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Monday, Jul 19, 2010, 6:11 am

Pitchfork Day 3: And Then It Was Over

By Jeremy Gantz
CHICAGO—Yes that's right: Pitchfork makes it short and sweet, so you have to wait a year for more. So it goes. Day Three equaled Day Two—surpassed it (save the final reunion act, Pavement) as a matter of fact. Here's why, in a nutshell:

—Beach House knows how to dream big in drenched reverb, even when the sun is cooking. (The band's lead singer had a mesmerizing face of hair throughout its set.)
—Lightning Bolt was to the festival what General Sherman was to the Civil War: completely focused on blazing a vicious trail through civilization with one clear goal: victory over hearts and minds. They destroyed us all; I had to go for a walk in the middle of the duo's set.
—St. Vincent's beguiling voice.
—Major Lazer's hilariously insipid stage banter and hyping. (A sample: "Someone's gonna get pregnant tonight!")
—Pavement's pitch-perfect rendition of themselves, and their now-classic songs.

Yes, Big Boi was disappointing. I kept looking for Andre 3000 (since he was up on the big screen so much during various music videos) to no avail. But at least Chi-Town Finest Breakers made an encore performance during the set; Raekwon left me wanting more yesterday.

I'll leave the microscopic dissection of Pavement's performance to all the indie music blogs out there; suffice to say I was satisfied (that word's apt after all the wait and hype surrounding the show) and that Malkmus et. al. handled it beautifully and naturally: no awkward reunion banter, self-conscious glory, just great songs brought back to life by some old friends glad to be doing what they do best.

It was my first (and hopefully not last) Pitchfork Festival, so I'll just offer some final thoughts as the summer winds down, the major highlight now in my rearview mirror...

I wandered the festival grounds (AKA Union Park) quite a bit during the last three days, and was very impressed by the prominent inclusion of local vendors, the reasonable food prices and the hospitality given to bikers. I biked to the festival all three days, parking in a Chicago Reader-hosted and guarded cycle area just outside the festival's southern perimeter. I bought a veggie burger from The Chicago Diner, a landmark vegetarian restaurant here. I browsed vinyl being sold by a handful of independent record labels. CHIRP was there, as were dozens of poster artists and a handful of nonprofit orgs looking to get their worthy messages out (see my previous post, which focused on Headcount).

Beer was pretty cheap—$5 per, well below NFL game gouging. A water fountain let bottles be refilled (but you had to be patient; the line was usually long).

But just as Pitchfork does (occasionally) review music released by major record labels, Pitchfork Festival did allow a few corporations through the festival gates: Toyota (offering a car in which you could get your photo taken), American Express (its "Zync" booth allowed people to recharge cell phones) and Whole "We Love Music" Foods (hosting a mini-mart separate from other food vendors) were all in attendance. But, mercifully, they were marginalize, literally pushed to the margins of the festival. There were no corporate branded stages (I'm pointing at you, Lollapalooza), no obnoxious advertisements.

The festival felt authentically independent, and I'm guessing that if Toyota, American Express, Whole Foods and Heineken (the sole purveyor of beer throughout the weekend) weren't let in the gates, there wouldn't be any gates. That is: no corporate sponsorship, no festival. At least not for $40 per day (and just $90 for the whole thing), which is incredibly affordable. Lollapalooza, set for next month in Chicago, charged $90 for each of its three days, and a whopping $215 for a regularly priced weekend pass. The one time that festival was mentioned during the weekend—when Drag CIty co-founder Rian Murphy offered a purposefully longwinded Andy Kaufman-esque intro to Pavement—boos ensued. (Of course, the crowd would likely have booed anyone delaying Pavement's entrance.)

I listen to and love lots of independent music. I hate to shop and avoid most corporations like the plague. But I'm a pragmatist, not a purist: If a few of the latter are necessary to ensure the existence of an inexpensive festival dedicated to the former, that's just fine by me. Let's just hope that Pitchfork stays small. Size does matter. When it comes to live music, bigger is almost always worse.

Jeremy Gantz was the Web/Associate Editor of In These Times from 2008 to 2012. His January 2011 cover story for the magazine, "Terrorist by Association," was selected as a finalist for the Molly National Journalism Award 2012. He is now a contributing editor to the magazine, focusing on labor issues.

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