Jason Lipshutz, Billboard's Senior Director, Music, went to last weekend's Pitchfork Music Festival with his dad -- their seventh time attending the Chicago fest together. As part of their annual tradition, Jason recorded his father's takes on the artists and bands on display, and shares some of his most notable "Dadfork" insights below.
It was inevitable: my dad has attended Pitchfork Music Festival so many times, he’s started to draw comparisons between today’s indie darlings and the indie darlings of yore.
My father, a 64-year-old attorney based in New Jersey, had been to six Pitchfork Fests prior to the 2019 edition touching down in Chicago’s Union Park this past weekend, and had joined me to review the festival as a father-son duo from 2012 to 2017 (we were unable to attend the 2018 festival). Every year, he would be in the back of the crowd with a tiny notebook and pen, jotting down stray observations and getting sucked into the fun; over time, he's become as much of a fixture of the taste-making music website’s annual summit as poetry readings, ironic t-shirts and bands with Bradford Cox.
At this point, my dad has witnessed so many artists at Pitchfork Fest that he’ll often pepper his critiques with “They reminded me of...” or “They were just like...” comparisons, usually involving another artist that had graced the Union Park stage in years past. Some of those comps were expected and shared, and some were decidedly dad-only takes. So Year 7 of Dadfork felt like a good occasion to look back at some of the artists he’s witnessed over the years of covering the festival, and how this year’s lineup called their highs and lows to mind.
Here are the 16 things that struck my dad about this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival, and what they recalled from years past from the festival.
Grapetooth’s dance antics: “Excellent dance band, cranking out gems that were like ‘80s Blondie stuff,” my dad said of the new wave project co-helmed by Twin Peaks guitarist Clay Frankel, which played a happy-go-lucky set to a hometown crowd on a sweaty Friday afternoon.. Later that day, he bought their CD in the merch tent! They reminded my dad of... Grimes, who was one of the breakthrough performers at the 2012 fest, when she headlined the side stage with her Visions material. “The dance-ability and strong keyboard brings her to mind -- not the same sound, but uptempo, instantly catchy songs,” he explained of the comparison. Does this mean that the members of Grapetooth are about to get part of their eyeballs removed? Stay tuned.
Sky Ferreira’s technical difficulties. “Sometimes, it’s just not your day,” my dad lamented of the beloved pop singer-songwriter’s overdue return to the stage on Friday afternoon, for a cursed set that featured myriad sound issues and pushed back her start time. “It seemed to affect her performance and demeanor, and it didn’t connect,” he said of Ferreira, whom he had seen and loved at Pitchfork Fest in 2013. “Too bad, because she’s excellent - great voice, strong material.” It reminded my dad of... Indie-rock mainstay Waxahatchee’s 2015 set, which included ample material for a potentially great show but was plagued by a disinterested audience. “That was a choppy set that didn’t grab the crowd at all,” he recalled, with a much better memory about the mood of a Waxahatchee crowd from four years ago than I currently have.
Whitney’s golden atmosphere: As the Chicago troupe debuted a handful of songs from their upcoming sophomore album, the weekend heat and rain finally gave way to a mild afternoon with a slight breeze -- so, pristine weather for intimate indie-folk tunes. “They have gorgeous songs with lovely arrangements,” said my dad, who had previously caught them at Pitchfork Fest in 2016. “Horns, violins, guitars, and a unique vocalist [Julien Ehrlich] with a voice that skies. Just a wonderful set on a beautiful afternoon.” They reminded my dad of... Hot Chip, the veteran electro-pop group that played his all-time favorite Pitchfork set back in 2012. “Different type of music, but that type of perfection took me back to them,” he said.
Rico Nasty’s manic demeanor, which included the formation of a mosh pit in the sweltering heat on Friday in between the New York rap phenom’s blistering rhymes. “I like any performer who has high energy and connects with the audience,” my dad declared. “She was rhythmic, had fun little dance moves, and at one point was sitting on the edge of the stage, goofing around with the crowd.” In short, my dad appreciates when a Pitchfork act carries a whiff of dinner theater. She reminded my dad of... A$AP Rocky, the very first act he watched at his very first Pitchfork Fest in 2012, when the A$AP leader was still six months away from his proper debut album (and years away from a legal crisis that has kept him captive in Sweden for weeks on end). “The crowd was loving him, in the driving rain,” my dad recalled. Indeed, Rico possesses a more blunt-force approach than her fellow New York MC, but is equally effective as a stage leader who can whip a crowd into a frenzy, weather be damned.
Soccer Mommy’s relaxation techniques. My dad sounded like he entered a tranquil state when recalling Sophie Allison’s charmingly straightforward indie-rock as the sun started setting on Friday. “She has a fine voice, an excellent band, really tight songs... it was the type of stuff you just sit back and enjoy,” he commented -- though he might want to check out the lyrics to “Your Dog” a bit more closely. She reminded my dad of... Frankie Cosmos two years ago, in an equally chill Friday-afternoon side stage slot. “Again, just top-notch vocals, guitars and songs,” he said. In this specific setting, he wasn't looking for anyone to reinvent the wheel.
Julia Holter’s quest to experiment, which I adore on her records (2015’s Have You In My Wilderness being especially bursting with luxurious pop compositions), and which my dad did not love in a live setting. “Too weird for me,” he shrugged, which was fair, given the syncopated shouting that marked the beginning of Holter’s Friday performance. “The crowd seemed to like her music -- but it left me wondering what I was missing.” It reminded my dad of... FKA Twigs, another so-outside-the-box-the-box-no-longer-exists virtuoso, whose 2016 headlining set left him completely cold. “More slow, experimental music that I couldn’t wrap my head around at all,” he shrugged.
Haim’s effortless crowd-pleasing, which has been the trio’s calling card as a live act and took many forms during their excellent Friday headlining set. “They have smooth dance music that suddenly veered into Paula Cole covers, which the crowd loved,” my dad remarked of the back-to-back renditions of “Where Have All The Cowboys Gone” and “I Don’t Want To Wait.” “And then their new song, ‘Summer Girl,’ had a great sax solo!” Ultimately, Este, Danielle and Alana left most of Union Park, including my father, applauding fervently. It reminded my dad of... Future Islands, who have never met an audience they couldn’t charm and crushed their 2015 Pitchfork performance. “They had solid songs that you wanted to hear again as soon as they ended,” he remembered. Now Samuel T. Herring just needs to brush up on his Paula Cole.
Mavis Staples’ political fearlessness, a highlight of the 80-year-old’s Friday night performance, complete with protest music and stirring words about how the civil rights movement informs our own time period. “What a pro! What a set!” my dad raved. “Excellent soul music, enhanced by her still-powerful voice and terrific backing band. Her pleas to stop gun violence and putting children in cages -- and getting rid of ‘Orange-Face’ -- was powerful stuff.” It reminded my dad of... Killer Mike’s bold Pitchfork set in 2013, multiple years before Donald Trump was even a ble political figure, but no less urgent. Staples’ words brought him back to the “trenchant political observations” of Killer Mike, six years ago: “Different genres, same message,” he concluded.
Cate Le Bon’s mellow tones, which have recently drawn critical acclaim on new album Reward and caught my dad’s attention as the temperature rose on Saturday afternoon. “She had strong vocals, and nice, dreamy music,” he said. “She also had the strongest comment of the festival: ‘Thank you for standing in the heat. Please don’t die. I’d feel bad.’” Fortunately, no dads (and non-dads) were harmed in the creation of this festival performance. She reminded my dad of... Beach House’s lush soundscapes, which he called “chill music,” when they headlined in 2016.
Belle & Sebastian’s comforting indie-pop, which was even more potent since the Scottish vets were playing their strongest album, 1996’s impeccable If You’re Feeling Sinister, from start to finish at Pitchfork Fest. “Me and the Major”? “Mayfly”? “Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying”? My dad will take them all, please and thank you. “I want this group in my living room with me and some friends, just singing along, making beautiful harmonies,” he said, having apparently long harbored a desire to have bands stop by his living room for sing-alongs, unbeknownst to me? They reminded my dad of... Carly Rae Jepsen! This one is a little mystifying to me, but he notes that the “Call Me Maybe” queen, who played Pitchfork in 2016, “has pop music that you can sing along to instantly,” just like Belle & Sebastian. Fingers crossed we get to hear E•mo•tion front-to-back at Pitchfork Fest in the years to come.
Clairo’s high stock, which soared even higher after a thoroughly impressive afternoon set on the main stage. The promising rhythmic-pop singer-songwriter let her voice shimmer across the field, and my dad couldn’t have been more charmed. “Her vocals carry each song,” he said, “and the uptempo songs were awesome, while the slower material was also really enjoyable.” She reminded my dad of... a young Sky Ferreira, when she made her Pitchfork Fest debut in 2013 as a rising star. “She also produced very pretty tunes back then,” he noted. Even though Clairo hasn’t found her “Everything Is Embarrassing” yet, she was one of the big winners of the weekend.
The Isley Brothers’ golden-oldies outlier status. There is no doubt that Ronald and Ernie are living legends responsible for some of the most influential soul music of all time, but I agreed with my dad that, as Pitchfork’s Saturday night headliners, they felt out of place on the lineup. “I was really looking forward to them, but they just didn’t work for me,” he said. “They sounded silky-smooth, but the immediate visuals -- young, sexy female dancers surrounding the much, much older men -- were just wrong.” He also pointed out that, even while the Isleys were working through their classic hits, the crowd appeared disinterested, with noticeable chunks peeling off to head out early. They reminded my dad of... Brian Wilson, who brought Pet Sounds to Pitchfork back in 2016 for its 50th anniversary. “It wasn’t his fault,” he said of that quietly received set, “but the crowd just didn’t want to hear his songs from long, long ago.”
Charli XCX’s crowd control, which has undoubtedly become one of the main attractions to the U.K. pop dynamo’s stage show, and drove songs like “1999,” “I Love It” and “Gone” straight into my dad’s heart. “She has an incredible stage presence,” he remarked. “She struts around confident as hell, and delivers a knockout performance with a lot of hits. She had the best start of any set this weekend -- the crowd was immediately in a frenzy.” She reminded my dad of... Chance The Rapper, who took Pitchfork Fest to church when he headlined in 2015. “Two distinctly different styles,” he observed, “but they were both totally cocky, and the crowd loved them both.”
Pusha T’s wordplay, which has been present in my life since the mid-‘00s, when Clipse made an appearance on every one of my mix CDs. For my dad, though? Not so much -- he actually preferred King Push’s DJ, warming up the crowd with songs by 2 Chainz and Kanye West, to the man himself. “Pusha T is a talented rapper with an excellent delivery, but I personally don’t appreciate his style, where the words completely overshadow the music,” my dad said, unwittingly dismissing every Daytona beat and breaking my heart. He reminded my dad of... every other lyrical hip-hop act he’s ever seen at Pitchfork Fest: Danny Brown, ScHoolboy Q, Earl Sweatshirt. “I just don’t prefer when it’s straight-ahead rapping,” he explained. At least Pusha can’t take the slight too personally.
Robyn’s majesty. Prior to her Sunday night headlining spot, my dad’s favorite performance of the weekend was still up for grabs between a few artists... but then Robyn showed up and sealed the deal. “She ended the debate with a pitch-perfect performance that had most of the crowd dancing throughout the entire set,” he said. “Strong material, excellent vocals, and high-quality dance vignettes, both solo and with a male partner.” No quibbles with me: Robyn is operating on a whole different plane as a live artist, and delivered the best show of the weekend. She reminded my dad of... LCD Soundsystem, when James Murphy and his reunited pals headlined in 2017 and “also just knocked it out of the park,” according to my dad. “They had the crowd transfixed and constantly moving.” Sure, that was a fun set, but come on... no one can really compare to Robyn, right?
The utter originality of Chai, a quartet of fizzy Japanese women who make mind-meltingly catchy dance-punk while weaving in light choreography and goofball humor. “They were probably the most interesting band I saw this weekend,” my dad said. “They covered Culture Club in Japanese, which was fun but bizarre, and I loved their stage banter -- like when the twin sisters [Mana and Kana] pointed at each other and yelled, ‘We are twins! Same face!’” To back him up, that really might have been the best moment of the entire weekend. They reminded my dad of... nothing he’s ever seen before. “I really can’t compare Chai to any other group I’ve seen,” he said. “They were unique.” Seven years in, and my dad is still discovering new things -- which is among the many reasons we love doing this together.