Pitchfork 2009

Matt Berninger from The National performs Saturday at the Pitchfork Festival.

by Ruth Moon

Masses of plaid flannel- and skinny jean-clad indie hipsters descended on Chicago’s Union Park July 17-19 for the 2009 Pitchfork Music Festival.

The festival can be important for musicians, especially bands just breaking in to the indie music scene, as it’s a physical version of virtual support from Pitchfork, one of the top reviewers in the industry. Musicians from the band Cymbals Eat Guitars (recently reviewed by Pitchfork here) called it “the culmination of everything we’ve worked towards, playing a festival this large and with so many people.”

But the festival’s musical offerings attract non-indies as well, like Chicago resident Mark Choh, 31, who loves discovering new sounds at music festivals where he doesn’t recognize most of the bands.

“I like the music and that’s pretty much it,” Choh said. “I don’t really align myself with the culture and the whole hipster thing, which I think is what a lot of people think about when you say indie. Indie is a subculture.”

There were 49,000 people at the festival this year, spokesperson Jessica Linker said, and Friday’s lineup of Built to Spill, Yo La Tengo, The Jesus Lizard and Tortoise sold out for the first time at 13,000 people.

The hippie vibe turned up as the evening wound to a close with a long set by The National. Most people watching were standing, packed in as tightly as possible. Couples on the outskirts of the crowd danced to the music as Matt Berninger and his band performed songs like “Fake Empire” and others from their newest record, “Boxer.” The set was easily the longest of the day as it went from 8:40 to nearly 10 p.m. It closed out a day of main-stage performances from Cymbals Eat Guitars, Fucked Up, Final Fantasy and DOOM. The sun set as The National took the stage, and as Berninger performed the stage lit up with blue, white and orange lights. The lights lit up the crowd as well as the performers, and the front rows of listeners bobbed their heads and waved their hands in time to the beat and sang along with Berninger’s vocals.

The night ended in keeping with the free spirit of the day as some people took the opportunity to lie down in the median of the street outside the park or sitting cross-legged in the middle of the park, dividing the onslaught of festivalgoers streaming out to the jam-packed train station.

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