Everything That Goes Into Planning A Music Festival's Menu

A Chicago restaurateur offers her strategies for feeding the crowds at Pitchfork Music Festival.

Pitchfork Music Festival comes to Chicago's Union Park this weekend, and no pre-festival prep is more important for concert-goers than mapping out their meals. Things have changed a lot since I first attended the fest in 2006—I now have a taste for rosé on a hot summer day instead of cheap beer, and my body rejects the notion of subsisting entirely on fried foods for three days straight. Lucky for me, music festivals have long been changing the way they approach their food and drink offerings, relying on talented and knowledgeable local restaurant owners and chefs to elevate the experience.

But how does a restaurant prepare to be part of a festival of this caliber? To find out, I chatted with Erin Carlman Weber—owner of All Together Now, a restaurant, wine shop, and cheese counter in Chicago's Ukranian Village—who was tapped to specifically curate a food and drink menu for the VIP and PLUS sections of the festival this year. We talked about ideal festival foods, replicating the restaurant experience on festival grounds, and why events like this should think beyond pizza and cheese fries.

The Takeout: How did you first get involved with Pitchfork Music Festival?

Erin Carlman Weber: When we started All Together Now, I dreamed of working with Pitchfork in some capacity just because it's such a fun festival and one that I personally have attended a lot—it was my festival when I was a young, more energetic adult—so getting to be involved with them on a professional level is something of a dream. When the festival director asked us to consider feeding the crowd in PLUS last year, it was a no-brainer.

From there, we got a sense of what the crowd would be looking for in that particular area. But we have always wanted to sort of transfer the feeling of being at All Together Now to the festival grounds, so we definitely wanted to do something that felt decidedly us but was adaptable to the festival context.

TO: What are some of the things that stood out to you as an attendee of the festival when you would be looking for food and drink?

ECW: Short lines. Everyone tends to look for food at the same time at one of these things. For me, I want something with a balance of convenience and heartiness, and that often just meant a slice of pizza because, you know the saying: even a bad piece of pizza is pretty good. Basically it's not too heavy to keep you from dancing around but it's substantial enough to sustain you for the next few beers.

TO: When you started thinking about those things for the menu you were creating, what first came to mind?

ECW: Convenience for us. I think a lot of the stuff we do day-to-day at All Together Now lends itself really well: We do a couple of different baguette sandwiches, so [a] very easy handheld—you know, you can eat half of it and wrap it up and put it in your bag. The French Exit sandwich we do, which is a demi baguette with sliced-up salami from Underground Meats in Madison, house-made aioli, whole grain mustard, and then Pleasant Ridge Reserve cheese. It travels really well, both logistically for us and for the eater. The end user, if you will.

Grilled sausage is something that we don't typically do at the restaurant, but it's something that feels very festival. And being outside during the summer having a grilled sausage just feels very appropriate and something that's a little heartier if someone's worked up a bit of an appetite and seen the first couple of shows.

For us, our offerings are a mix of hitting the spot in that moment with that grilled sausage, or if you want to graze throughout the day, we have a variation of our cheese boards, we have little salads, olives—things that are a little lighter, but they're interesting. They're going to hit the spot, especially on a hot day in Union Park.

TO: All Together Now has a huge focus on wine. How are you incorporating that into your menu, and what advice do you have for attendees' approach to drinking at the festival?

ECW: We wanted things that felt super refreshing, things that were food-friendly that you didn't necessarily need to have with any [food] and a range of offerings. In both locations attendees will be able to have white, red, rosé, and sparkling.

Red was a little bit of a... we came to the event organizers and said we wanted to do a red wine, and they were like, "I don't know, it's a summer festival." But a chilled red wine for sure hits the spot on a warm summer day, so we made sure to include one of those.

For us, getting to do something to showcase some of the smaller producers that we work with was really cool because the kind of wine that you typically find at any festival is going to be bigger names.

As a bar patron at a musical festival, it's a marathon, not a sprint, as they say. Moderation. (But what's the fun in that?) A glass of wine, especially if they're heavy-handed with the pours, is going to hit a little different than a Miller Lite.

TO: How are you hoping to see festival attendees support your restaurant at the festival and beyond?

ECW: I think the crowd that we get at Pitchfork—which is one of the reasons it's a dream festival for us to do—they are kind. The crowd is kind, and we love that. So I don't even feel the need to urge them to be nice because I know they're gonna be.

Hopefully there are some through lines to the experience of the restaurant in its actual brick-and-mortar form and what [people will] find on the festival grounds. When you start thinking of a business as rooted in its own four walls all the time, you're truly comprehending what it's like to bring a quality experience offsite like that, you start understanding why a lot of festival food can sometimes feel perfunctory. I'm very proud that I don't think we've compromised at all on the quality of the food. and the service experience will be similar to what you can expect when you visit us on Chicago Ave. as well.

The stuff we'll have on offer will be some of our more simple, straightforward stuff, so we'd love for people who have never visited the restaurant to think of it as a first taste, a little preview, and come get the full experience when they're able.

TO: Why do you think it's important to change the way we think about food in these settings? Why not just pizza and cheese fries at every single music festival?

ECW: If it's possible to curate a thoughtful selection of food in the way that Pitchfork has, I think it enhances the whole festival experience. I mean, they obviously put a lot of time and effort and energy and care into putting together an awesome lineup every year, and making sure that that is carried through at every part of the festival, it's fun for attendees, it's fun for us to be vendors there, it makes us all feel like we're a part of something a little bit bigger when the food matches the caliber of the entertainment.