Rain poured down with such force that it obscured the grounds beyond the festival gates and delayed entry. It was the kind of summer rain Midwesterners know all too well; heavy and humid but falling in short spurts. The dirt at Chicago’s Union Park began turning to mud and a passerby had one word to sum up the first few hours of Pitchfork Music Festival 2022: Soggy. But even the perpetual rain during the three-day festival didn’t deter excitable indie fans. Clad in brightly colored ponchos, attendees made the most of the weather; rain jackets became lawn blankets and umbrellas became props to dance with when they weren’t providing shelter. Enduring the rain was worth catching sets by today’s top indie artists like Mitski, Japanese Breakfast, Lucy Dacus, Camp Cope, and Toro Y Moi.
The rain didn’t come as a surprise to seasoned Pitchfork-goers, seeing as the festival is routinely booked during the rainiest week in Chicago’s summer. But the weather served as a reminder of the gritty ethos of the festival and reflected the tenacity and determination of music fans. People don’t come to Pitchfork for Instagram-able moments or to sport glittery festival outfits. They come to lose themselves in muddy mosh pits set to the tune of left-of-the-dial artists they won’t hear on mainstream radio. All weekend, crowds were dense with music lovers collectively swooning to Indigo De Souza and Cate Le Bon, thrashing to The Armed and Dry Cleaning, bouncing to Tierra Whack and Noname, and getting a move on to Amber Mark and The Roots.
For fans and artists alike, attending Pitchfork is an indie badge of honor. The event is a benchmark of indie stardom and puts the trajectory of artists’ rise to fame on full display. Those who frequent the festival have had the pleasure of seeing certain bands blow up before their eyes. Lucy Dacus, who held an evening performance slot on day two, reminisced on her Pitchfork set from a few years ago; she had played to a much smaller crowd while being lightly shocked by the microphone in the (once-again) pouring rain. But now, she was serenading a crowd of thousands of adoring fans screaming her name in between each jaunty song.
Japanese Breakfast have also earned impressive accolades since their last Pitchfork performance. After playing a midday set on the festival’s smaller stage a few years ago, the group received two Grammy nominations and performed on top-rated late-night talk shows. Singer Michelle Zauner is now a New York Times best-selling author whose book, Crying In H-Mart, is being translated into several languages. This year, their indie esteem was tangible as they took over Pitchfork’s main stage backed by a full brass section and flashy stage props complete with a massive, flower-adorned gong. During their set, Zauner invited Jeff Tweedy to join her on stage, lead singer of Wilco and quasi Chicago indie royalty. Together, they sang a rendition of one of Japanese Breakfast’s “Kokomo, IN” before harmonizing a cover of Wilco’s “Jesus Don’t Cry.”
Beyond Wilco’s cameo and Japanese Breakfast’s engaging set, day two as a whole was something special. Deemed “sad girl Saturday” by festivalgoers thanks to the back-to-back-to-back performances by Dacus, Japanese Breakfast, and Mitski, the day decidedly drew the largest crowds of the weekend. Several people gushed about the “sapphic energy” the lineup exuded and Dacus even took a poll about the orientation of the crowd in attendance. “I’ve been taking a census at shows lately — who here is gay?” she asked, and the vast majority of the hands in the crowd shot up alongside a roaring cheer. The elated screaming was just as audible for Mitski, who transformed the headlining stage into a theater, remaining in character as she fluidly moved through the intentional choreography of each emotive track.
While most of the music fans powered through the stormy weather, the rain did seem to put a damper on the general mood. Slick stages prohibited artists from dancing around and health scares were unfortunately common. Both Japanese Breakfast and Noname had to stop their sets several times call for medical attention in the crowd, taking to the mic to remind the importance of drinking water and looking out for those around them.
After tender and emotional sets the day prior, it was clear energy levels were depleted by day three. Earl Sweatshirt’s DJ attempted to lift the crowd’s spirits in vain, announcing there were “too many people for it to be this quiet.” But the pervasive gloom was picked up by the groovy lineup. A high-spirited performance by Toro Y Moi drew the most energetic crowd by far as the musician bopped through a mix of funk-fused Mahal tracks and early career favorites. “I hope you all like 160 bpms,” he told the crowd before they erupted in movement. The Roots, fronted by rapper Black Thought and backed by drummer Questlove, ended the festival on a high note. Jazzy solos by a wildly talented keytar player and flutist sent infectious positive vibes loose throughout the park, which were only lifted by a guest appearance by comedian Hannibal Burress.
Through gray skies and pouring rain, Pitchfork 2022 is a reminder of why we tolerate discomfort to experience the pure bliss of watching our favorite bands alongside a community of music lovers. Enduring torrential downpours and slippery mud is worth it for the music — worth it to grin and groove alongside strangers and new friends — as long as the expensive shoes are left at home.