Summer Music Festival Recap
Back in the spring of 2012, I eagerly purchased tickets to Chicago’s two largest music festivals, Lollapalooza and Pitchfork, securing the opportunity to see another strong array of live artists for the upcoming summer break. Having never been to either fest before, I filled the weeks leading up to both events with long car rides at night, windows rolled down, and music fading away into the suburban abyss I call home.
Pitchfork Music Festival provided me with the opportunity to experience for the second time the first band I ever heard live: Vampire Weekend. The day leading up to their performance was packed with a variety of other acts, including such names as Beach House, Real Estate, and AraabMuzik. The latter, who performed an unreal sweat-your-ass-off set at Eclectic last year, proved that his ability to produce some of the craziest live beats I’ve ever heard is still a magical feat that can’t be replicated by anyone else.
When it was finally time for Vampire Weekend to take the stage, the anticipation from the crowd was palpable. The first time seeing them live I was very pleased with their performance but was slightly disappointed with the tightness of their sound. Therefore it was a great thrill to hear a more kinetic and ambitious baroque pop vibe this time around, similar to what I felt the first time I ever heard their self-titled debut album. Premiering an untitled new acoustic-driven song halfway through the set, Ezra Koenig and crew hinted at a new LP in the making. If the song’s upbeat fashion can promise anything, it’s that this new album should have just as strong of a presence within the indie scene as their first two records continue to hold.
About two and a half weeks after the dust from Pitchfork settled, things kicked right back up with the start of Lollapalooza. A three-day festival held right beneath the Chicago skyline, Lollapalooza offered a hard rock lineup this year with the likes of Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Black Keys, and Jack White. While the festival itself started off with a bang by having the Keys close the first night of performances, a monstrous thunderstorm brought the bang on Saturday afternoon, leading to a complete evacuation of the festival grounds. Once the gates were reopened after dinner, many fans flocked to the stages of their favorite artists to get closer proximity than they had earlier. Standing up front for both Franz Ferdinand and Of Monsters and Men were key decisions, since those concerts ended up being some of the best sets of the festival. Franz Ferdinand performed a large selection of their most recent dance-punk album, “Tonight: Franz Ferdinand,” while Of Monsters and Men gave the vibrant crowd a taste of their Icelandic Arcade Fire-sounding debut album “My Head Is an Animal.” In the end, though, the true winner of this year’s Lolla was the now solo Jack White, whose album “Blunderbuss” shot straight to the top of every critic’s best of 2012 list with its release in April. Performing a set that jumped back and forth between The White Stripes, The Dead Weather, The Raconteurs, and his most recent work, White displayed his musical dexterity and proved why he’s the most influential artist to break into rock since The Clash.
Even if the music had ended after Lollapalooza, I would have returned to Wes truly convinced that I treated myself to the best summer of my life. However, against all odds, it continued. Somewhere in the middle of all the madness, Mumford & Sons announced their Gentlemen of the Road Tour. Essentially a small music festival curated by the folk rock band, Mumford invited a wide range of artists, including Gogol Bordello, Dawes, Dropkick Murphys, and St. Vincent to back them up in small towns across the United States. In Dixon, IL, Mumford hosted their only camp-over tour date, which called for a Bonnaroo-esque setup with parks hosting fans from across the Midwest.
For such a small festival, it surprisingly offered some of the best live shows of the summer. Performing a set that included most of their debut album and a large selection of their new LP “Babel,” scheduled for release Sept. 24th, Mumford invited renowned producer Jerry Douglas onstage for a rendition of Paul Simon’s “The Boxer” and a majority of the other stopover artists for an effervescent cover of The Beatles’ classic “With A Little Help From My Friends” for their encore’s final song. While the music and afternoon festivities were fantastic, some of the main highlights of the festival were the after-parties. Attendees could purchase modestly-priced tickets to see comedian Reggie Watts perform standup, Jerry Douglas serenade an old music hall, or DJ Hutz (Eugene Hutz of Bordello) drop some nasty beats in a small club downtown. If one was lucky enough, an interaction with any of the stopover artists could occur at most local street corners or vendors.
The day after the Gentlemen of the Road Stopover, I returned home and quickly packed all my belongings for a 16-hour road trip from Chicago to Wesleyan. I woke up early to avoid rush hour near the city. Passing by the skyline before the sun had even risen, the silence felt alien to me. In the barren darkness, I plugged my iPod in and let the sounds of summer push me through the first leg of my journey.