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Pitchfork Festival 2023 Preview

Highlighting some of the acts we’re most excited to see in Union Park, July 21-23.

Pitchfork Fest has been a staple of the independent music community since its inception in 2006; bringing cutting edge, exciting acts to Chicago’s Union Park every summer. This year is no different: with headliners The Smile, Big Thief, and Bon Iver, alongside some stellar supporting acts like Alvvays, Weyes Blood, and Palm (just to name a few), there’s sure to be something for everyone over the weekend. Here’s some of our staff’s most anticipated sets.

Carlton: Deeper, Weyes Blood, Soul Glo, Mdou Moctar

One of the fest’s biggest draws for me was the inclusion of Weyes Blood (Sat, Red Stage) – one of this century’s most interesting and creative singer/songwriters. Hot off the release of last year’s And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow, she’s sure to be an amazing way to end Saturday, before Big Thief takes the crowd home. She last played Pitchfork Fest in 2017, playing at 2:30 PM. This year will be a great contrast to that set – six years and two critically acclaimed albums later, I’m so excited to see how she’s changed as a performer. 

On a local level, I’m so glad the guys in Deeper (Sat, Green Stage) are playing this year’s fest. They just signed to Sub Pop, and are releasing their new album Careful! on September 8. Their unique blend of post-punk and synth rock will be a great way to start the day on Saturday. If you can’t make it for the early shows on Saturday, be sure to catch a set from them another time – they play at great local venues like The Empty Bottle regularly. 

One of my favorite bands of the last few years is Philadelphia’s Soul Glo (Sun, Blue Stage). Just by listening to their recorded music (last year’s Diaspora Problems is phenomenal), you can sense the passion and fury they play with. Their live show is a whole different story; their set last November was one of the most energetic and frenetic shows I’ve ever experienced. Seeing them on the big stage on Sunday will be an exciting test to see if they can bring the energy at the same level.

Another group you can’t miss on Sunday afternoon is Mdou Moctar (Sun, Blue Stage). Hailing from Niger, they play incredibly interesting and groove-driven rock music heavily inspired by traditional Tuareg guitar music. Their rhythmically complex but undeniably catchy music will be a natural fit for the entire Pitchfork Fest audience, those seeking a fascinating and impressive live performance, or those just looking to dance.

Sarah: Palm, Youth Lagoon, JPEGMAFIA, Florist

The last I saw Alvvays (Fri, Red Stage) was in 2018. I was maybe 30 pounds lighter, had hair colored wildly different shades of the rainbow, and sported an oversized army coat that once belonged to my father. I had been listening to Alvvays since high school and had fallen in love with the song “Archie, Marry Me” while exploring Spotify radio in the backseat of my mom’s car. The song was dreamy and infectious, making me think of simpler times and potential future romances. Reverb-drenched guitars and jangly riffs made me sing along to the best of my capabilities. Seeing them live was just as dreamy, with fog covering the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee, and warm-colored lights shining on the band members. I think I and my music taste has changed a lot since then–if an Alvvays song comes on a playlist, I listen to it but don’t necessarily sing along with the same vigor. I am interested to see what feelings I will experience in a less dimly lit venue and rather in the warm and heavy breeze of the summer. 

In a similar way, songs by Youth Lagoon (Fri, Green Stage)were what I frequented in high school. I would play the song “17” on my $35 ukulele and sing along as gently as I could. Synthesizers and sonic landscapes envelop the music, and it makes for a dreamy lull to sleep. I have never seen them live, and I wonder what the vibe will be like, if the songs will fit the overall tone of Pitchfork, or send their audience into a thoughtful and introspective place. 

I had the luxury of seeing Palm (Sat, Red Stage) several times throughout college, and they never disappoint. This show will ultimately be bittersweet, as the band is breaking up after this tour. Trippy synths and time signatures that don’t stay consistent, no matter how you try to make sense of it–experimental jazz for indie kids, if you can imagine it. Mothers, Sword II, and so many other bands try their best to mimic Palm and do it semi-successfully, so their influence is truly remarkable. I’m very excited to see one of their last performances. 

I was in a booking organization at my university and one of the artists we booked was JPEGMafia (Sun, Green Stage) to play at our student union. The crowd came together in an obliterating force, jumping together while Peggy stood in the midst of the crowd, spitting and yelling into the mic. I haven’t seen him perform since, and while I’m still current with his music, I think his live performance in front of as big a crowd as Pitchfork is going to change how I listen to  his music. 

Florist (Sun, Blue Stage) I associate deeply with the summer. With soft and observant melodies and lyrics that cradle the listener with warmth, it’s a gentle hug for your ears and your brain. I always get confused when soft indie artists play at Pitchfork, because what if they lull the crowd to sleep? We have a whole day of music to get through! Regardless, I am deeply excited about seeing Florist, and had the pleasure of talking to her when she opened for the Microphones a year or so ago.

All in all, I’m excited about the lineup and think this will be my most nostalgic Pitchfork yet. While my music taste has evolved, I think these artists are a beautiful mix that shaped who I am as a person. Each act is so wildly different from the other, and I’m excited to immerse myself in these sounds so soon.