Okay, so you’re headed to Union Park this weekend for the Pitchfork Music Festival, but are either confused or conflicted about who or what to see during your time there. Don’t worry, it happens to the best of us, even those that are familiar with 95% of the artists performing. Don’t fear, however. I’m here to help. Starting today and wrapping up on Thursday, we’ll take a day-by-day look at the “essesntial acts to see” at this year’s Pitchfork Fest. If you’re looking for some additional music education on these artists, make sure you have a look at this post, in which you can download or stream a song from every single artist on the lineup. Take a taste, and if you like what you hear, you can invest in a full album or maybe just go see that particular artist perform at the festival. That said, let’s get started with a look at your best bets for Friday. My personal picks are affixed with stars (**).

Outer Minds (Blue Stage, 3:20)
**Lower Dens (Red Stage, 3:30)
This year’s Pitchfork Music Festival starts off local. Chicago’s own Outer Minds have the designation of playing the first set of the weekend, and if you’re fortunate enough to get there early, there’s plenty to love about these guys. Their core sound is garage rock, but thanks to some fun harmonies and a few blistering guitar passages you could say there’s a psychedelic influence in there too. The band’s self-titled debut album came out in March, and you can stream or buy it digitally here. If their live show is anything like their record, it should be a really fun and energetic time. Facing off against Outer Minds will be Lower Dens, the Baltimore soft pop band whose latest record Nootropics is one of 2012’s finest offerings so far. Excellent as these songs may be, and as engaging of a frontwoman as Jana Hunter is, Lower Dens might best be described as “sleepy.” In other words, with the summer afternoon sun beating down on your face, it could be tough to enjoy the band’s darker yet slowly gorgeous melodies. You might be best off with the cutting energy of Outer Minds to start things right, however I’m giving the official recommendation to Lower Dens based solely on the strength of their material.

Willis Earl Beal (Blue Stage, 4:15)
**The Olivia Tremor Control (Green Stage, 4:35)
Willis Earl Beal’s debut album Acousmatic Sorcery is a thing of raw beauty. Another artist with strong ties to Chicago, his life story is as fascinating as his music. He’s been homeless, joined the Army, left CD-Rs of his music in random places, busked on the street, auditioned for The X Factor and posted flyers with his phone number on them encouraging people to call and he’d play a song for them. What do all these things say about the man? Well, in his 27 years you’d say he’s LIVED. The pain and hardship comes through in his powerful singing voice, which goes from a whisper to a gruff howl with very little effort. His set should be one of the most fascinating of the entire festival, and any fan of the blues and soul music should make an appointment to see it. On the other side of the park will be Olivia Tremor Control, and fans of the Elephant 6 collective of the ’90s will have plenty to get excited about. The band released two effortlessly catchy and classic indie pop records in the form of 1996’s Music from the Unrealized Film Script, Dusk at Cubist Castle and 1999’s Black Foliage: Animation Music Volume One before breaking up. Their much heralded reunion in 2009 hasn’t resulted in a lot of large scale touring, so when they do play shows some excitement comes along with it. Also it’s not impossible to think that former band member and close friend Jeff Mangum might drop in for a song or two, simply because he can.

Tim Hecker (Blue Stage, 5:15)
**A$AP Rocky (Red Stage, 5:30)
The five o’clock hour on Friday brings together an interesting paradox of talent. Tim Hecker is a great Canadian producer and electronica composer whose last couple records have been deep and gorgeous soundscapes worthy of the critical acclaim they’ve received. You could also describe them as very serious and often intense examinations of the way technology and digital elements have overtaken traditional and organic instrumentation. What this really amounts to is that if you’re hoping to get some shade by the smaller Blue stage and just sort of relax for a bit on a blanket, listening to Tim Hecker will provide you with a cool breeze, even if nature doesn’t hand you one. As for A$AP Rocky, his star has been on the rise all year long. Fresh off the his LiveLoveA$AP mixtape, he and the A$AP Mob have courted controversy and violence in a way not all that dissimilar from the way Odd Future was doing last year. Of course Rocky has a reportedly three million dollar record deal, which also puts the stakes pretty high for his official debut album LongLiveA$AP when it comes out in September. Expect to hear him perform a bunch of that new stuff while the A$AP Mob riles up the crowd in between tracks. It could be a total disaster ending in some crowd insanity, or it could just be a whole lot of fun to watch. Either way, the guy might be the next Jay-Z or Kanye West, so best to see him now before the rest of the world sinks their teeth into him.

**Japandroids (Blue Stage, 6:15)
Big K.R.I.T. (Green Stage, 6:25)
Have you heard Celebration Rock yet? It is a triumph of an album for Japandroids, and one of 2012’s best rock records. If you like your guitars loud, your drums pounding, and anthems you can shout along with, Japandroids are not only the best thing happening in this time slot, but perhaps for all of Friday. Expect plenty of fists in the air, mosh pits and crowd surfing too. This is a high energy, high octane show, and these sorts of bands don’t come around as often anymore. Not only that, but Brian King and David Prowse are serious about their craft and play as if their lives depended on it. Celebrate life, celebrate rock and try not to get hurt while doing so. It’s quite likely that Big K.R.I.T. will bring a lot of energy and celebration to his set too, though his version of hip hop is a bit more conscientious and introspective than many others. Don’t worry though, that makes him one of the more unique voices in the genre these days, and his talent has been very apparent over his last couple records and mixtapes, most notably Return of 4Eva. You’re not going to get the style and flash of an A$AP Rocky, but he mines the nostalgia of the mid-’90s era of rap when the genre was so much more than that. If the idea sounds appealing to you, his set might have that same effect.

Clams Casino (Blue Stage, 7:15)
**Dirty Projectors (Red Stage, 7:20)
Clams Casino is the second instrumental act performing on Friday. Unlike Tim Hecker though, Clams Casino has made a name for himself by rather brilliantly producing a bunch of hip hop. Everyone from Soulja Boy to Lil B to A$AP Rocky (of course) have used his beats and instrumentals as backing for their own rhymes. Instead of letting those compositions sit behind vocals, Clams Casino has released a pair of free mixtapes and an EP containing pieces he’s worked on for others or just himself, all of it sans vocals (but not necessarily vocal samples). These things stand up so well on their own, he can play live shows with them and get people moving and/or shouting along if they happen to know some of the hip hop tracks the beats originally appeared on. Count on his set to be a good, danceable time. Then there’s Dirty Projectors, a band that has scooped up quite a bit of critical acclaim these last few years for their wildly inventive songs. My thoughts on the band’s latest opus Swing Lo Magellan can be found here, but in a nutshell it’s their most accessible and effortlessly enjoyable record to date. If you’ve heard Dirty Projectors before and didn’t like it, their live show surely won’t do anything to change your mind. What it will showcase are the impressive talents of Amber Coffman, Haley Dekle and Olga Bell, whose vocal ping-ponging must be seen to be believed. Frontman Dave Longstreth is the mastermind behind it all, and though he’s not the warmest or most personable guy in the world, he lets the music speak for him. You should be paying close attention.

**Purity Ring (Blue Stage, 8:20)
Feist (Green Stage, 8:20)
Purity Ring don’t have an album out yet. Their debut, Shrines, is set for release at the end of this month. In the meantime, there have been a few singles that have caught the ears of many a tastemaker. What makes this duo so unique is their ability to turn hip hop and electronica elements into compelling pop music. They actually like to describe it as “future pop,” and given the glitchy samples and fun other little tweaks they throw in against Megan James’ smooth vocals, that’s not far from the truth. Perhaps the main reason why they’re “headlining” the small Blue stage on Friday night has less to do with popularity (as that’s still steadily building) and more to do with how their live show is structured. At 8:20pm there will still be a bit of sunlight left, but Purity Ring prefer to perform in total darkness. Their stage setup includes multi-colored lightbulbs that pulsate and pound with the beats. So not only do the songs draw you in and stick with you, but you’ll likely remember the visual elements as well for quite some time. As for Feist, well, she’s simply a delight. Her records Let It Die and The Reminder were strong representations of female singer-songwriter pop. People fell in love with her thanks to cute songs like “Mushaboom” and “1,2,3,4”. Goofy choreographed music videos and a few acting appearances on comedy shows have only made her that much more endearing, which is why it was such a disappointment when her new album Metals didn’t fully follow in those footsteps. No worries though, because her headlining set at this year’s festival has every indication of being highly enjoyable and entertaining. She may even bring a few people from the crowd up on stage to spice things up a bit. She’s great like that. If you watch her set, there’s a high likelihood you’ll end the night smiling, and there’s nothing wrong with that.