Daniel Boczarski / Redferns / Getty Images – Pitchfork Music Festival
Fans assembled at the Red and Green stages at Pitchfork Music Festival in 2015. The eclectic event returns to Chicago’s Union Park for its 14th year this weekend.
Pitchfork Music Festival returns to Chicago’s Union Park this weekend for its 14th year, and its most substantial development is evident on the top line of its bill: For the first time since its 2006 launch, none of its headliners are white men.
“We definitely did make it a priority to have a balanced lineup gender-wise,” says Adam Krefman, Pitchfork’s senior director of festivals & activations, of the predictably eclectic bill, topped this year by sunny pop-rock trio HAIM, dance-pop auteur Robyn and seminal R&B act The Isley Brothers, who are celebrating their 60th anniversary.
The gender equity extends through the lineup, which for a second consecutive year achieved an even split between male performers and female and non-
binary ones. (This year, competing Windy City festivals Lollapalooza and Riot Fest feature 29% and 24% non-male artists, respectively.)
The diversity is also generational. While Pitchfork has regularly booked legacy artists such as Brian Wilson, George Clinton and Giorgio Moroder, the Isleys’ booking marks the first time an artist active in the ’60s has headlined the event since Os Mutantes in 2006 and Yoko Ono in 2007, a decision for which Krefman credits Mike Reed, who has booked the festival since its inception.
“They’ve got such a legacy that crosses all kinds of eras, from soul to their funk era in the ’70s,” Krefman says. “Even into their string of ’90s R&B hits. We thought it would be a cool cross-generational moment and that it would be different from what else is out there.”
The Isleys’ status as “probably one of the most heavily sampled groups in hip-hop” also balances the fact that the festival, which has recently hosted Kendrick Lamar, Chance The Rapper and more, has no rap headliner this year. So does the outré hip-hop undercard, which includes MIKE, JPEGMAFIA and Earl Sweatshirt.
“Hip-hop is obviously a very competitive space right now, and as far as festivals go, we’re not the biggest festival out there,” Krefman says. “We wanted to go more experimental this year with hip-hop. … It’s a really exciting moment in hip-hop where it’s getting weirder and different.”
Still, Pitchfork hasn’t strayed too far from its roots: Indie-rock stalwarts such as Belle & Sebastian and Stereolab will play, as will newer talents including Snail Mail, Jay Som and Parquet Courts. The latter even teamed with longtime sponsor Goose Island for the brewery’s latest special edition Pitchfork Fest beer, which it’ll serve out of a retrofitted “L” train car.
“Pitchfork came up from a spirit of a Chicago summer block party and a deep music fan’s festival,” Krefman says of the event, which remains independent in an era of corporate consolidation. “A lot of that stems from the team that we have producing the festival. … You can’t buy that. You would lose the spirit of the thing.”