In the week leading up to Pitchfork Festival, the forecast for Chicago showed a spike in temperatures, which only continued to climb higher as Pitchfork weekend inched closer. With highs of 98 degrees (without the heat index and humidity) and the promise of sunny skies, it was clear that this weekend would be one of the hottest of the summer and not necessarily the most ideal weather to spend all day outside watching live music. A couple of days before the fest’s kick off on Friday, Pitchfork Festival organizers announced that they’d be taking extra measures to keep festival goers safer in the extreme weather conditions; In addition to providing additional cooling buses and a misting station, the fest ordered 18,000 more water bottles to pass out for free to its attendees. While I knew there would be no way to feel comfortable in temperatures that felt like 110 degrees, these extra precautions at least eased my mind a bit going into Friday.
My afternoon on the first day of the fest began with Chicago’s own Grapetooth, who played the Blue Stage at 4PM. Tucked away in a tree-lined, shaded corner of the festival grounds, the Blue Stage remained the most comfortable viewing area of Friday, allowing for festival goers to retreat from the sun and still catch some great music. A relatively new collaboration between Twin Peaks’ Clay Frankel and producer/songwriter Chris Bailoni, Grapetooth became an instant hit with their synth-infused, new wave sound and their rambunctious stage presence. The crowd at Pitchfork welcomed them onstage with a rowdy chant and danced along to their opener “Violent,” despite the heat. The opening tune and a few others of Grapetooth’s singles featured an extended introduction, which added some new intensity to their live set. In the spirit of Chicago and the collaborative nature of the music scene, Grapetooth’s set also featured guest appearances from Lillie West of Lala Lala, OHMME, and more.
After a few songs of Grapetooth, I rushed over to the Green Stage to catch Sky Ferreira’s comeback show, marking her return to Chicago for the first time in years. Due to sound issues and gear malfunctioning in the overbearing heat, Ferreira made her way to the stage about 20 minutes past her scheduled time slot, but she was greeted with an overwhelming sound of applause by her many long-time fans. Unfortunately, the sound issues for Ferreira continued for the entire set, and it was clear that she couldn’t hear herself in the in-ear monitors. Despite the technical difficulties and all, Ferreira’s vocals sounded incredible and fans in the crowd screamed along with her when she performed old favorites like “You're Not the One” and “Everything Is Embarrassing.” Adding to the list of obstacles for the singer, Ferreira was cut short due to time restraints, but not before she made the live debut of new song “Descending.”
Next, it was back to the Blue Stage for Soccer Mommy, the project of Nashville songwriter Sophie Allison. All weekend long on the Blue Stage, the festival had different slam poets warm up the crowds for the next musical act performing. The addition of the poets was a great way to experience a different form of art at the festival, and it definitely worked well with an artist like Soccer Mommy, whose narrative-style lyrics have the same relatable impact as some of the words recited by the poets. Overall, Soccer Mommy’s set provided a chance for everyone to just kickback and enjoy a great performance from Allison and her band, who had incredible chemistry onstage from their extensive touring history. The set included favorites like “Last Girl,” “Cool,” and “Your Dog,” which Allison mentioned they hadn’t been performing lately but they were bringing it back in the spirit of Pitchfork.
The legendary Mavis Staples closed out the Red Stage for the first day, providing an instant mood boost for the entire audience and delivering my personal favorite set of the entire day. With her hearty and soulful vocals, which mixed with her grooving band and backup vocalists, Staples captured the audience’s attention and hearts from the very start of her set. A few songs in, the singer told the crowd that she wanted them to feel good, and judging by the infectious grins on everyone’s faces, it was clear she had succeeded in her mission. Staples gave me goosebumps as she sang in harmony with her live bandmates and when she belted out her roaring vocals, showing off the raw power and control she still has over her voice.
HAIM, the evening’s headliners, were up next on the Green Stage. As the sun set over Union Park, the three sisters [Este, Danielle, and Alana Haim] marched to take their places, as a real-time camera followed them on their walk to the stage. The set began with the siblings taking their places in front of drum sets, building up a suspenseful introduction to what would be their first ever festival headlining slot. Their set opened with “Falling” and “Don’t Save Me” from their debut album Days Are Gone, taking the audience back to the days of 2013—when everyone had that album on repeat. In addition to older material—both from their debut and 2017 sophomore album, HAIM also sprinkled in their new song “Summer Girl” and not one, but two Paula Cole covers: “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?” and “I Don't Want To Wait.” HAIM’s festival headline debut allowed longtime fans to relish their older favorites while still experiencing a glimpse of what is to come in the band’s next era.
Friday Gallery from Pitchfork 2019, featuring Grapetooth, Sky Ferreira, Julia Holter, Soccer Mommy, Mavis Staples, and HAIM
Stay tuned for more Pitchfork 2019 Coverage