KAMAIYAH / Photo: George Jeff

Pitchfork Music Festival 2017: Day One

Creative musical talents, nice weather, and friendly people combined with long, long lines, some minor technical issues, and a few lackluster performances.

This year’s Pitchfork Music Festival (July14-16), the 12th at Chicago’s Union Park location, was characterized by its mix of creative musical talents, nice weather, and friendly people along with long, long lines, some minor technical issues, and a few lackluster performances. Perhaps that is all one can expect at a rock fest. Its organizers can curate lineups and trust the audience will share their progressive values, cross their fingers against rainstorms, and plan so that most problems are insignificant. But a sellout crowd of 50,000 people creates lines, and while the vibe was open and pleasant, waiting more than 30 minutes for a drink makes even patient folk irritable.

The first day of the event started with a bang as the first three shows featured frenzied, propulsive energy thanks to acts such as DC punks Priests and the choreographed beats and moves of Dawn Richard. Priests performed songs from their most recent album Nothing Feels Natural. Lead singer Katie Alice Greer emitted rage and furor tempered with a sense of humor as she theatrically spelled out the harsh realities of modern life. Richard took a more danceable approach to her concerns. She posed and glided across the stage while keeping the music fresh.

DAWN RICHARD / Photo: Rob Daly

There was a definite lull in the action during the white boy rock/big name male rappers acts that followed. While there were some highlights during the 3:00 pm to 6:30 p.m. shows, the run of country rock’s Hiss Golden Messenger, Nashville guitarist William Tyler, Long Beach’s Vince Staples, ex-Sonic Youth frontman Thurston Moore, and serio-comic Danny Brown grew dull. What momentum the women had created began to dissipate.

“Chicago is the most racially segregated city in America,” rapper Vic Mensa announced at a Pitchfork Music Festival afterparty celebrating the release of his new album, My Autobiography. Despite Pitchfork’s booking of many nonwhite acts from a variety of genres, it was true that the audience was overwhelmingly white. However, whether the act was white or not, many in the audience did try to energize the artists during this time — at least those people standing in the front. Others took the opportunity to drink and graze at the many booths offering food and drink, not to mention the craft fair, a record market, a book fort with live author discussions, a poster show, and political action booths promoting gun control, women’s health, safe schools, and other causes.


Kamaiyah got things going again from the small Blue Stage where the Oakland MC provided the needed get-up-and-go through her physical presence and powerful vocals. The 25-year-old is a much heralded new voice on the scene, but she showed the hype was deserved on her Pitchfork outing. She dynamically performed a non-stop set of neo-funk style anthems such as “Build You Up,” and “Mo Money Mo Problems” with a winning combination of power and grace. With the help of a DJ and a man claiming to be her brother shouting her praises, she never let the vitality droop.

She was followed by Venezuelan electronic producer Arca, whose vigorous juxtaposition of sounds, words, and beats lifted the show to a higher level. People reluctantly left during mid-set to catch the night’s headliners, dance punk rockers LCD Soundsystem. Led by James Murphy, who kvetched about his age, the group stimulated the mob to move and groove to old hits such as “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down”, “Daft Punk Is Playing In My House”, and “Yr City’s a Sucker” and a few new songs.

ARCA / Photo: Daniel Shea