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A promoter friend of mine asked if I’d be interested in working at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival, the second year for this indie rock fest held in Chicago. 15,000 folks were expected to turn out for a pretty impressive line up of music, a craft market, record fair, poster convention and other activities. “Sure”, I said, “I’d be happy to help”.

I was hired to drive one of the artists shuttle vans between the airport, hotel and the festival site, delivering musicians to where they needed to be. Pitchfork expanded this year to three stages over three days with nearly 40 artists representing rock, pop, free jazz, hip-hop, electronica, folk and metal. Headliners included Yoko Ono and De La Soul with performances by many featured in past issues of DISH, including Sonic Youth, Cat Power, Califone and Of Montreal.

As expected, it was a heady, exhausting and frenzied experience that made for very colorful copy. Here’s a look at festival life backstage, on stage and out amongst the concert revelers at Pitchfork:

DAY ONE

9:30 am – Pick up three members of Sonic Youth’s crew at hotel to transport to festival site for sound check. Tonight’s line up features three acts performing one of their classic albums in its entirety…Louisville, Kentucky indie favorites Slint (“Spiderland”), GZA from the Wu Tang Clan (“Liquid Swords”) and Sonic Youth (“Daydream Nation”). The idea of performing one album from start to finish comes courtesy of the British festival “All Tomorrow’s Parties”. The series, titled “Don’t Look Back”, has been presented in Europe for a few years and tonight, makes its North American debut.

10:15 am – Deliver Yoko Ono’s band to a rehearsal space a few blocks from the festival site. It is a rare occasion when this 74 year old, avant garde artist performs live and noteworthy that she has garnered respect and admiration from the current crop of younger musicians. Ono enlisted many indie bands, including Cat Power and The Flaming Lips, to remix songs from her back catalog on her latest CD, “Yes, I’m A Witch”.

2:40 pm – At airport to pick up GZA from Wu Tang Clan and his DJ. They ask how long their set is. I tell them an hour. GZA says his album “Liquid Swords” is about 50 minutes long and thinks doing a few new tunes at the end would be a good idea. “What do you think of that, Carol?” I tell him it would be great, but it’s too bad he didn’t bring a DVD copy of his scene with Bill Murray from the movie “Coffee and Cigarettes” because there’s a giant video screen next to the stage and the crowd would go nuts. He asked if the festival could download the trailer for the Wu Tang Clan’s upcoming concert film off the internet. The request is submitted but too late in the day to make happen. Check it out at YouTube.

4:05 pm – Traffic is a nightmare and GZA’s DJ needs to sound check a.s.a.p. GZA’s delivered to the hotel first to check in before he’s due at the park at 5:30. Drive DJ to park.

5:30 pm – Pick up GZA along with members of Yoko Ono’s band and the Brooklyn-based indie trio Oxford Collapse. The Thai food GZA ordered over an hour ago hasn’t arrived at the hotel, so a call is made to the restaurant to have it delivered to the festival.

5:45 pm – Standing on street corner waiting for Thai food.

6:08 pm – Thai food arrives. GZA fed.

7:00 pm – Pick up Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley at hotel. Have a lovely chat about Hoboken, New Jersey where he lives and I once resided.

7:32 pm – Run in to Yoko Ono’s drummer, M.B, who asks if there’s a hardware store nearby. He needs a small ball pien hammer for tomorrow’s set. I make a note to buy one in the morning before their sound check.

9:08 pm – Catch Sonic Youth performing two songs from 1988’s “Daydream Nation”, confirming, once again, that they are the coolest band on the planet.

DAY TWO

9 am – Make a stop at Home Depot for ball pien hammer. Note to self…perfect time to shop here. No customers, no register lines and eerily quiet. Guess the weekend gardeners haven’t woken up yet. Deliver hammer to drummer at sound check.

10 am – Arrive at hotel to see if any bands need a ride. No one in the lobby except four kids from Ohio who are planning to walk the 14 blocks to the festival. I offer them a ride and they are most appreciative.

1:40 pm – Witness first heat-related casualty of the festival. A very pale, freckle-faced girl nearly faints while watching Califone, Chicago’s Americana soundscape quartet. They’re only the second band of the day to hit the stages and with the sun blazing from up above, attendees need to pace themselves earlier than usual.

2:30 pm – Arrive at hotel to drive GZA to airport for flight to Serbia where he’ll rejoin The Wu Tang Clan on their festival swing through Europe.

2:55 pm – Still waiting at hotel. Run in to ex-boyfriend in lobby who is also playing Pitchfork. (You owe me one, GZA!)

3: 18 pm – GZA arrives and we’re off to the airport. Enjoy a nice conversation about his family and future work including writing novels. He is both a scholar and a gentleman.

5:15 pm – Return to festival and grab something to eat. Catch a few lovely, pseudo-hippie folk songs from Iron and Wine. Their beautiful, heart-wrenching music makes for an ideal break from the earlier flurry of driving.

6:15 pm – Walk out from backstage area to a tent housing “a department store of handmade goods” called, fittingly enough ,“Depart-ment”. Crafters from all over showed up to sell their wares. Saw some very inventive merch including “Owly Shadow Puppets” for $10.00 ( HYPERLINK "http://www.owlyshadowpuppets.com" www.owlyshadowpuppets.com) and clever letter-press postcards for $2.00 from Rar Rar Press (www.rarrarpress@yahoo.com).

6:40 pm – Arrive at airport with a second van to pick up Klaxons, six extremely polite British men whose self-described “new rave” sounds will be the last heard on the third stage at 8:30 tonight. All of their luggage and gear, including two cases damaged by the airline, are loaded in to one of the vans.

7:35 pm – Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore approached by excited fan who asks if he’d say hello to his friend on his phone. Moore takes the cell phone and says “hello friend on phone”. Kid on other end most likely loses his sh#@.

8:12 pm – Down time until someone needs a ride so the opportunity is taken to watch Cat Power’s set. Singer Chan Marshall and her Dirty Delta Blues Band perform some well-executed covers including “Dark End of the Street” made famous by Gram Parsons and The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction”. Her wispy, restrained vocals and the bands gritty, bar room soul emit a compelling earthiness the crowd loves. Marshall’s dog watches the show from the side of the stage.

9 pm – Joyous applause signals the arrival of Yoko Ono. Her mere presence on stage is pretty powerful and the throngs of indie hipsters collectively embrace her. Wondrous when you realize the majority of kids at Pitchfork were born after John Lennon died and are unaware that she was once the most reviled woman on the planet. Ono is demure and delicate like a flower when she sings her simple, poetic songs and less of a loon when she lets her signature caterwauling loose. Someone in the crowd yells “God bless you, Yoko!” Her response…, “okay”. Special guest Thurston Moore joins Ono for “Mulberry”, a duet she recorded with Lennon that sonically mirrors her childhood memory of picking mulberries while the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Moore’s thunderous guitar noise and feedback along with Ono’s scat-like trill proves, that among the current crop of experimental music, this woman was way ahead of her time.

1:35 am – Drop off Chicago party rappers The Cool Kids and grab some food near the hotel at an all night gyro restaurant with a friend who’s in town for Pitchfork. Exhaustion has caused hallucinations of 10,000 cyclists pedaling past restaurant window. Nope, not a dream, just a city sanctioned midnight bike run.

DAY THREE

9 am – Pick up Ono’s band members to drive to airport. Word is she really enjoyed performing last night and wants to do more shows this year. For her set, the idea came up to have other artists join her for a sing-a-long of “Happy Christmas (War Is Over)”. Invites were extended to Cat Power (too shy to do it) and pummeling metal rockers Mastodon (“we don’t sing”). When rappers Clipse were asked if they wanted to join in on “War Is Over”, they answered “nah, we’re drug dealers”.

1: 25 pm – Festival goer walks by eating from a box of Frosted Krusty O’s cereal. Nice to see “The Simpsons Movie” promotion is working.

2:15 pm – Number of iPhones seen at Pitchfork = 3 Number of hacky sacks = 0

2:45 pm – Walk over to check out the third stage next to the basketball court when I happen upon a group of boys playing a game called “Four Square”. Four players stand on a chalk-drawn set of four squares and bounce a ball to each other. Not sure what the rules are exactly, but one wonders why they’d play ball when this place is crawling with cute girls?

3:10 pm – Pick up New Pornographers at hotel. While driving to festival, sunscreen gets in eyes. Ouch! Tears start pouring out. I can barely see and joke that if anyone asks why I’m crying, I’ll say my favorite Canadian band beat me up.

3:30 pm – Visit first aid tent to get eye drops to restore vision. They don’t have anything but contact solution and hand me a tiny paper cup and a bottle of water to flush out my eyes. I’m hot so I drink the water instead.

4:10 pm – Vision returns in time to watch Chicago’s The Sea and Cake and hear their rich, intellectual post-rock stylings. Guitarist Archer Prewitt is wearing a blazer on this hot summer day. I’m appreciative that he and the numerous jazz musicians on the third stage have made a rare, daytime festival appearance.

6:55 pm – The flamboyant Of Montreal takes the stage, festooned like a psychedelic traveling circus. The glam, new wavers are a brilliant spectacle of plumage, glitter, frills, gold football uniforms and party costumes. A silver, mesh-faced extra in a black unitard performs a somewhat credible handstand as the band pumps out sparkly, disco hooks.

6:45 pm – Arrive at hotel to pick up De La Soul. Look for their manager, named Smiles, among the large entourage in the lobby and ask the closest person to me if he’s Smiles. No, he’s not. Oops! That was Maseo, the DJ in De La Soul, I just asked. Dead silence in the van as we ride to the festival.

8:15 pm – With the golden hour transpiring as the sun begins to set, The New Pornographers are in fine form, belting out the best power pop rock to ever exit Canada.

9 pm – De La Soul leaps on stage to an overwhelming ovation. The trio’s 1989 album, “3 Feet High And Rising”, brought peace, love and positivity to the rap game. They tease and goof on each other like brothers, joking, laughing and asking Maseo, “Are you Smiles? Ha, ha.” Ugh! Nothing like being made fun of in front of 15,000 people.

12: 35 am – Return the last band still standing from the festival, The New Pornographers, to the hotel and return home to sleep, vowing to stay out of the sun for the rest of the year.

www.Dishmag.com / Issue 72 - September 2018
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