The hottest music from Chicago & beyond

Tag: chicago music Page 1 of 4

Pitchfork Music Festival 2021: Sunday Preview Guide

And just like that, the 2021 Pitchfork Music Festival officially kicks off tomorrow afternoon. It’s been a long road to get here, and things will certainly feel a bit different this year, but let’s appreciate the fact that it’s able to happen. My introduction to the Sunday preview guide always includes tips on how to enhance your festival experience, so here’s the 411. If this were happening in mid-July as usual, I’d say that your top priority should be staying hydrated. Technically that remains true in September too, just the temperatures will be more manageable and you won’t be sweating as much. Drink plenty of water and you’ll feel better every day. Wear sunscreen and bug spray. It seems obvious, but people forget. Bring a poncho, ideally one you can keep folded in your pocket. Rain is always a possibility, even if it’s just a pop up shower. And of course have your mask and either a proof of vaccination or recent negative COVID test at the ready because you won’t get in without them.

If you’re not interested in watching performances all day long and need a bit of a respite, there are other activities on the grounds of Union Park to distract yourself. There are lots of food and beverage options. You can stop by sponsored tents/kiosks with games you can play or free stuff being given away. The CHIRP Record Fair has plenty of vinyl and other music goods you can check out. The Flatstock Poster Fair brings in artists from all over the country showing off and selling posters they’ve created for concerts and other things. There’s also the Renegade Craft Fair, which showcases a bunch of handmade goods from artisan crafters. You may just find a cool little tchotchke to carry around with you for the duration of the festival and beyond. So yes! If you’re headed to Union Park this weekend, I hope you’ll have a blast and stay safe for this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival. For those of us focused on the music, here’s the guide to what you’ll see and hear on Sunday.

Easy Access: Lineup Playlist, Friday Preview Guide, Saturday Preview Guide

100 Songs from Half of ’21

We’ve once again reached the halfway point of another year, and as such it creates a perfect opportunity to reflect on the past six months just to check in and see how things are going so far. You don’t need another recap of pandemic fatigue, vaccine distribution, and the “return to normalcy” while our democratic institutions remain in constant peril. That’s not what this site is about. Everyone is stressed out enough already, so let’s take a moment to remember the good things, like music. Oh hey, remember music? It’s that thing you can play to soundtrack your life and enhance your emotional state. The right song can turn your entire day around, for better or worse. A fond memory can be triggered by a song, or an uptempo beat can somehow make a sunny day that much brighter. Great stuff, right?

After the last 15 or so months that we’ve had, your relationship with music may have changed. Perhaps staying home without constant obligations inspired you to revisit some favorite albums or go digging for something new to expand your horizons. Then again, maybe like some other activities, listening to music just doesn’t ignite the same spark within you it once did. I absolutely get that. Live music in particular has been a constant source of joy in my life, and not attending a single concert in a year and a half left a hole no livestream could ever fill. I’m excited to get back to shows and festivals later this summer, and to share some of those experiences with you here on this site. Part of me also worries it won’t be the same or at least inflame my passions as easily as it used to.

Thankfully, the well of freshly recorded songs and albums has yet to run dry. Things weren’t looking so great for a couple of months this past spring though, as it appears a number of high profile artists chose to hold off on announcing new records until it became clear the world was reopening again and they could go out on tour. Don’t get me wrong there was still plenty of good stuff being released, you just needed to dig a little deeper some weeks to find it. When I began composing this mid-year playlist, my concern was over finding enough quality tracks to make it a worthwhile endeavor. Were there 50-100 songs from the past six months that I truly loved? I wasn’t sure, and it took a few weeks of searching through my library and checking the calendar for release dates before the answer became clear.

Below you’ll find 100 songs (6.5 hours of music) that I genuinely love from the first half of 2021, in both embedded Spotify and linked YouTube formats. They are very much all over the place in terms of genre, mood, tempo, and any other qualifier you may consider. Some great representation from Chicago’s local music scene in the mix too. As always, you’re unlikely to agree with all of my choices. I’d also be extremely surprised (and impressed) if you’ve heard all of these songs before seeing them on this playlist! For every Lorde or Lil Nas X there’s an Alicia Walter or Geese. My hope is that you’ll press play on something completely foreign to you and fall in love with it. Explore a bit! Hit shuffle and see where it takes you! Or find an artist/song you already know and like, then listen to the one in order before and after it. Everything is organized by genre/vibe and purposely not ranked, so please scroll down and give those later tracks some spins too. Enjoy and Happy Summer!

The Chicago 20 From ’20


The Chicago music scene had a very good year, despite everything that happened in the world (gestures broadly at the flaming dumpster that’s been 2020). Seriously, I’m incredibly thankful for the many, many artists that work hard and make their city proud by releasing wonderful music that inspires and radiates with feeling. While many of these releases came out or were recorded pre-pandemic with an obvious eye on touring to support them, the tragedy of all that getting cancelled was lessened primarily because the albums themselves were so wonderful. It’s been a pleasure to live with these songs and absorb them in ways we otherwise might not have been able to had the hustle and bustle of a normal year gotten in the way. In lieu of concerts and events and social engagements, I got to press play on that Dehd record for the tenth time or drop the needle on Ohmme’s latest until the groove started to crackle a bit due to frequent wear and tear.

As this is a Chicago-based site, I felt it was particularly important to give some additional representation to some of the local artists and bands that helped make my year much more bearable. Many of them are scraping by and doing their best given the circumstances, and they could use your support! Buy some vinyl, downloads, and/or some merch if you can afford it – especially on Bandcamp Fridays (the 1st Friday of every month) when the site waives their cut of fees so more money goes back to the artists. You can also stream their music, which is helpful but doesn’t pay nearly as much. Some also have Patreon pages and accept direct donations on Venmo or CashApp, so look into that too if you’re interested. Most of that information can be found on their social media pages.

When it comes to this list, it doesn’t feel right to assign anybody numbers or claim that some records are better than others. I’d be doing a disservice to the community that is the Chicago music scene by ranking and encouraging competition. My hope is that you’ll check out all of these albums, because each one is worth your time and consideration. They cover almost every conceivable genre, and often play with your expectations by taking some wildly fun detours. So here are my 20 favorite LPs released by Chicago artists in 2020. Can’t wait to hear each one performed live at some of our legendary local venues once it’s safe to do so again!

Six Times Twenty: 120 Great Songs From The First Half Of 2020


If you’re reading this, I’d like to congratulate you on surviving the first half of 2020. To say the past six months have been challenging would be putting it mildly. Pandemics and protests are only the start of our troubles. And even though most of us have been spending a whole lot of time at home, we could still use a break from everything. While I can’t sit here and tell you that the world will somehow magically get better and there’s light at the end of this extremely dark tunnel, my hope still remains intact that life will improve sooner rather than later.

The Wax Trax! Experience [House of Vans; Chicago; 4/13/19]


All of us have two families in our lives: the ones we’re born into, and the ones we choose. The strength of each is determined largely by upbringing and instinct, though coming from a loving household doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll always have loving friends, and vice versa. What we’re all ultimately looking for in others is a shared connection, be it through blood, interests, or experiences.

Music often functions as one of life’s great connectors, because it’s easy to bond over a song based on the feelings it evokes when listening to it. Technology has made it easier than ever to not only find and share new music, but interact and make new friends with people from around the globe who share your passion. That wasn’t possible thirty years ago, yet music fans still found one another thanks in large part to places like concert venues and record stores.

Lollapalooza 2018: 20 Artists to See


So you’ve decided to attend Lollapalooza 2018. Congratulations! You have made a smart investment in your musical future. At four days and 170+ artists however, there’s a whole lot to digest. You can’t see and do everything no matter how hard you try, so choices need to be made. Some choices are easier than others, but if you’re looking for a bit of guidance, allow me to play Pied Piper and point you in the direction of some bands and artists to see over the course of the weekend. Part of the goal here is to point out some lesser known or up-and-coming artists you might not be familiar with yet, but who are worth the effort to try and see (even if they perform early in the day). There are a few veterans sprinkled in for good measure as well, but no headliners because you can presumably figure those out on your own. Five recommendations per day with minimal time conflicts between them, so if you hustle around Grant Park here are 20 performances that will turn your festival experience from good to great. Join me after the jump and we’ll get started!

Pitchfork Music Festival 2018: Sunday Preview


Ah Sunday. If you’ve been attending the Pitchfork Music Festival for two days already, chances are your body will be beaten and tired. Drag yourself out of bed, pour some caffeine down your throat, and gear up for one last day of amazing music. Much like Friday, Sunday is packed with local Chicago performers who are both legends and up-and-comers. It promises to be a great day, and if you’re not sure about who you should be seeing, well, that’s kind of the purpose of this preview guide. So follow me past the jump and we’ll get right into it, yeah?

Before we get started:
Click here for a playlist of the entire Pitchfork Music Festival 2018 lineup
Click here for the Friday Preview Guide
Click here for the Saturday Preview Guide
Click here to buy tickets to the 2018 Pitchfork Music Festival
Check back for coverage of the festival all weekend long!

Pitchfork Music Festival 2018: Saturday Preview


Back in February, a new program based in the EU called Keychange, which is focused on helping women transform the music industry, announced that they had partnered with 45 different music festivals from around the globe in a pledge to help create fully gender balanced lineups by 2020. Considering how lopsided the current festival landscape is, with major festival lineups like Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza averaging somewhere around 20% female, committing to a 50/50 split will certainly take some work. Unfortunately most large festivals haven’t joined Keychange’s pledge, so the numbers will likely remain skewed for the foreseeable future. The folks behind the Pitchfork Music Festival also didn’t agree to have a gender balanced lineup by 2020. Instead, they’ve done it by 2018. Pitchfork is only one of two festivals (the other is Panorama) to do it this year, and while there’s been very little attention given to this fact, it’s absolutely worth noting and celebrating. Will they choose to continue booking lineups this way in the future? I guess we’ll find out in 2019 and beyond. For now though, it’s heartening to know that Pitchfork is taking the lead in helping to create a more progressive and hospitable festival experience for persons of all genders and types. There’s a whole lot of talented women and men set to perform at Pitchfork on Saturday, and if you’re interested in learning more about them and who you should make an effort to see, read on below.

Before we get started:
Click here for a playlist of the entire Pitchfork Music Festival 2018 lineup
Click here for the Friday Preview Guide
Click here to buy tickets to the 2018 Pitchfork Music Festival
Check back tomorrow for the Sunday preview guide, plus coverage of the festival all weekend long!

Pitchfork Music Festival 2018: Friday Preview


One of the best things about Friday at Pitchfork Music Festival every year is how relaxed the overall vibe is compared to the rest of the weekend. It’s less a product of the artists on the lineup and more the result of lower attendance (because many people are working), later arrivals (some show up after work), and people wanting to conserve their energy for the days ahead. You spend the day getting your bearings, learning where everything is located, and trying not to over-extend yourself. Yet it’s still a blast and the lineup is certainly nothing to sneeze at either. This year one of the biggest features of Pitchfork Fest is just how LOCAL it is. Yes, it’s very local every year, but that’s mostly reflected in the vendors and fun side attractions rather than the music itself. There are always a handful of Chicago artists and bands on the lineup, which has been nice but felt more like an afterthought than an actual intention. With 13 Chicago acts (out of 42 total) on the 2018 lineup, that’s no longer the case. Not only that, but the artists that were booked are all highly respected and critically acclaimed. If this is something Pitchfork hopes to continue in the future I worry they may run out of good choices, even though the local music scene is pretty massive. But we’ll take what we can get, and this year promises to be one of the best yet. There are five Chicago artists performing on Friday, including two bands that kick off the festival proper. Learn a bit more about all of them, and check out my personal picks for who to see hour-by-hour below.

Before we get started:
Click here for a playlist of all the Pitchfork Music Festival 2018 lineup
Click here to buy tickets to the 2018 Pitchfork Music Festival
Check back later this week for the Saturday and Sunday preview guides, plus coverage of the festival all weekend long!

Pitchfork Music Festival 2018: Hear the Lineup


It’s the most wonderful time of the year. With the music for festing and everyone telling you have a cold beer. It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Yes friends, it’s time once again for Christmas in July, aka the start of music festival season in Chicago. I’m thrilled to once again to spend the week providing wall-to-wall coverage of this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival. The next seven (or so) days will be jam packed with previews, reviews, highlights, and music direct from Chicago’s Union Park. The 2018 Pitchfork Music Festival officially begins this Friday, July 20th, and runs all weekend with 40+ performances from a diverse set of artists and bands from the (figurative) past, present, and future. So whether you’re already planning to attend, are thinking about attending, or are simply wishing that you could go, my hope is there’s something for everybody with this extensive guide to one of the best and most unique music festivals on the planet.

Before attending a smaller, more boutique festival like the Pitchfork Music Festival, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the lineup. Pitchfork historically has one of the most well-rounded lineups every year, and often includes smaller, up-and-coming artists you’ll be hearing much more about in the coming years. Not every band is a household name, so if you’re not up on, say, Irreversible Entanglements, you might want to know what they sound like before choosing to include them as you plan out your schedule for the weekend. This is where a playlist comes in handy. Below you’ll find a variety of ways to learn a bit more about the artists performing at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival, including tracks to stream on YouTube and Soundcloud. If Spotify is your preferred streaming service, I’ve also assembled a playlist (ordered by day and set time) at the very bottom of this post featuring two songs from just about everyone on the lineup. Click around, explore a bit, listen to some tracks, and get your bearings before this weekend!

If you’re thinking about attending this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival but don’t have your passes yet, here’s where you can go to find out more information and purchase tickets. The official preview guide starts tomorrow, with an hour-by-hour breakdown of the best acts to see on Friday. Join me, won’t you?

The Ten Best Concerts of 2017


Just like an album or a song, a truly great live show can change your life. Unlike an album or song, live shows are a communal experience that only exist for a brief moment in time before they become a distant memory. That’s why it’s so important to be as present as possible when you’re at a venue or music festival, to keep that memory locked inside your brain instead of locked inside your phone. Of course I’m as guilty as the next person for taking photos during a show (see all the examples below), but I do my best to only take a few and then put the device away.

Having said that, 2017 marked my busiest and most exciting concertgoing year to date. According to calculations, I attended shows on 71 days this year, and that’s not including the insanity of multi-day festivals such as the Pitchfork Music Festival, Lollapalooza, and Riot Fest. When all is said and done, my best guesstimation is that I saw 167 performances total, which takes opening acts and festival sets into account. So yeah, a lot of live music. It’s not nearly as much as the 500+ shows NPR’s Bob Boilen has pulled off in recent years, but I’d like to think it’s a solid amount for somebody that also has to maintain an active work and social life (not saying Bob Boilen doesn’t have either of those, but he arguably has more…flexibility).

Needless to say, it was tough choosing only ten performances from 2017 to highlight. Then again, this list could easily have been the ten best live shows I attended at the Empty Bottle this year, since they hosted an incredible array of big name bands and artists vastly underplaying at their tiny venue in celebration of their 25th anniversary. Instead, things are just a little more diverse than that, focusing on the moments that really stood out to me for one reason or another. Some were emotionally moving. Others were genuinely surprising or fun. The thrill of discovering something new, and the pleasure of hearing a set list comprised of many of your favorite songs. There was so much to love, and it’s my sincerest hope that you are inspired by this list to check out more live music no matter where you live. After all, science says that regularly attending concerts makes you happier.

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.

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!

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

Show Recap: BONZIE at Schubas [6-23-17]


On Friday night, Chicago’s own BONZIE (aka Nina Ferraro) held a record release show at Schubas to celebrate her excellent second album Zone On Nine. It was a wonderful and emotional set filled with powerful songs that pushed beyond the boundaries of traditional singer-songwriter expectations. In an industry full of easy to categorize artists, BONZIE stands out with her unique perspective, captivating voice and experimental arrangements. That she’s chosen to remain independent in spite of offers from record labels speaks volumes about the value she places on independence and doing things her own way. It’s worked well so far, and connected her with local legends such as producer Steve Albini and Tortoise’s John McEntire, as well as international notables including Portishead’s Adrian Utley.

The writing and recording of Zone On Nine took BONZIE on a lengthy journey across oceans and to a myriad of destinations. The music reflects this and is all the better because of it. Her live show is stronger than ever too, as the full band and backup singers created a rich tapestry that perfectly highlighted the complex emotions infused into every song. If the rapturous reactions from all the fans, friends and family in attendance were any indication, there are even greater things in store for BONZIE in the months and years to come. Pick up a copy of the new record, and go see her perform live if you get the chance!

Page 1 of 4

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén