Q’s With Pitchfork Music Festival’s Adam Krefman
Getty Images – Pitchfork Music Festival
In a time when fans are criticizing top tier festivals for having similar lineups (looking at you Eminem, Jack White, Muse, The Weeknd, etc.), Chicago’s independent Pitchfork Music Festival, now in 23rd year, stands out. Here one can catch Tame Impala, Fleet Foxes or Ms. Lauryn Hill performing her classic Grammy-winning album The Miseducation of Ms. Lauryn Hill. Other notable sets this year include Courtney Barnett, The War On Drugs and Earl Sweatshirt.
Adam Krefman, senior director of festivals and activations at Pitchfork, spoke to Pollstar about curating the fest, the challenges of working in the 13-acre Union Park and competing with other Windy City festivals.
Pollstar: How did you land Ms. Lauryn Hill playing her classic album?
Adam Krefman: Our producer Mike Reed was booking, and he and I work on it together and he does all the outreach and negotiating. He was in touch with her agent and we turned over a lot of rocks when booking the festival. We had a lot of different ideas and she was one of them.
It’s an album that 20 years on, you can see its influence in so many different places, including many of the artists that we have on this lineup. With this much room removed from it you can look at its impact on hip-hop and R&B and it’s hard to overstate how influential that album is.
How has Pitchfork changed through the years?
When Pitchfork came along, I remember my friend invited me and she asked if I wanted to go to Pitchfork and I was like, “You mean like the website?” (laughs) She picked me up with a few of our other friends and she brought like a picnic blanket and sandwiches. I think I brought a frisbee.
That was what I thought of as a music festival back then. But now, the expectations – there is so much more of a hospitality expectation now. I think a 22-year-old now – it’s a completely different frame of reference for what a music festival is.
How do you curate the lineups?
There are some on the lineup like Irreversible Entanglement that you just won’t see at other festivals. It’s a mix of things, it’s certainly informed by what we are covering on the website right now. I’m sure a lot of promoters and festivals are influenced by editorial coverage on Pitchfork, and in some ways, we are even more influenced by it.
I do talk to our editors every day and it’s kind of the watercooler talk that’s going on. Sometimes it will be from a co-worker who saw Big Thief in Brooklyn and said it was an amazing show. So we go, “Well alright let’s book’em.”
A lot of this year’s big festivals have been criticized for having similar lineups, do you have any thoughts on that?
Many of those festivals are either AEG or Live Nation. I think they are probably block booking and I’m sure its economical on a spreadsheet to do it that way. We’ve only got one festival, so we have to try to make it different. There’s almost no other choice. Part of it is a band like Tame Impala will probably play a lot of those festivals one year and the next year they won’t. And that’s the year that we would probably book them. Some of it is circumstance.
How do you compete with festivals in the Chicago area like Lollapalooza or Riot Fest?
It doesn’t come up too much in our conversations, honestly. They each got a little bit of a different identity and the Chicago music market, the industry here, is not huge and most people know each other. We try to be friendly and respectful and I think they give the same to us.
There’s different musical identities for each of those festivals. In a lot of ways there are different demographics. I don’t think we actually have that big of an overlap with [other Chicago festivals] Mamby On The Beach or Lake Shake. With Riot Fest there is some overlap, but we exchange VIP tickets with the Riot Fest people. A lot of our staff likes to go.
What are the challenges that come with packing a festival into a space as small as Union Park?
There are tons. It’s like a giant jigsaw puzzle. You move one thing and it affects four other things. There are massive challenges and every year we wonder if we maxed it out and we find a new little corner to do something in.
Last year we opened up a corner of it that used to a little bit of a production no man’s land up on the Northwest corner. We made it into a kid’s area. People do bring their kids there. There was one couple that was profiled on our site at and (years later) they brought their 3-year-old kid so they had clearly been coming for multiple years. That kind of stuff feels very singular to Pitchfork, where we kind of have this community that shows up every year and brings their kids.