Some Final Thoughts On Pitchfork Music Festival 2014

By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 22, 2014 7:30PM

While wandering the grounds last weekend during the Pitchfork Music Festival, I asked many folks what their general impression of the weekend was and I'll admit that I wasn't surprised when the most frequent answer was "mellow" or "chill."

It appears Pitchfork Music Fest has grown up and, while there were a few acts that tried to upset the status quo, much of the booking was on the safe side. In some respects this was a disadvantage since Pitchfork continues to book intimate acts on big stages that don't suit their musical approach. But I suppose this is a fault built upon fandom and the desire to expose people to the site's favorite bands without taking into account that a large venue might not always make the best case for personal faves. Conversely, this is also an advantage, at least when it comes to desiring a truly diverse bill that strives to provide truly eclectic entertainment.

Organizationally, the festival has never been stronger. While we still can't figure out why there is only a single water station—even if its placement did provide the welcome illusion that hundreds of kids were lining up so they could register to vote at the booth next door—everything else ran smoothly. The notorious crowd bottleneck leading into the Blue Stage wooded area never became a problem for me over the course of the weekend. Portable bathrooms were plentiful. (And if you knew where the porta-potties were by the park's second entrance you NEVER had to wait in line!) And it was easier to get around Union Park than it has been since the first two or three years of the fest.

Corporate sponsorship was rampant, but at least companies tried to integrate themselves into the festival experience as best they could. Sponsors provided cool down areas, gaming areas, free food and free haircuts, and—this was the only really annoying byproduct in my opinion—free plastic flowers. Gone are the days when a certain men's body spray thought it was a good idea to send scantily clad girls to man a booth that belonged at a frat party and not an indie rock music fest. And we also appreciate the festival continuing to partner with Goose Island to keep the brews local(-ish).

We heard conflicting reports on security at the park. Some readers noticed some aggressive crackdown on drug use, but in my experience I actually found myself trying to avoid the chemical clouds rising around me in hopes of keeping a clear head with nary a "pot patrol person" in sight. On Sunday we did notice a rash of fence jumpers but instead of watching kids get brutally tackled—as I've witnessed at another much larger summer festival—security seemed more interested in finding the easily breached spots and reinforcing them.

Other touches nodding towards community, including a real life "Missed Connections" center that actually united some missed connections, and a fun book that spurred people to do its Mad Lib style activities with each other were also welcome touches. Long gone are the days where we felt true community built upon using actual MCs for the main stages—at this point I actually miss the flavor the Hideout's Tim Tuten would inject into the festivities—so I appreciate the little touches trying to create something personal during a festival that has grown so large.

The music over the weekend was solid, and our recaps from Friday, Saturday and Sunday are a testament to that. And to my pleasure I found each day built upon the previous one to deliver ever better music. Sunday's bill tends to be the weakest but this year it built from beginning to end into the strongest of the three days.

But I do offer a word of caution to organizers when I say this was the first Pitchfork we left where vibe often overtook music as the main talking point. Does this mean the festival has reached an equilibrium? Or were people just so pleasantly surprised that the organization and the weather were so superb that the tunes momentarily took a back seat at times?

I guess we'll find out next year when Pitchfork returns to Union Park.