St. Vincent, shown here during her 2014 Pitchfork appearance, headlines the festival's second night.
St. Vincent, shown here during her 2014 Pitchfork appearance, headlines the festival's second night. Credit: Anthony Soave for Chicago Reader

This morning, the Pitchfork Music Festival announced its lineup for 2021, which includes most of the acts scheduled to play in 2020—with some notable exceptions. Erykah Badu replaces the National as the headliner of the festival’s closing night, St. Vincent takes the Saturday-night headlining slot previously held by Run the Jewels (who are playing at this year’s Riot Fest instead), and Phoebe Bridgers wraps up Friday night instead of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Further down the bill, exciting new acts include Drew Daniel’s project Soft Pink Truth, rapper Jay Electronica, and D.C. indie-rock phenom Bartees Strange. The fest has booked six acts that could reasonably be considered locals, down from nine on the 2020 bill—since last year, Femdot, Kaina, the Hecks, Twin Peaks, and Dustin Laurenzi’s Snaketime have been dropped, and R&B star Jamila Woods and recent Matador signees Horsegirl have been added. DJ Nate, Divino Niño, KeiyaA, and Dehd appear on both lineups.

Pitchfork usually takes over Union Park the third weekend in July, but in this extraordinary year it kicks off Friday, September 10, and runs through Sunday, September 12. Late summer promises to be a real festival pileup: Riot Fest announced its full lineup on Friday, and it’s returning on September 17 through 19 to the recently rechristened Douglass Park, which also hosts Lyrical Lemonade’s Summer Smash hip-hop festival (August 20 through 22). The weekend before Pitchfork, the house-oriented ARC Music Festival (September 4 and 5) occupies Union Park with its inaugural edition, while the EDM-oriented North Coast (September 3 through 5) lands in Bridgeview’s Seatgeek Stadium.

It doesn’t really belong in the same category as these big commercial events, but the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events recently announced a month of late-summer music programming called Chicago in Tune, which includes four three-hour evening concerts at Pritzker Pavilion that will stand in for four of the city’s usual downtown festivals: gospel on Friday, September 3, jazz on Saturday, September 4, house on Saturday, September 11, and blues on Saturday, September 18.

Last week, Variety reported that Lollapalooza would announce the return of its four-day Grant Park festival—at its usual time in late July—as soon as this week, with plans to operate at full capacity (100,000 people per day) or close to it. A spokesperson for the mayor’s office subsequently told Block Club Chicago that Lollapalooza has not in fact been definitively green-lit, but the city intends to reopen fully on July 4, and as we speed toward that date, we’ll hear of more large-scale events coming back in some form this summer.

After 15 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, which many of us spent social distancing or completely isolating, the prospect of cramming a season’s worth of festivals into a few weeks feels like stumbling onto a treadmill that’s already running at 20 miles per hour. The CDC’s guidelines continue to be confusing and ill-considered, so that many Americans have little idea how much danger the virus still presents to them. Pandemic-related deaths are on the decline—last week Chicago was downgraded from “very high risk” for COVID-19 infection to “high risk”—but the news about vaccinations is mixed. The Illinois Department of Public Health says 37.6 percent of the state is fully vaccinated, but the state’s daily vaccination rate declined steeply during the last three weeks of April—a trend that could endanger the department’s projection that 75 percent of Illinois will be immunized at some point this summer. And festivals can of course affect public health, as last summer’s Sturgis rally demonstrated. They’re often huge tourist magnets, encouraging travel—according to a 2013 press release from the mayor’s office, 80 percent of 2012’s Lollapalooza crowd was from outside Chicago.

As of this morning, the Windy City Smokeout is slated to be the city’s first big festival of 2021, and it doesn’t begin until July 8. As public-health guidance continues to shift, every festival will likely change whatever policies (if any) it’s already announced. Pitchfork will require attendees ages 12 and up to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or of a negative PCR test taken within 24 hours of the day they attend—though the latter could be a real challenge for folks who plan to attend all three days. Attendees must also wear masks on festival grounds unless eating or drinking.

Three-day Pitchfork passes are $195 for general admission, $385 for Pitchfork Plus—and if past years are any indication, those fancier tickets will include access to upscale porta-potties. Single-day tickets are $90 (GA) and $185 (Pitchfork Plus). The full lineup is below, with links to past Reader coverage where available.

Friday, September 10

Phoebe Bridgers
Big Thief
Animal Collective
Fiery Furnaces
Black Midi
Hop Along
Kelly Lee Owens
Ela Minus
The Soft Pink Truth
DJ Nate
Armand Hammer

Saturday, September 11

St. Vincent
Angel Olsen
Kim Gordon
Ty Segall & Freedom Band
Jay Electronica
Jamila Woods
Georgia Anne Muldrow
Faye Webster
Maxo Kream
Divino Niño
Bartees Strange

Sunday, September 12

Erykah Badu
Flying Lotus
Danny Brown
Cat Power
Andy Shauf
Caroline Polachek
Yves Tumor
Weather Station
Mariah the Scientist
Oso Oso
Special Interest
Cassandra Jenkins  v