Pitchfork Festival 2021 - Andy Shauf The Weather Station Special Interest Kim Gordon Tomberlin Horsegirl Bartees Strange Ela Minus Dog Leg
Pitchfork Festival has always managed to be a diverse inclusive gathering that looks both into the future and back to its past with a reasonable set-up and eclectic roster. Beyond moving to September with mask protocol and vaccination mandates to ensure a safe environment to enjoy music, mosh pits and merch, the 2021 version was no exception. For some bands this was the first time they played since the pandemic, for others, recent natural disasters made the trip to Chicago particularly challenging. New Orleans’ punk powerhouse Special Interest barely escaped from Hurricane Ida. The Weather Station, whose latest album, “Ignorance,” tackles climate change, only hinted at difficult logistics when they claimed to have climbed seventeen mountains to get to the festival. Jay Electronica was the only last-minute cancellation with the remaining forty-one bands arriving well-rehearsed and ready to play.
From the one-handed cartwheel from Dog Leg’s guitarist to St. Vincent ’s rotating stage and choreographed nostalgia, the performances were uniformly impressive and energetic. Amaarae’s emotional intensity, Bartees Strange’s souful hopefulness, Tomberlin’s delicate declarations, Cat Power’s compassionate folk-blues; the entire spectrum of human feelings were articulated while black midi, Ty Segall and Thundercat unleashed feelings words couldn’t quite convey. The pandemic and the twentieth anniversary of 9/11 were occasionally mentioned, but an overall sense of appreciation and gratitude wove through the between song chit-chat and as in past years, the festival created a sonic bubble where lyrical wisdom and socio-political willfulness floated over life’s more immediate needs to chill out and rock on.
From up and coming no wave trio Horsegirl to established indie stars Hop Along, this year’s Festival drew from all segments of the “hip” music industry. Rappers Maxo Kream and Armand Hammer shared stages with pop chanteuse Faye Webster, electronic artist Ela Minus and auto-tuned Latin psycho-groovers Divino Niño, slinging sounds that often crossed between genres and styles. There was a sense of old home week after two year’s absence, from a reunited The Fiery Furnaces to three-time Pitchfork performer Kelly Lee Owens. Between the new and the established, a feeling of having watched some of these bands evolve came into play. It didn’t seem that long ago since Friday Headliner Phoebe Bridgers played Madison’s The Frequency with Julien Baker. Big Thief, Waxahatchee and Angel Olsen all went from small but intense appreciation to worldwide adulation in a matter of one or two breakout albums.
Whether discovering new music or revisiting old, the three-day gathering felt open and receptive, a place artists could preview new songs, bring up special guests or expand their live sound with strings. A little bit of everything, Chicago’s Pitchfork 2021 was a welcome oasis after eighteen long months of shuttered clubs and crowdless livestreams.