Nothing can match the catharsis of thrashing to your favorite band in a crowd of equally-gleeful fans, and by the time music festivals across the US announced their anticipated lineups for 2021, live music had been sorely missed. When the return of large-scale music events finally arrived, festival organizers seemingly rushed to beef up their bills with today’s top stars in order to make up for a year of lost revenue. But amid the excitement over the return of massive music events, one glaring critique surfaced: Where were all the women?
Between Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Rolling Loud, Governors Ball, and Austin City Limits this year, only a meager 18 percent of the headliners are women-led projects. Prior to the pandemic, gender equality in festival lineups had been a much talked about priority. Programs like Europe’s Keychange initiative strive to even the playing field by holding festival organizers accountable for their male-dominated lineups. The organization’s goal is to get festivals’ commitment to work towards 50/50 gender equality. Some events like Reykjavík’s annual Iceland Airwaves and Barcelona’s Primavera Sound have stayed true to the initiative, but this year’s live music landscape proves there’s still much work to be done in the US. The push for equality in lineups seemingly fell far down on the list of priorities as organizers juggled a million things from COVID safety guidelines to schedule conflicts.
Amid the male-dominated mega-festivals, one deeply music-centric event proved they are far ahead of the curve when it comes to lineup gender equality. Pitchfork Music Festival unveiled their 2021 lineup in the spring, showing that over half of their artists were women-led projects. Their official headliners are all women (Phoebe Bridgers, St. Vincent, and Erykah Badu), and they’re highlighting up-and-coming talent by inviting artists like Bartees Strange, Cassandra Jenkins, and Dogleg to the stage. The festival made sure to also include indie favorites on the bill like Angel Olsen, Big Thief, Waxahatchee, Cat Power, Kim Gordon, Faye Webster, and Caroline Polachek.
Set times are here! pic.twitter.com/lwRkst5jgL
— Pitchfork Music Festival Chicago (@pitchforkfest) August 13, 2021
According to Executive Director of Festivals & Activations at Pitchfork Adam Krefman, achieving gender equality was far from a difficult task, especially when the festival notes the kind of music fans are actually listening to. “Diversity is always a priority for us on the lineup, but we do not audit or tally it as we’re booking,” Krefman told Uproxx. “The truth is it’s easy to create diverse lineups without keeping a tally of it when you are really paying attention to what Pitchfork is covering — which is our north star in booking.” Krefman added that lineup diversity shouldn’t even be a question in this day and age. “We’re proud of our lineup, and to have an audience with a wide-ranging taste in music. It shouldn’t be noteworthy to have a diverse lineup in 2021, but if it is, we’re happy to help lead the way.”
For the past 15 years, Pitchfork Music Festival has been a safe haven for rising indie stars. It’s not like other music festivals; there are no Ferris wheels or camping sites, and Instagrammable moments are few and far between. Instead, the festival’s priorities are focused on one place: the music itself. The Chicago festival may not get as much media attention as Lollapalooza, the city’s four-day festival which reportedly drew over 380,000 people this year, and doesn’t attract a crowd as large as the dedicated metalheads who flock to the annual punk festival Riot Fest. But it is an unpretentious place for indie music lovers to gather on a grassy field and revel in their collective obsession with recently-discovered acts and respected legacy artists like The Isley Brothers, Ms. Lauryn Hill, and A Tribe Called Quest.
This year, after a global pandemic left music fanatics missing their favorite bands, Pitchfork is ensuring that bringing back live music also includes an emphasis on safety. From the beginning, Pitchfork promised they would require proof of vaccinations or a negative COVID test in the 24 hours prior to entry, choosing to “err on the side of caution with more protective measures,” according to Krefman. Healthcare company Curative is slated to offer rapid testing just one block away from Pitchfork’s entrance. The festival has also announced they will recommend and encourage attendees to don masks for the entirety of the outdoor event, an added safety measure most festivals aren’t adopting. Lollapalooza’s confirmed COVID numbers mark a promising sign for Pitchfork. The festival had less-strict safety guidelines, more people in attendance, and though there were 203 confirmed cases afterwards, there was still “no evidence” that it turned out to be a “super-spreader event,” according to Chicago’s top doctor Allison Arwady.
Even with the safety restrictions in place, this year’s Pitchfork Festival has a few exciting developments. Their canceled 2020 event was supposed to commemorate the festival’s 15th anniversary. While that didn’t quite go as planned, the 2021 event coincides with the website’s 25th anniversary. To celebrate, organizers are partnering with Chicago’s nearly 100-year-old art-house Music Box Theater for a film series that will be followed by interviews with Jamila Woods, Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche, and more. Krefman also teased a “big new feature” of the festival itself, which will apparently tie in editorial and interview content from Pitchfork’s website.
Amenities aside, organizers at this year’s festival are confident the event will leave fans feeling a sense of connection to their community. “When we announced this year, the outpouring of love and appreciation from the public was overwhelming,” Krefman said. “It seemed to act as a post-Covid beacon in a way that caught us off-guard. So I hope that, alongside venues, restaurants, independent retail, etc., it has helped bring home the importance for consumers to really support the things they love, that enrich their lives, and that prioritize community.”
Pitchfork Music Festival 2021 is sure to be a memorable one. Indie music lovers will once again be able to experience the euphoria that comes with seeing their favorite artist in person, and sharing that special moment with thousands of others. “I’m looking forward to people feeling every bit of the catharsis and emotion that communal live music brings,” Krefman said. “And I’m looking forward to seeing the artists back in their preferred element, creating art in the real world for real humans.”