This weekend presents a soul-searching dilemma for lovers of indie rock in the upper Midwest. On one hand, you've got the Pitchfork Music Festival. Now in its 10th year, the Chicago fest sets the standard for outdoor music parties; every lineup is loaded with emerging talent and legacy heroes, plus the logistics are unmatched. The Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival, on the other hand, is a fresh contender. Co-curated by Justin "Bonny Bear" Vernon and the National's Aaron Dessner, the Eau Claire, Wisconsin-based upstart promises to mix diverse regional favorites with familiar headlining talent in the lush Chippewa Valley. Rather than play nice, as we imagine Vernon and Jeff Tweedy would, we decided to rip off the gloves and festibrawl. There can only be one king of the Midwest hipster fests — and we intend to find out who.
Why Pitchfork Music Festival is the clear and obvious champion
- Name: Pitchfork Music Festival is a music festival sponsored by Pitchfork. Pretty straightforward. No cryptic, weird deco logo. No trendy unnecessary letters tagged on the end. Plus, P4K just looks so cool in its quivery gif logo.
- Location: Good ol' Chicago. Sure, it's a longer drive than the Wisconsin outback, but at least there's a train and a donut shop in the neighborhood. Also, it's Union Park, the perfect medium between hipster haven Wicker Park and yuppie epicenter Millennium Park.
- Talent: P4K, by its association with the music website that sponsors it, props itself up on a cool factor it invented itself. That's how exciting young bands like Bully, Iceage, Tobias Jesso, Jr., and Waxahatchee get such a prime showcase. But it's not like the Justin Vernon Naval Gazing Extravaganza isn't self-serving. I'll take Run the Jewels, Sleater-Kinney, Future Islands, and a slew of Best New Music winners over an art expo run by Bon Iver's buddies.
- Sponsors: In Chicago, Uber is offering free rides. In Scot Walker territory, Subaru wants to remind you that their cars are about as rugged as smoking hash in a converted van in a valley in Eau Claire. Meanwhile, Pitchfork has Vans, Ray-Ban, and Don Julio in their pockets, which should make for an interesting collection of stickers plunged into the back pockets of your jeans. Beyond that, 19 of P4K's sponsors are non-profits, which is nice. Also, Goose Island beats Leinenkugel any day.
- Intangibles: Wilco just dropped a surprise new album in order to hype people up for their set. I don't see Sufjan Stevens pulling a stunt like that.
Why Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival is the clear and obvious champion
- Name: The Vernon & Dessner Music Event. Left to the snobby reductionists at Pitchfork, that'd be Eaux Claires' name — and it'd be shit. It's the same thoughtlessness that leads to an album receiving 6.3 instead of 6.5. Instead, we get an abstract riff on the city Vernon loves.
- Location: The wooded Wisconsin landscape, in all its arcadian splendor, eliminates transportation stresses, provides an idyllic, Bon Iver-appropriate setting, and is much easier on the wallet. Camping and gas expenses for EC? Around $130. Hotel and gas for P4K? Around $490 for two nights.
- Talent: The Eaux Claires lineup is comfort food. You know and love Bon Iver, the National, Spoon, Lizzo, Doomtree, Sufjan Stevens, Low, and sure, the Indigo Girls. There's no learning curve, no homework assignment, and why should there be? P4K's buffet of entertainers is more adventurous and deep, but you're here to drink beers, possibly take some drugs, and vibe the hell out. Live music is empirically better when you know the songs, and you've got the discographies of the aforementioned artists etched into your brain. Let the 22-year-olds of the world judge the preening buzz-band fashion show on display in Chicago.
- Sponsors: Summit, Leinenkugel's, 89.3 the Current, credit unions, the Eau Claire tourism bureau — these are your mainstreet friends! And Subaru seems like a pretty down-ass auto manufacturer. Pitchfork is pushing bougie "lifestyle" brands like Ray-Ban, Topman, Perrier, Vita Coco, and Whole Foods. Punk rock, dudes.
- Intangibles: Baby, let's all contract mono and write the great American indie-folk album — together. Woodsy, earnest, and spiritually authentic, this is the amorphic Bon Iver myth come to life and shared among friends. Sure beats driving seven hours to compare ironic mustaches.