Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Lollapalooza Vs. Pitchfork

Lollapalooza and Pitchfork are the two major summer rock/alternative/hip-hop music festivals in Chicago. Now that both events have released their lineups for this year, a few articles have appeared that ask which is the better festival. Here’s one from Red Eye, and here’s one from Chicago Tribune music critic Jim DeRogatis.

To me, it’s tricky to compare the two festivals, since they’re both operating from different business plans and targeting somewhat different kinds of audiences. But having been to both festivals, I can say subjectively that Pitchfork is better than Lollapalooza (hereafter referred to as “Lolla”). I'm not a Lolla hater, but to me Pitchfork is just a better music-listening and festival-going experience.

The last time I was at Lolla 2 years ago, I saw some great performances and had a lot of fun. But between the heat, the massive crowds, and the spacious Grant Park layout, the weekend ended up turning into a bit of a grind.

Pitchfork is just easier to deal with all around. It’s smaller than Lolla, and that works in its favor from the ticket price ($80 for 2 ½ days of top-shelf music is a good deal) to getting around from one stage to another. Even at its busiest there’s always some elbow room if you need it.

The crowds are also a bit mellower – it’s less of a “scene” than Lolla, which I think appeals more to the music fan who made sure to sign up early for tickets to the Billy Joel/Elton John concert at Wrigley Field. By now Lolla is on par with Taste of Chicago and the Jazz Festival in terms of hype and visibility. As with these happenings, though, what it gains in scale it loses in quality.

Which brings me to the biggest factor – the music. To me, Pitchfork’s lineups seem to be created by actual music fans, as opposed to record company marketers. One of Lolla’s headliners this year is Snoop Dogg. Seriously, Snoop Dogg. A rapper who made either one or two great albums (depending on who you ask) over ten years ago and who’s been sniffing Madison Avenue’s ass ever since. And don’t get me wrong, I love me some Depeche Mode (me and “Some Great Reward” go way back), but should they really be headlining a major festival in 2009, which they will be this year at Lolla?

There’s a lot of cross-pollination between these two festivals. Many bands, like Animal Collective this time around, play Pitchfork one year and go to Lolla the next. It’s inevitable considering the massive schedule Lolla has to fill every year. And yet, Pitchfork always puts the spotlight on bands that don’t get a lot of mainstream press, which is either bad or good depending on your opinion of the mainstream press. Would you rather hear a band the year before they hit the big time, or the year after?

To me, Pitchfork a great opportunity to hear music I might never get the chance to check out as well as see old indie favorites. Their Friday night lineup (Built to Spill, The Jesus Lizard, Yo La Tengo, and Tortoise) is as solid a bill as one is going to get anywhere in alternative rock.

This year will be my third attending Pitchfork (or fourth, if I count that year I went to the Intonation Festival), and I really like how it's grown to become a Chicago staple. If they can get their stage sound systems to work consistently, they'll be on their way to being legendary. And I can say I was there, man! This time I’ll be there with my camera, ready to plaster pictures and commentary all over this blog when the time comes.

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