Pitchfork even rocked … the fork itself

Categories: Chicago Sun-Times

By MARK GUARINO The Chicago Sun-Times

Midway through the set that ended the Pitchfork Music Festival Sunday, Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne had a word to say about the food.

“Even the food you get at this festival is [expletive] top notch!” he said.

That endorsement must have had the ears of the festival organizers ringing, because the lifestyle component has become one of the major factors that was designed to make Pitchfork stand out from many of its competitors, from city street fairs to more corporate-oriented destination festivals like Lollapalooza or Coachella.

A large swath of Union Park was absent of music; instead of stages were booths housing local artisans, non-profits, record dealers and independent labels, all selling their wares. Flatstock, a traveling show featuring original poster art from printmakers and artisans from all over the country, stretched almost a full city block. Nearby were food vendors ranging from Whole Foods to Big Bite catering to the Abbey Pub.

Pitchfork director Mike Reed said the organization tapped vendors whose “aesthetic overlaps into our demographic.” The pursuit was not difficult because more often than not, he said, “they were aware of us and we were aware of them.”

Lifestyle activities and retail fairs are a booming component to summer destination festivals, giving ticket holders a chance to wind down between music sets and connect with a larger community they might otherwise not find so accessible back home.

For retailers, festivals provide opportune exposure in a closed environment: Where else do you have consumers locked into one area for ten hours with no other choice but to purchase your brand of beer?

Pitchfork, however, is innovating the dynamic of festival commerce by opening a significant amount of lawn space to non-profits, who are, in turn, tapped to help volunteer for the festival. Besides local charity organizations like Rock for Kids and Literacy Works, Pitchfork also invited representatives from national organizations like the United Way and AmeriCorps, to set up booths.

“This festival is very oriented for nonprofits,” said Jane Winebrenner, director of communications for Saving Shelter Pets, a national organization that works to rescue animals from overpopulated high-kill shelters, particularly in Atlanta. She said Pitchfork waived the $1,000 booth fee because the organization brought along 25 of its supporters to volunteer for the festival.

“A lot of our volunteers don’t necessarily have a lot of money … so it’s a way to reward them,” she said. “We’re all music fans, which means that the festival has the right kind of people who resonate with our cause.”

Pitchfork is also providing tables to businesses that otherwise could never afford such premium exposure.

That includes PlusTapes.com, a cassette-only music label that was launched last year. According to founder Dustin Drase, 31 of Chicago, the due to concerns about cost, the label’s titles only get a run of 100 copies; they were selling at Pitchfork for $5 each.

“This is just because I’d like to get [the music] out there,” he said. “It’s a labor of love. We’re not getting rich off it.”

One demographic the independent retailers may not otherwise connect with is young parents. That was remedied at Pitchfork due to the high volume of stroller-pushing music fans who kept their kids busy by visiting vendor booths and moving from stage to stage.

Ken and Theresa Callero, both 32 from Oak Park, watched indie duo Matt and Kim from afar while their children — a four-year-old boy and two-year-old girl — played. Theresa Callero, who held the couple’s newborn infant, said it was the first time they brought their children to a festival and “it actually works.”

Ken Callero said it was part of their efforts to expose their children to music at a young age. “They’re listening to music all the time,” he said. “We’re music fans and we want our kids to be music fans.”

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