you to her fans and to Pitchfork, which was very classy.”
3. George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic’s Time Machine
The most expected dad adoration of the weekend went to George Clinton and his “kaleidoscope of funk, rap, showmanship and just plain fun,” per my pops. Indeed, Clinton’s set was the packed celebration we all knew it was going to be, and it was wholly enjoyable watching my dad and his Chicago-based cousin Nancy (who joined us on Saturday) actually recognize a bunch of the songs being played during an afternoon set. “I danced to this set more than any other,” my dad said. “And where else would a guy in a half-black, half-white pimp costume do a headstand on stage?” Certainly not during PJ Harvey, Dad.
2. LCD Soundsystem’s Festival Machine
“The first few songs just blew the place away,” my dad said of LCD Soundsystem’s riotous headlining set, which kicked off with tracks like “Daft Punk is Playing at My House” and “I Can Change.” At this point in their strange journey toward mainstream stardom, James Murphy and his crew are festival vets and know how to discerning a discerning audience; my dad, a longtime fan who has never gotten to see them, was ready to embrace LCD and they delivered. “They sagged ever-so-slightly in the middle, but then the finale revved it up again,” he said. “My son and I danced side-by-side to ‘All My Friends.’ You can’t beat that!”
Which leads us to…
1. Taking In The Concert With My Son
“There’s nothing better than talking music and listening to great performers in perfect summer weather with my son,” my dad concluded. For the sixth straight year, all the headliners and festival discoveries and dance parties and snoozefests, I have to say that he’s right.