Arts & Entertainment

Pitchfork Day One Packs Sweltering Heat and High Energy

Another weekend in mid-July rolls around, and for lovers of indie music, that means another year at Pitchfork Music Festival. The annual music festival kicked off its first day Friday in the splintering heat with headliner HAIM taking the Green stage to close out the 100-plus-degree day. 

Taking place from July 19-21, festival organizers expected thousands of festival-goers to gather in Union Park (1501 W. Randolph St.), and despite the heat, they did just that. Cooling stations and free water bottles kept fans hydrated while they enjoyed a day of music.  

Friday brought a number of Chicago native artists, including new wave-influenced duo Grapetooth, blues singer Mavis Staples and rapper Valee, as well as a number of rappers — including Earl Sweatshirt and Pusha-T. Representing the more lo-fi indie artists were Soccer Mommy, Sky Ferreira and Julia Holter.

Renegade Craft and CHIRP Record Fair occupied a large tent near the Blue stage as a place for attendees to explore if there was ever a gap in their concert-viewing schedule. New and used records, jewelry and knick-knacks were available for purchase and being in the shade, the fair was ideal for anyone looking to hide from the sun. 

Valee — Red Stage

Taking the north-most stage at 3:20 p.m., Chicago native rapper Valee Taylor, known by his stage name Valee, put on a show for his gathered fans. Being an earlier set, the crowd was thinner but long-time Valee fans pumped their fists and sang along verbatim as the artist performed songs including “Womp Womp” and “About U.” 

Valee and his on-stage disc jockey and hype man opted for a more relaxed show, not engaging the audience much more than by pondering why it was so hot. Valee, wearing blue jeans and a white t-shirt, paced the stage amid smoke and sun. 

Nearing the end of his set, the artist brought out his small, red-dyed chihuahua as a surprise to audiences, leaving some wondering how healthy the loud, on-stage environment was for the small pup. 

Grapetooth — Blue Stage

Chicago-based duo Grapetooth riled up the crowd and kept them dancing from start to finish with its infectious synth and elastic dance moves. The band began its 4 p.m. set with “Violent,” the opening track off its debut self-titled album. 

The afternoon heat didn’t dampen the spirits of the band or the fans as all jumped around to the undeniably catchy single “Blood.” The rest of the set included friends of band members Chris Bailoni and Clay Frankel joining various songs. Frankel is also known for his work in indie-rock band Twin Peaks.

By the time the set was ending, the stage was filled with people — blue-clad backup singers doing hilariously choreographed dances, a man continuously pretending he’s about to jump into the crowd and people spraying water into the masses.

Soccer Mommy — Blue Stage 

Soccer Mommy brought her lo-fi pop-rock sounds to the stage at 6:30 p.m. Ready with her pigtails, metallic shorts and star stickers, she gave the crowd the ideal set to take a break in the awning of the trees.

Fans of the singer screamed in excitement as Soccer Mommy, whose real name is Sophie Allison, revealed she’d be playing her popular track “Your Dog,” which she said she hadn’t played recently. The crowd sang along to the feminist bop with lyrics “I don’t wanna be your fucking dog / That you drag around.”

Whether fans were laying in the grass or swaying in the crowd, Soccer Mommy’s chill set was made to be experienced on a warm summer day. 

Mavis Staples — Red Stage 

The iconic blues singer and activist Mavis Staples emerged on stage for her 7:25 p.m. set donning an orange silk kimono and black jeans, her hair in the perfect bob. Accompanied by four backup singers, Staples launched into a performance many might’ve deemed spiritual. 

In between songs — including “We Get By” from her latest album released in May, as well as songs by The Staple Singers such as “Touch a Hand, Make a Friend” and “Freedom Highway” — Staples urged the crowd to spread positivity and good vibrations and said she wanted to make people feel good, at least as long as they were at her set. 

Being the activist she is, her message of peace and inclusivity was embedded not only in her music but in her banter. As expected, she joked about the current political state and the president, saying she once used to like oranges but that’s no longer the case. 

Next time Mavis Staples is in Chicago, don’t be surprised if she comes with a record producer. After performing “For What It’s Worth,” to which the song sang every lyric, she said she’d be back to make an album, which she’ll title “Chicago Acapella and the Staples Children.” 

HAIM — Green Stage 

Surrounded by an aura of mystique and anticipation, Danielle Haim emerged on-stage at 8:30 p.m. donning a gold, sparkling suit. As she begins pounding on the snare drum in front of her, Este and Alana Haim followed suit. The two flanked Danielle — they stood in order of youngest to oldest — offsetting her gold suit with black sparkling ones undone to show a black bralette. 

Their Pitchfork performance was their first ever headlining performance, and the sisters didn’t refrain from reminding the audience of their emotions. They might have been nervous in front of 20,000 people, but it didn’t show. Their energy was infectious and as they knocked songs off their setlist, that energy only continued seeping through the crowd. 

The pop-rock band skipped around years worth of songs, performing “Forever” — the first song they wrote — right after debuting their newest single, “Summer Girl.” Halfway through their set, three stools were brought out, and the sisters said this would be their first time performing acoustically — something many rock bands are known to do during live sets. 

It was a night of firsts for HAIM, and Pitchfork marveled in it. 

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