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Reflections on Pitchfork Midwinter Festival 2019

The fest brought acts like Kamasi Washington, Slowdive, and more to the Art Institute of Chicago

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Sudan Archives performing at Pitchfork Midwinter Festival 2019 (Roberto Campos)

The folks at Pitchfork certainly know what they’re doing when it comes to putting together a music festival.

Since July 2006, the media company has held its annual Pitchfork Music Festival at Union Park in Chicago, regularly curating one of the most eclectic lineups of music on the summer festival docket. While maintaining this three-day affair, the Chicago organization has also thrown a European version of their festival in Paris, maintaining a reputation for lineups that defy mainstream convention.

For their first-ever Midwinter Festival, Pitchfork teamed up with the Art Institute of Chicago, bringing a smorgasbord of ear-grabbing artists together to perform at various locations inside the Institute. Like any event in its first year, Pitchfork Midwinter Festival 2019 was not executed 100% perfectly, as some of the individual “venues” within the Art Institute were rather cramped and awkward at times. Nevertheless, there were certainly some positive takeaways I had upon heading back to Indianapolis on Sunday night.

First and foremost, I believe it’s worth noting how refreshing it felt to be in a space like the Art Institute of Chicago for a music festival. In walking from one concert to the next, every festival attendee got a chance to interact with world-class visual art as they headed to their next musical destination. All in all, this made for an experience unlike any I’ve ever had, leaving me to ponder how arts institutions in Indianapolis could maybe pull off something similar on a smaller scale.

Although the festival’s ticketing seemed rather questionable on the surface (attendees had to buy tickets to individual performances on top of a base entry charge), things made a little more sense after a few quick observations. All Pitchfork Midwinter shows were very intimate due to the Art Institute’s limited spacing. This made every performance, from Slowdive to William Basinski, it’s own unique experience, while also ensuring extremely attentive audiences throughout the event.

In addition to these add-on concerts, the festival’s base entry also allowed attendees to experience public performances from artists like Daniel Bachman and Haley Fohr on the Art Institute’s beautiful staircase. These shows were equally enthralling, as they wound up feeling like street performances orchestrated for an ornate indoor setting.

As I’ve already mentioned, Pitchfork knows what they’re doing when it comes to putting together an interesting lineup, and this was again the case at Midwinter. Personally, a few of my favorite stretches included:

- Going from Bill Callahan to Slowdive on Friday

- Going from William Basinski to Deerhunter on Saturday

- Going from JPEGMAFIA to Oneohtrix Point Never on Sunday

I bring up all three of these in particular because they were both wonderfully jarring and extremely memorable.

I really hope this festival returns again in 2020. While there are certainly things to improve upon, the Pitchfork/Art Institute teaming really did produce some magical moments, while also showcasing how arts institutions can work hand-in-hand with musical entities.

Seth Johnson, Music Editor at NUVO, can be reached by email at, by phone at 317-254-2400 or on Twitter @sethvthem

Writer - Music, Comedy & Sports

An Indianapolis native, I love all things music, especially of the local variety. My other passions also include comedy, social justice, and the Indiana Pacers.

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