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Lollapalooza 2017: Reflections

In my 13 years of attending Lollapalooza, I’ve had a number of people ask me why I go when “it’s so terrible.” While calling the festival “terrible” is absolutely a matter of opinion, it’s one that’s held by a wide range of people. To most, the idea of spending multiple days in the vast wasteland of Grant Park with 100,000 (per day) of your closest friends is nearly the equivalent of torture. It’s hot and sweaty with lines everywhere and access is tiered by how much money you’re willing to pay and nothing sounds great in the park and a whole host of other complaints. I’ve heard them all, and none of them have deterred me from continuing to go year after year. I understand too, and those grievances are not entirely unjustified. But in my view those issues are also a bit short-sighted.

Lollapalooza may be, as Jim DeRogatis puts it, the music equivalent of “Walmart on the lake,” but I’d argue that the damage it causes every summer is pretty much worth it if you’re going for the right reasons. Specifically I’m talking about the music. If you LOVE live music, Grant Park is not the ideal venue to see it in. Neither is a space where tens of thousands of people (many drunk or on drugs) are all crammed together trying to find the best sight lines. Some are even content to simply talk the entire time and ignore what’s taking place on stage. But where else are you going to have the chance to see 170+ artists over a four day period at a cost that falls somewhere around $350? Economically speaking, you won’t find a better deal than that. Were you to choose 10 artists each day that you’d be interested in seeing perform live and add up the costs of tickets to individual venue shows from each, the total price would be at least double. Hell, I spent nearly the cost of a full weekend Lolla ticket to see Paul McCartney this year, when his prior Chicago show was at Lollapalooza. Also, festivals can serve as a music discovery engine. You can easily wander from stage to stage and stop when you hear something good. I’ve found more than a few new artists at Lolla over the years by stumbling past during their sets.

My grand point is that if you’re there solely for the music, the atmosphere doesn’t matter nearly as much. Unfortunately, most Lolla attendees aren’t there for the music, or at least don’t make it a huge priority outside of a handful of bands they truly love. That’s part of the problem, and one the fest feeds into by creating plenty of distractions for those less musically inclined. Have some food! Wander into the merch store! Check out some tents devoted to various causes! Hang out in some hammocks or check out the wine bar! And new for 2017, strap on some roller skates or play an arcade game! Hey, if it keeps randos who don’t care about the music away from the stage, then more power to you. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself at Lolla if I wasn’t there to watch as many artists perform as possible.

Which finally brings me to Lollapalooza 2017, aka the year things got better but also worse. Let’s start with the good. They improved the restrooms considerably. Entire sections were devoted to urinals, while the traditional plastic port-o-potties were replaced with slightly nicer ones that actually had porcelain toilet bowls that flushed. For once, I didn’t dread using the restroom. At least not at first. Because we can’t have nice things, the very clean and very easily accessible restroom areas slowly descended into chaos as the weekend progressed, until finally on Sunday night I used a urinal that had “Fuck the Police” written in giant letters across it, while a large turd sat below – clearly the result of someone who didn’t have the time or foresight to wait in line to use an actual toilet. This is why we can’t have nice things. In a less disgusting change for the better, this year Lollapalooza also upgraded their video screens. These new gigantic HD displays surrounded the two biggest stages, and made viewing performances from a distance much, much easier. No complaints about those, and I hope they continue to invest in them for the future. Lastly, I’ll say nice things about the roller rink and arcade that were added this year, not because I skated or played any video games, but because I found them to be fun distractions that fit well with the overall aesthetic vibe of the festival.

On the negative side, I’ve only got one complaint, but it’s a major one. It seemed that this year Lollapalooza was struggling with lineup flop sweat. The festival celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2016 and because they had “50% more artists than usual” requesting to perform, the decision was made to expand from three days to four. When it was announced organizers said it was a “one time only” thing, but they also weren’t about to turn down that extra money, so the change became permanent. And in all honesty, last year’s lineup wound up being pretty great – enough to justify the extra day. Not so much for 2017. Maybe it was how they scheduled it, but there were multiple periods this year where music lovers were left with artist choices that went from bad to worse. Obviously there are fan bases for SUICIDEBOYS and The Drums, but neither are exactly critically acclaimed nor particularly dynamic live performers. Yet they were on two of the main stages at the same time on Thursday. The same can be said for Vance Joy and Royal Blood on Saturday. Not meaning to be too insulting, but there’s very little original or novel about either artist. Sunday forced the choice of Milky Chance vs. London Grammar on you, and it was a little tough to get excited about either.

Call me a snob if you must, but just because an artist has some radio hits doesn’t automatically make them good or worth your time. To a degree, they make music for casual fans – those that don’t listen to much music in the first place, who automatically accept and embrace whatever band is pumping out of nearby speakers under the assumption that it must be good. If you can live your life that way, taking what’s being given to you without questioning, exploring and coming to your own decisions on what’s good, I feel a little sorry for you. There’s joy to be found in the fringes, but if a festival like Lollapalooza doesn’t give you those fringes then you can wind up trapped in a sea of mediocrity. Hence my criticism of their booking/scheduling for 2017. There were still plenty of great moments (that I’ll highlight in a minute), but fewer than usual with more duds and dead spots that almost make one want to take some time away from the stages and explore some of those aforementioned other options and activities happening in Grant Park. My advice, which organizers absolutely will not take, is to revert back to the three day format. With one less day for bookers to worry about, the quality vs. quantity will be more even-handed and they can ensure that music fans of all types can be satisfied better. It worked quite well for a decade before they added that fourth day, and I see no reason why it wouldn’t work in their favor again.

Lastly, I want to take note of some fantastic performances from Lollapalooza 2017. While I’m a little disappointed I didn’t stumble upon some incredible new artist this year as I often have in the past, there were still a few surprises that caught me off guard in a very good way.

White Reaper put on a better than good performance on Thursday, which was a wonderful way to kick off the festival.

But it was Cage the Elephant’s day, and arguably entire weekend, as their wildly unhinged set was so fun that it was just about all anybody could talk about. I still can’t stop thinking about it, and am under the firm belief they’ll be headlining Lollapalooza sooner rather than later.

As for headliners, while we only got 3 songs from Muse, they managed to make the most of it as everyone went completely nuts in the pouring rain to massive jams like “Psycho” and “Hysteria”. Had they been able to continue their performance in the rain, it likely would have gone down as one of the greatest in Lolla history.

I remain firm in my conviction that The Lemon Twigs are a band to watch, and they delivered yet again on Friday with another stunning set that hopefully won them many new fans.

Then there’s the always reliable Run the Jewels, who continue to assert their dominance with every performance. While they didn’t bring any special guests with them, they did pull some random guy up from the crowd with a sign asking if he could rap “Legend Has It”. The whole thing was a blast, really.

Saturday saw a very accomplished set from Highly Suspect, a band that on record might seem like your typical alt-rock fare these days but who are secretly hiding guitar skills so impressive that even some of the greats would probably approve.

And I have to compliment Mac DeMarco for a typically bizarre and hilarious set that ended with a couple of covers for which he didn’t know the lyrics (Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles” and The Champs’ “Tequila”), and the obtuse noise pollution that is “Chamber of Reflection”.

Overall though, it felt like Lollapalooza saved the best for last, since Sunday was packed with remarkable performances. Lo Moon managed to impress and give me chills with their ambitious and ambient epics.

Joseph seemed to be having a blast as their incredible vocal harmonies sounded even better in person and gave life to tired bodies.

Car Seat Headrest continues to evolve as a live band, often switching things up on the recorded versions of tracks to take them down interesting detours.

The Shins have also grown significantly since I last saw them a few years back, seeming more at home in their own skins, having fun and running through a set list that includes almost all of their best songs.

Finally, Arcade Fire put a nice little bow on the entire four days with a strong performance and set list that pulled from across their entire catalog. Let’s just say they were wise to minimize the number of songs played from their unfocused new album Everything Now.

So that about wraps up my thoughts on Lollapalooza 2017. It was a pretty good time this year, as it is just about every year, even when the music wasn’t quite up to par. Let’s hope they literally get their acts together and do a better job with booking for 2018, tough as that has to be in the current 4-day structure. At least everything else ran smoothly and resulted in few to no inconveniences for those who knew what they were doing. Will I be back again next year? Probably, out of tradition mostly, but it’s my sincere hope that maybe one of these days they’ll finally manage to assemble one of the greatest festivals of all time.

Lollapalooza 2017: Preview Guide

So you’re headed to Lollapalooza. Whether it’s your first time or your thirteenth (points to self), spending four days in the heart of Grant Park is never easy, but if done properly, is always a ton of fun. And while there are plenty of activities to do and things to consume, the real reason you’re there is to see and hear some of your favorite bands and artists perform as well as maybe make some new discoveries. So in between waiting in line to get in and waiting in line to get a beer and waiting in line to use the restroom and waiting in line to get food, you could realistically catch a good 8-10 performances each day. The punishment on your body won’t be great, but the rewards will likely be worth it when all is said and done. Whether you’ve already planned out your Lolla weekend or are simply going to play it by ear, it helps to at least have an idea of some of the top artists for every hour of every day. This guide is here to help! After the jump is a roadmap to four days of festival fun that will hopefully ensure a quality experience with fewer challenges and scheduling conflicts.

But first! A couple of annual tips about how to manage your time at Lollapalooza, from somebody who hasn’t missed a single day since 2005. First and foremost – prepare for weather! Coat yourself in sunscreen and bug spray before even leaving the house. You’ll thank me later. Bring a poncho, because it’s probably gonna rain at some point. As I’m writing this, the forecast says rain on Thursday and Saturday, so you’ll want to stay dry as best as you can. Wear comfortable but disposable shoes. If it rains at all over the four days, Grant Park will turn into a mud-filled swamp, and your shoes may not survive, so don’t wear your new, flashy sneakers. Don’t pick flip flops or heels, either. You’ll likely be on your feet for several hours each day, and the last thing you’ll want is to feel like your feet are going to fall off. Speaking of which, don’t forget to rest every now and then! Get off your feet by finding a comfortable spot to sit in the grass or dirt. It can be near a stage so you don’t miss anything except maybe some sweaty bodies rubbing up against one another. Just be aware that if you stand the entire time and keep walking between stages, your body will take a huge beating and each subsequent day will be a greater struggle than the one before it. Tons of water helps too, so drink more of that than you’re comfortable with and use the park water stations to keep refilling containers for free. Lastly, a word about stage locations. The Grant Park, Lake Shore and Perry’s stages are all on one side of the park. The Bud Light, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, BMI and Pepsi stages are on the other side. It is about a 15 minute walk from one end of the park to the other. Make sure your daily strategy doesn’t involve too much back and forth otherwise you’ll get worn down fast. Similarly, if you want to see the start of a set taking place on the opposite side of the park, you’ll need to head out early to make it in time. With good planning and everything in moderation, you too can survive Lollapalooza weekend without taking a trip to the medical tent or at least feeling like death for days afterward. Now then, let’s get to that day-by-day artist guide!

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Pick Your Poison: Tuesday 8-1-17

With Lollapalooza this week and a general slowdown in the music season happening at the end of summer, I’d like to announce a brief break for Pick Your Poison. When I say brief, I mean basically about a week or two at most. This will allow for more time and focus on events like Lollapalooza, plus a short break just to spend a little time recovering from a very busy summer concert season. But don’t worry! You won’t miss anything, I promise. Once things return to normal around mid-month, I’ll play catch-up and feature a bunch of tracks that might have slipped through the cracks during that break period. In the meantime, the songs below will have to tide you over. Thanks for understanding, and here’s hoping things pick back up as the fall begins to creep in. Don’t miss downloads in this set from Best Girl Athlete, DieAlps!, A Drug Called Tradition, and John Elderkin & ¬°Moonbeams No Mas!. In the Soundcloud section after the jump, stream songs from BOSCO, CYMBALS, Drain Gang, Jordan Rakei, Kedr Livanskiy, Midnight Sister, NSTASIA, SISTERS, The Weeknd (ft. A$AP Rocky & Young Thug), Yumi Zouma and more!

Best Girl Athlete – In Your Head

Derek Hoke – I’m Just A Man

DieAlps! – I Can See It Now

DreamVacation – Zero One

A Drug Called Tradition – With You Miss You

Happy Abandon – Severed Seams

John Elderkin & ¬°Moonbeams No Mas! – Song for David Bowie

Stephen Doster – Shooting for the Stars

Tree Machines – Fade On

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Pick Your Poison: Monday 7-31-17

Let’s celebrate the end of July (wow, time flies) with another killer playlist filled with songs to inspire and energize. Notable downloads in this set come from The Afghan Whigs, Blake Banks, jane/john doe, and Lone Kodiak. In the Soundcloud section after the jump, stream songs from Andrew Weatherall, Brika, Dillon Francis (ft. Serko Fu), Elohim & Whethan, Hand Habits, kyd the band, LUUDE, PARENTZ, Savoy & Grabbitz, Soleima (ft. Kranium & Hoodboi), Soliterre, and Trapo.

The Afghan Whigs – You Want Love

Blake Banks – She Luv My Cocaine

Cross Culture – Faded Away

jane/john doe – Well It Really Does Matter Does It

Lone Kodiak – Calm Down

The March Divide – Cherry Bomb

Matt Tarka – Time Travels

Three For Silver – The Way We Burn

The Woggles – Hard Times

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Pick Your Poison: Thursday 7-27-17

I’m not entirely sure what city Company of Thieves officially call home these days, but up until a few years back, they were a Chicago-based band. Singer Genevieve moved out to Los Angeles and embarked on a solo career while the band was on hiatus, but they’ve now reunited and have a new album out this fall. You can hear the killer first single below. Fans of the band Ultimate Painting should already know that singer Jack Cooper is putting out his debut solo album at the end of August. Perhaps the relaxed vibes of “Gynn Square” will inspire you to give him a shot. You may remember the band Wild Cub from their hit single “Thunder Clatter,” which burned up on radio a couple years back. They’ve got a follow-up album out in September, and you can hear the upbeat, catchy, and pretty danceable new single “I Fall Over” in this set. You can find songs from Imitating Aeroplanes, Jason Nolan, Kiki (ft. Cactus Sauna), MORTEN, Ravenna, Satin Jackets (ft. David Harks), Shannon Lay, STeLOUSE (ft. Tilian), and Super Duper (ft. Louis Johnson) in this collection as well.

Company of Thieves – Treasure

Jack Cooper – Gynn Square

Wild Cub – I Fall Over

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Pick Your Poison: Wednesday 7-26-17

Apologies for taking yesterday off from Pick Your Poison, but in all honesty, there simply wasn’t enough new music to share! We’re in the doldrums of summer, and I guess there’s a dead spot around now because while fall tours and such are being announced, there’s been a strange lack of new music (or new songs, that is) being released. So after skipping a day, things are back in action and arguably better than ever. This is a straight up home run collection of tracks, every single one being worth your time. If I had to single a few out, let’s start with another guitar-heavy taste of the forthcoming album from The Districts. They’ve got fantastic energy. Then Hamilton Leithauser (The Walkmen) covers a song from Irish folk band Shane MacGowan and the Popes as part of a charity compilation fighting against Islamophobia. Happy Hollows have another glittery slice of synth-strewn indie rock as a preview to their new record out in September. And then Spanish garage rockers Hinds participated in one of those “covers exchange programs” by taking on a song from their friends in Los Nastys. Check all those out, plus songs from Garren Sean, Helado Negro, Honey, matt pond PA (ft. Laura Stevenson), Skrillex & Poo Bear, Walter Ego and more!

The Districts – Violet

Hamilton Leithauser – The Song With No Name (Shane MacGowan and the Popes Cover)

Happy Hollows – Silent Partner

Hinds – Holograma (Los Nastys cover)

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Pick Your Poison: Monday 7-24-17

I’ve just returned from an extended weekend trip to Minneapolis, and it’s left me inspired. Here’s hoping today’s Pick Your Poison provides a similar kind of buzz for you. There are some quality downloads in this set from Brad Peterson, Ephrata, Fronds, and Kazyak. In the Soundcloud section after the jump, stream songs from Baby!, Belly, Briana Marela, Coast Modern, Corbin, FYOHNA, Jachary, Jeals, joan, KINDER, Morly, and Summer Heart.

Brad Peterson – What the Open Heart Allows

Ephrata – Odds

Fronds – Tower

Gestures & Sounds – To: Rivers, From: Chomp

J Hacha de Zola – No Situation

Kazyak – Basin

Rome Alexander – L.Y.G. (ft. Rederic)

Stephen Doster – Something Good

The White Russians – B Child

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Pick Your Poison: Thursday 7-20-17

Really impressed with the slow burn hip hop that A$AP Twelvyy is pushing on “Diamonds,” which also features a guest spot from A$AP Rocky. Fans of good old fashioned jangly rock ‘n roll will find plenty to love about “Rainbow Ridge”, the latest from The Cribs. Smart synth-pop artists know it’s always a good idea to ask Shamir to contribute vocals to a track, which is why House of Feelings’ “Falling” stands out. Something about the ramshackle charm of Swimm’s “Speak Politely” just draws you in the further it goes along, until it’s finally stuck in your head with no discernable way out. Delightful. Other artists in this set include 16yrold (ft. Desiigner & Ski Mask The Slump God), Blank Space, Gramatik & Galactic Marvl, Har Mar Superstar, Lina Tullgren, Oliver Tree (ft. Robot Koch), Saro, and Sam Valdez.

A$AP Twelvyy – Diamonds (ft. A$AP Rocky)

The Cribs – Rainbow Ridge

House of Feelings – Falling (ft. Shamir)

Swimm – Speak Politely

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Pick Your Poison: Wednesday 7-19-17

It’s a special bonus extended edition of Pick Your Poison today, just because. You won’t want to miss downloads in this set from Alesso, Cross Culture, Marc Baker and Mark Bryan. In the Soundcloud section after the jump, check out some quality streams from Amy O, A-Trak (ft. Quavo & Lil Yachty), Glacci, Jim-E Stack, Jordan Rakei, Lowphile (ft. Moss Kenna & Nick Grant), Luna, SD, Simian Ghost, Slotface and more!

Alesso – Move Like That

Anastasia Minster – When I Die

the black watch – Satellite

Cross Culture – Leap Frog Loverz

Drezo – Dead

Dynamic Africana – Igbehin Lalayo Nta (Tunnelvisions Edit)

Liz Asaro – 1000 Years

Marc Baker – No Place I’d Rather Be

Mark Bryan – Forgetting About Me

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Pick Your Poison: Tuesday 7-18-17

Get a taste of one of Chicago’s most promising new acts, Bunny, as part of today’s Pick Your Poison. There’s a certain sauntering delight at the heart of Guantanamo Baywatch’s latest “Blame Myself” that feels very Walkmen-esque in a good way. If you’re a fan of heavy synths and strong BPMs, the new TOBACCO song will push you into a stone cold groove. Other artists in this set include BAYNK (ft. Shallou), BOSCO, Kelsey Bulkin, NexXthursday (ft. Quavo & Lil Yachty), Noble Oak, Razz (ft. Jack Wilby), Umm, and Whispertown

Bunny – Not Even You

Guantanamo Baywatch – Blame Myself

TOBACCO – Slaughtered By the Amway Guy

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Pick Your Poison: Monday 7-17-17

It’s Monday and I’m very much in recovery mode following a wild weekend at Pitchfork Music Festival. Make sure you check out all the coverage, including recaps of each day, by going here. It was a good one, and I’m worn down but very happy. Hopefully today’s selection of new music will make you happy as well. DJ Mustard did a great job with his remix of Childish Gambino’s “Redbone,” to start. Other quality choices in this set include downloads from Fawns of Love, The Shivers and The Sighs. In the Soundcloud section after the jump, stream songs from a l l i e, CYN, The Duke Spirit, Jazz Morley, Juiceboxxx, Katie Von Schleicher, Max Styler (ft. Goldn), NAV and Metro Boomin, The Radio Dept, Together Pangea and TR/ST.

Childish Gambino – Redbone (DJ Mustard Remix)

Dmoney Clay – Tune In (Who Is Dmoney Clay)

Fawns of Love – Standing

The Human Circuit – How It Used to Be

John Elderkin and ¬°Moonbeams No Mas! – Messy Down Below

The Shivers – Soulmate

The Sighs – It’s Real

Sven-Erik Olsen – Sketchbook Traces

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Pitchfork Music Festival 2017: Sunday Recap

The 2017 edition of the Pitchfork Music Festival is now officially in the history books. It’s been three incredible days of music, and arguably one of the festival’s best years in recent memory. Sunday brought another fair share of surprises and delights, though one truly disappointing piece of news created a minor hiccup in an otherwise smooth day (and weekend). That disappointing news was that experimental electronica duo The Avalanches were forced to cancel their set at the very last minute due to a serious family illness. These things happen, and of course wish nothing but the best for the group and those they care about. It would have been their first-ever show in Chicago, so hopefully they’ll make up the date at some point in the near future (though that would likely be at a separate venue for a separate ticket price). The cancellation resulted in a minor schedule change, moving Jamila Woods from the small Blue stage over to the much larger Green stage to take The Avalanches’ place. More on her performance in the recap below. Please join me after the jump for further details about all the various performances that took place on Sunday. And if you missed the recaps from Friday or Saturday, just click on the links and you’ll be transported directly there. Keep an eye out for photos posts here within the next few days.

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Pitchfork Music Festival 2017: Saturday Recap

Two days down, one left to go. While I’m always impressed with the general lineup and flow of the schedule for just about any day of the Pitchfork Music Festival on any given year, there was something about Saturday this year that stood out. I had a strange sense of uncertainty about how some of the performances would go, and about how the crowds would react to them. Sometimes you’re expecting a rousing success and instead it turns out to be a tepid mess that nobody likes. Other times you watch an artist pouring his or her heart out while a bunch of people chat instead of paying attention to what’s happening on stage. The music festival world can be a complex and fickle beast. So on a day where it felt like there were more question marks about artists than usual, I’m pleased to report that the entire day went tremendously well. So much so that it handily bested Friday and I can’t imagine Sunday improving upon it. But we’ll just have to wait and see! In the meantime, please join me after the jump for a lengthy summary of every performance I witnessed on Saturday. They’re all sorted by paragraph, with the artist name bolded for easier navigation. I’ll be sharing a full photo set from Saturday at some point in the coming days, so keep an eye out for that!

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Pitchfork Music Festival 2017: Friday Recap

Day one of Pitchfork is done, and boy was it a lot of fun. Apologies for that rhyming introduction – I immediately regretted it after I had typed it, but still liked it enough to not delete it. But yes, on the whole it was a delightful day and a great start to another year of the festival. The primary lesson that I learned – well, rather had reinforced on me – was that the best performances always had genuine passion and respect behind them from both the artists and the crowds. There are some examples of the good, the bad, and the middling peppered throughout this recap, so join me on the other side of the jump for a chronicling of all that went down from a musical perspective on the first day of the 2017 Pitchfork Music Festival.

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Pitchfork Music Festival 2017: Sunday Preview

Here’s the portion of the preview guide where I provide sound and sane advice on how to make the most of your Pitchfork Music Festival weekend. Advice such as: wear lots of sunscreen and drink lots of water. The current forecast isn’t particularly hot, but that doesn’t mean you won’t wind up dehydrated. Try not to drink too much alcohol either, because as fun as that might be for you, most large crowds don’t like drunk people all that much. Plus, it’d be a big help if you wound up remembering everything you did and all the music you saw. To put it another way, drink all you like, just maybe don’t do it to blackout levels. Don’t forget to take a seat at least a couple of times each day. I’d recommend about 15-20 minute sit breaks every 3-4 hours if you’re going to be there all day long. There are some good, grassy spots in the shade at Union Park to hang out under, where you can at least hear, if not see the stages. Your body will thank you for the breaks, and you won’t wind up all sore and aching by the time Sunday rolls around. Make sure to explore! There’s a lot of really cool stuff happening just a short walk away from the stages, so if you’ve got a break between bands be sure to investigate some of the tents. There are posters, books and records all for sale, some companies give out free snacks to anyone passing by, and if your phone battery winds up drained there are some charging stations just in case. Everybody’s friendly and there to have a great time, so I hope you enjoy every aspect of your festival-going experience! Good luck!

So there’s your non-music advice column. Let’s get to the nitty gritty for Sunday, shall we? At this point in the weekend you’re probably a little worse for wear and just want to have a pretty chill final day. The great news is that this can be achieved with relative ease. Follow me after the jump, and we’ll break that schedule down by the hour.

In case you missed it:
Pitchfork Music Festival 2017 Lineup Playlist
Friday Preview Guide
Saturday Preview Guide

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