Features | Festivals

Heineken? Fucking Heineken?

By Peter Hepburn | 16 July 2010

This will be my fifth straight year going to the Pitchfork Music Festival. I missed that first, weird, Intonation-branded year, but I’ve been told it was pretty fun and mellow. The only previous big fest I’d been to was Coachella ‘04, and that was a miserable experience despite a phenomenal lineup. P-fork ’06 seemed pretty good by comparison: only three stages, so you didn’t get the feeling you were missing too much, good people-watching, decent food and beer, and not too much of that vile sheen that cover Lollapalooza and its ilk. Also, it was not in the middle of the desert.

Plenty of things have changed in the subsequent years. My male-pattern baldness has become more pronounced, my eyeglass prescription has gotten worse, and I moved to Chicago, a city that I’ve come to love, even the winters and especially the great small music venues. I’ve figured out that spending all weekend standing in a park (with more and more people every year), watching bands from 100 yards off, has some drawbacks. I’ve seen some great bands, sure, but with the possible exception of Dinosaur Jr. in ’08, none of these sets is ever going to match seeing them in a club. So it goes, and you take it for what it is.

The fest itself has made some changes—most of which I can acknowledge as reasonable, but which nonetheless rub me the wrong way: the addition of the Friday sets (extending this year even further into the afternoon), the expansion of the third stage (justified after a nasty accident a few summers back on its smaller predecessor), the choice of ever-bigger bands (hey Modest Mouse, no invite from Perry this year?), and the often weird programming choices. It’s a business, it needs to make money. I said last year would be my last, but when they managed a Sunday line-up closing with Big Boi and Pavement, I ate crow with no compunction.

With all the petty annoyances that go along with any outdoor music festival, at least at P-fork you could count on Goose Island to take the edge off. The venerable Chicago brewery has been providing beer for the event from the start: $5 for a cup of Honker’s, 312, or Summertime. None of these are great beers (Goose always has better small runs on tap at their Clybourn Ave brewpub, and their Bourbon County Stout is rightly beloved), but they’re certainly better than your average macrobrews. And if nothing else, they’re local: Goose’s brewing facility is a grand total of three blocks from Union Park.

This weekend, unfortunately, beer is being provided by Heineken. It’s a shitty move, not only because that’s a piss-poor lager but also because it just seems contrary to what the festival has made itself out to be. This is a festival that takes place in Chicago—very nearly in the shadow of the Sears, er, Willis Tower—run by a media company that got its start (and is still largely based) here. In previous years they’ve invited local indie fixtures to handle the pre-band introductions—never mind that they tend to be annoying, it’s a nice gesture. I even get emails from P-fork telling me how to reduce my carbon footprint by biking or taking the CTA to Union Park, how to be locally responsible. And…now they’ve cast their lot with a multinational conglomerate with no ties to a) this city or b) good beer. So, I guess, let’s take it for what it is: just one more, slightly smaller Big Summer Music Festival. The slippery slope toward Bud Light Lime draws near—in which event Morrissey and Jeff Mangum will need to be on the bill to draw my bucks again.