This Is What You Learn Volunteering at Pitchfork Music Festival


It’s not an awful thing to want free music. More importantly, it’s not awful to find ways of going to some of the summer festivals without paying triple digits for a three-day pass that doesn’t take into consideration weather. Outside of press passes and jumping a fence, there is one pretty reasonable option available to all broke music fans: volunteering.

This past weekend at the Pitchfork Music Festival, I embarked on my second year as a volunteer. Not only did Chicago’s Union Park become our playground, but our time helped provide a donation from the festival to a local not-for-profit. This year, my friends and I chose Girls Rock! Chicago which helps empower girls through music.

Choosing the Friday and Saturday evening shifts, which meant free entry Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday, here’s what three days of free labor and free music can teach you:

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Volunteering Does Not Technically Mean You Will Get to Enjoy Live Music During Your Shift

Last year, while volunteering at the same festival, a group of friends and I were blessed with the very rare opportunity of being stationed by the main entrance that is directly across from two of the three stages. Standing there handing out schedules, we were able to hear acts like Cults and Flying Lotus, helped keep jumpers from breaking down the fence as Danny Brown passed by, and chased down Ezra Koenig ourselves as he too passed by. Our hopes were unrealistically high for this year’s festival.

There are numerous positions that have to be filled by volunteers, like, of course, handing out schedules, scanning tickets, giving out wristbands for 21+ attendees who would like to be drunk from that moment on, guarding the entrance to VIP sections, and guarding fences around the park from equally enterprising music lovers. Some are more glamorous than others. Our Friday evening shift saw us enter into the familiar world of working a festival entrance. Unfortunately, we were stuck at the much smaller one behind the Green stage where we could sort of hear the acts play in the seemingly far distance. In retrospect, it was a far better position than being painfully close to the Blue stage guarding a fence from jumpers without actually getting to see the stage. Sucks to suck.

But That Doesn’t Mean You Don’t Encounter Your Favorite Artists

We had the chance to wave to Danny Brown and shake hands with Ezra Koenig just because of our location last year. This year, the band Merchandise happened upon the entrance where we were scanning tickets Friday night after being misdirected a couple times while searching for the artist check-in.

Guarding a Fence From Jumpers Is Less Exciting Than It Sounds

Seriously, how many people actually do jump a fence to enter a music festival? Maybe there are a ton that I don’t know about, but none of them showed up during the few hours we sat there watching it and playing Pitchfork Mad Libs, which were helpfully available in one of the passport booklets supplied upon entry. We were there alongside several equally bored security guards sitting and waiting as nothing happened while Ryan Hemsworth apparently wore sweatpants on stage in the crazy weekend heat. But I wouldn’t know because the second fence to the park was blocking us. The closest to excitement that we came was when a homeless man stuck his head through a hole in the fence to tell us how much he loves us before very suddenly leaving. Maybe he just wasn’t that big of a Ryan Hemsworth fan.

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If Your Friend Gets a Cooler Job Than You, You Will Be Jealous

A friend worked at the same stage, but at the VIP entrance. Some of us are more blessed than others.

Telling a Crowd of Millennials That They Will Be Separated Into Gender-Specific Lines for Security Checks Will Upset Them

At the entrance, boys and girls were separated into two lines for ticket scanning and security checks. Of course, since this is 2013, everyone thought it was strange. But I guess it’s a pretty small step for feminism when it was mostly the male attendees pointing out how sexist the line separation was, although there were times when it was difficult to tell if they were just kind of joking about it.

No One Knows Their Left From Their Right

Seriously, forming two lines should not be that complicated.

Your Full Day of Free Entry at the Festival Will Be Heavenly

Sunday, the one full day of entrance we had, was fully taken advantage of. We had also been lucky enough to be let out early on Friday to catch enough Bjork before her set was shut down due to weather being weather as well as getting free entrance Saturday afternoon before our 4pm shift began to catch White Lung, Parquet Courts, and part of Merchandise. But Sunday, the one day without any responsibilities or fences to protect, was a much appreciated day of seeing and hearing Blood Orange slow down Sky Ferreira’s “Everything Is Embarrassing,” Lil B go on a rant about respecting women, M.I.A. tear up the Red stage in spite of technical difficulties and R. Kelly perform “I Believe I Can Fly” as white dove shaped balloons were released into the sky. And that feeling of having experienced it just by paying up with some of your time felt pretty good.

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