What Pitchfork gets right is what most music festivals miss
by Cassie Plunkett
Cassie Plunkett is an artist, songwriter, and music educator based in LA. She works as the Creative Tech Director at Beats By Girlz global. Cassie performs as experimental pop artist Plunki, making synth pop influenced by the sounds of her hometown of Miami. On and off the stage, Cassie aims to uplift women and queer people in music and music tech spaces.
Noname at Pitchfork Music Festival 2022
Ah, festival season. The time honored tradition is back and better than ever. 2022 marks the first year since covid that live music actually seems… dare I say back to normal? Here’s what it was like to attend Pitchfork Music Festival Chicago in 2022.
Glass Half Full
Now, before we dive in, I have to admit I’ve been to Pitchfork Musical Festival three times. Aside from just appealing to my indie girl nature, something about Pitchfork has kept me coming back, and I think I finally put my finger on it.
Pitchfork actually books women! According to Book More Women, Pitchfork is one of only a handful of US music festivals that consistently reaches an over 50% gender balance in their lineups. This year alone roughly 2/3 of their acts featured at least 1 permanent member who is a woman or is nonbinary. And, after some digging into years past, it's clear they have the track record to prove their commitment to the 50% threshold.
Now I know what you’re thinking, 50% acts with at least ONE woman or nb permanent member seems… not hard to do. But even in 2022, 64% of major US music festival lineups are made up of ALL MALE ACTS.
Source: Book More Women
So with that as our somber backdrop, here are some highlights from PMF’22.
Indigo de Souza at PMF'22
Day 1: Crying in the Rain
I started off day one crying to Indigo de Souza in the pouring rain, which was oddly appropriate. Indigo’s performance was incredibly cathartic, letting her voice and her guitar go wherever they wanted to. I felt renewed after singing and yelling along with her in the torrential downpour.
After seeking refuge from the rain, I made my way over to catch Dawn Richard. For those not in the know, Dawn Richard (of Danity Kane) is a pop and R&B singer turned dance/electronic legend. She sings, writes, produces, and performs with incredible discipline and intention. Aside from being a legend in her own right, she knows how to pick incredible collaborators as well (Suzi Analogue, Machinedrum, Trakgirl, Dirty Projectors to name a few). This is her second performance I’ve seen at Pitchfork, and like always, she brought the house down.
Japanese Breakfast at PMF'22
Day 2: From Humble Beginnings
After a successful albeit damp Day 1, I was relieved to see clear skies on Day 2. I arrived just in time to catch the legendary CupcakKe (who was wonderful), but the next act really stole the show. I knew nothing about The Linda Lindas going into their performance. So you could imagine my surprise when four children, the youngest being an 11-year-old drummer, took to the stage.
These four kids brought more energy than any other act that weekend. The Linda Lindas donned face paint, colorful outfits, and some old school girl band dance moves. They rocked the stage and made a new fan out of me after performing not one but two songs about their cats (Monica and Nino). At the end of their set I learned they were currently on tour with the act I was most excited to see that day, Japanese Breakfast.
What can I say about Japanese Breakfast that hasn’t already been said? Michelle Zauner: maker of art, writer of books, scorer of video games. Clearly I’m a fan. Michelle started her set with a bang… literally. During her first song she wielded a mallet and intermittently struck a flower-laced gong. And I experienced it all from the front row.
We sang, we danced, and at the most unexpected moment Michelle surprised us all by bringing on Jeff Tweedy. The two sang a few Wilco classics and shared some sweet on-stage moments. As they were finishing up their set, Michelle reminisced on her journey as an independent artist, detailing one of her first “big breaks” opening for Mitski on her US tour. How appropriate that Japanese Breakfast was once again playing right before Day 2’s headliner. She called it a beautiful full circle moment for both of them.
L'Rain at PMF'22
Day 3: Healing in the Rain
L’Rain started off Day 3 with a moment of much-needed peace. The experimental artist asked the audience to close our eyes, be silent, and listen to our collective breathing. We all stood there, grounding ourselves in this beautiful fleeting moment, remembering that music itself is a beautiful fleeting moment to be shared and cherished. And with that, the band began playing.
Sofia Kourtesis brought a similar healing energy to her set. The Berlin-based Lima-born electronic artist took us on a spiritual journey, rejoicing through dance and electricity. At one point the artist detailed the ways in which music has saved her, causing us all to tear up. And with that, the rain started again.
Near the end of the day Noname, the Chicagoan rapper, poet, producer, and activist, took to the stage also yearning for a quiet moment. “You don’t have to yell, it's okay to just listen.” The audience, now trying their best to listen, got a chance to actually hear her poetry, her observations of injustices, her theories and ideas, and her cries for action.
As her set was coming to a close, Noname took a moment to honor her mother. Her mom walked out on stage, waved, and started to make her way back before Noname could even say anything. Noname called her back onstage, and the two shared a hug and a laugh. The tears came back as Noname gave a heartfelt thank you for everything her mom had done and continues to do for her. Clearly overwhelmed, her mom finally ran back offstage with a smile.
And with that, Pitchfork Music Festival 2022 came to a close. Now, obviously I didn’t write about every act I saw. The truth is, I didn’t see that many! Standing for hours for three days takes its toll, and I’m only human. That being said, here’s a few of the acts I missed that you should absolutely check out: Arooj Aftab, Ethel Cain, Spellling, Camp Cope, Amber Mark, Hyd, Yeule, KAINA, Xenia Rubinos, Tirzah, Cate le Bon.
Overall, my post-covid return to Pitchfork yielded some interesting takeaways. Firstly: This year was full of beautiful vulnerable moments, from crying with Indigo de Souza to meeting Noname’s mom. Secondly: my feet cannot do what they used to do. Lastly, other festivals – do better!