Chicago – People in Chicago often joke that the city is one of the few places where you can experience all four seasons in one day. The weather here can change at any given moment. So when it comes to summer festivals, like Pitchfork, you never know what you’re going get… though, you can be certain you’ll probably get some rain. The first day of Pitchfork Music Festival delivered on that. Though, it was just a sprinkling here and there, followed by temps ebbing and flowing, with gentle breezes and sticky humidity giving festivalgoers a little bit of everything. Pitchfork did the same, giving the crowds in Union Park a taste of this and that, with a diverse line-up. Best New Bands was on site to catch the newbies. Here are our five favorite up and coming bands who performed on the first day of Pitchfork Music Festival 2016.
Car Seat Headrest
At festival gates opened, hoards of people came rushing in – from bottlekneck that was the main entrance – and quickly made their way over to the Red Stage to see the young man who has begun to make a name for himself as a guitar legend in the making. While Will Toledo isn’t reinventing the wheel with his band Car Seat Headrest, he is proving to be a voice for a new generation of teenagers and twenty-somethings who feel angry, frustrated, and lost trying to navigate through this thing we call life. His gloomy lyrics were met with darkened skies and light rain showers. The Seattle-based 23 year-old singer-songwriter performed songs from his 2015 album Teens of Style, such as ”Times To Die,” as well as songs from his 2016 release Teens Of Denial, like “Vincent.” Despite the rain, Car Seat Headrest got the crowd moving and the youngins moshing.
This Chicago six-piece packed the shaded green at the Blue Stage, which is quite impressive, given the band’s early set time. However, provided Whitney’s immense talent and sweet take on country-soul, it’s one hundred percent understandable. I caught Whitney performing at Bonnaroo last month, and while the guys were great, there was a little something missing. I can only imagine how amazing and comforting it must feel to perform on stage in front of your friends and family. I’m sure most bands enjoy hometown shows for that very reason. Being surrounded by friends, family, and fans who’ve been around since the start gave Whitney members Max Kakacek (guitar), Julien Ehrlich (drums, vocals), Will Miller (trumpet), Malcolm Brown (keys), Print Chouteau (rhythm guitar), and Josiah Marshall (bass) an extra dose of confidence that was felt and heard in the music. Whitney put on a fantastic set, filled with songs from the band’s delightful debut album Light Upon the Lake and some Chicago music scene additions. Jimmy Whispers and former Whitney member Ziyad Asrar joined the band for “Follow,” adding backing vocals, and for the last four songs, a string quartet, led by Macie Stewart of HOMME, amplified Whitney’s sound, especially for “No Woman.” Whitney also gave the Pitchfork crowd a special treat: performing title track ”Light Upon the Lake,” which the band rarely performs live. Ehrlich asked crowd of to be kind, seeing the track isn’t on the band’s usual rotation. That wasn’t necessary. Whitney knocked it out of the park. Plus, it was quite the treat to hear the sweet tune come to life.
As soon as Whitney’s set finished, people began running over to the Red Stage to catch another Chicago band: Twin Peaks. Excitement and plenty of pollen was in the air. Up front, kids were tightly packed in, like sardines. The VIP section was packed with friends, family, and fellow musicians. Jimmy Whispers and a few members of Whitney watched from the side of the stage. Shamir, who was on hand to headline the Blue Stage, joined fans up front, leaning on the barricade, while smoking a cigarette. Cheers boomed as guitarist Clay Frankel, bassist Jack Dolan, drummer Connor Brodner, and keyboardist Colin Croom walked out on stage. Then Cadien Lake James came rolling out towards center stage, in a wheelchair. He smiled, stood up, and shouted, “Just kidding!” Those in on the joke broke into laughter, but the gaggles quickly stopped once the guys began playing. With the band’s second Pitchfork performance, an air a maturity oozed from the stage. My, how much the guys have grown since their debut Pitchfork performance! On Twitter, Twin Peaks promised a few surprises. Those surprises came by way of the three-piece horn section, giving added depth and texture to Twin Peaks songs, but especially the song “Walk to the One You Love,” from album number three, Down In Heaven. Will Miller (of Whitney and Cecil), Irving Pierce, and Kevin Decker (a member of Joe Bordenaro’s backing band) played trumpet, saxophone, baritone, and flute. Of course Twin Peaks played plenty of oldies, like “Stand in the Sand,” “Flavor,” and “Telephone,” which got everyone riled up.
Over at the Blue Stage, fans waited anxiously for Chicago rapper Mick Jenkins. When he finally arrived, nearly 30 minutes late, the crowd exploded in screams and applause. The rising hip hop artist gives attention to lyrics, poetically dissecting the problems of today in “Alchemy,” from his 2015 debut EP Wave[s]: “It’s like turning nothing into everything / Starting with scraps and redefining what society thinks is quality / Like who thought up the golden standard the haves / The have nots ask not what you can do for them but what have you done.” Two songs in, as a light mist covered the crowd, Jenkins performed his song “Rain,” sampling Missy Elliott’s “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly),” which was her take on Ann Peebles’ “I Can’t Stand the Rain.” Jenkins’ music is akin to that of Chicago rapper Common, with both men focusing on music as a form of social justice and a call to action. Mick Jenkins was also joined on stage by rapper theMIND, who has collaborated with Jenkins on songs, like “Dehydration” and “Perception.” We’re certain Mick Jenkin’s soon-to-be-released debut LP will continue to shine a light on Chicago hip hop.
Last year, Las Vegas singer Shamir Bailey made his Pitchfork debut on the Blue Stage. He returned again this year to headline that very same stage, and he owned it! Shamir proved he is ready for bigger and better stages. I wouldn’t be surprised if in 2017 or 2018 we see Shamir headline the Green Stage at Pitchfork. 2018 seems more likely, but to the Pitchfork organizers, I say let’s keep this a yearly ritual! Shamir brought an epic party. Fans – and those seeking an escape from the sleepy Beach House set – packed into the grassy knoll on the south end of the park. At the start, Shamir admitted that he had no setlist and then giggled. He joked, “I’ll be just as surprised as you!” People danced to “Set It Off” and “On The Regular,” from his debut LP Ratchet. Shamir also performed a new song, indicating he is hard at work on his highly anticipated sophomore album. Shamir was the perfect end to the first night of Pitchfork Music Festival 2016!
There’s still two more days of Pitchfork. Stayed tuned for our Saturday and Sunday coverage, and be sure to follow Best New Bands on Facebook and Twitter. Saturday and Sunday tickets for Pitchfork Music Festival can be purchased HERE.
Photography by Sarah Hess for Best New Bands.
After attending The School of the Art Institute in Chicago, Sarah went on to study education at Dominican University, earning a degree in history. When not teaching, writing, or taking in a show, she is most likely to be found with a camera to her eye or hanging out in a darkroom.
You can follow Sarah Hess on twitter at @Sarahhasanh and view her music photography on her website: smhimaging.com.