Pitchfork Music Festival can be a high-energy, crazy weekend, but this year, the festival took a more subdued approach with many of its acts. Over a rainy, quiet weekend, tens of thousands of Chicagoans and out-of-towners gathered at the city’s Union Park to see some of the biggest names in indie rock and hip hop on three stages. While the rain and wind left concertgoers a bit wet, the weather couldn’t stop the relaxed and happy vibe that spread throughout the park all weekend.
To start things off, Pitchfork had some of the most exciting acts play on Friday, and it was clear that the artists were just as excited as their fans. Chicago’s own hip-hop hero Saba played the red stage in the late afternoon and delivered a powerful set that made many (myself included) proud to call the rapper a Chicagoan. His newest album, Care for Me, dropped in album following the rapper’s massive nationwide tour to promote his new tracks. His Pitchfork set was the first time in months that he’d been able to play a hometown show, and he brought every ounce of energy he had with him onto the stage.
Later in the evening, Courtney Barnett put on her best black t-shirt and played her iconic existential grungy tracks that every woman can relate to and every guy can only aspire to. Her ability to write such emotional lyrics yet maintain a fiercely private life makes her work that much more precious. Never one to worry about her looks or her perceived appearance in the rock world, Barnett is one of the most important female artists we have, and her set at Pitchfork was only further proof that we must boost her up every chance we can.
Tame Impala headlined Friday night’s festival and were arguably the most exciting headliners of the weekend (although I’m sure that many people would debate me on that; sorry Lauryn Hill!) Kevin Parker’s trippy and electric project has been making rainbows across the globe for over a decade, and it’s the first time the band has been in Chicago in quite a while. During their first song of the evening, “Nangs”, Tame Impala released two massive cannons of confetti, creating a magical backdrop for their fans and turning all of Union Park into the inside of a snowglobe.
On Saturday, the dreary weather and mellow bands made for a quiet day. The most memorable acts were female artists who had a unique flare that made them stand out from the rest. Zola Jesus came onstage wearing a red veil over her face and long black sashes on her arms. Her goth stylings and sharp vocals drew in festival-goers who were otherwise planning on skipping her set. On the blue stage, Circuit des Yeux (aka Haley Fohr) put on a performance that would have fit right in at the Lyric Opera. The Chicago native’s vocals are deep and operatic, often sounding like a male classical singer. It was one of the most unique sets of the weekend, and it once again showcased the impressive musical talent that Chicago has to offer.
The penultimate headliner of Saturday night, Kelela, delivered a soulful and emotionally powerful set that was even more striking by the fact that her debut album was released less than a year ago. Despite being relatively new in the music world, her crowd was one of the most enthusiastic and excited crowds of the weekend, with dozens of women lined up at the front barricade to sing along. Kelela has provided vocals for artists such as Solange, Danny Brown, and Gorillaz, but her solo work is what really sets her apart from a lot of R&B artists. Her performance at Pitchfork, complete with backup singers wearing matching dresses, was reminiscent of old-school 60s motown bands like The Supremes and was a fantastic way to end the evening.
The last day of Pitchfork had the best all-day lineup, ranging from midwest hip hop artists Smino and Noname to the headbanging licks of Japandroids. One of the best acts of Sunday was Chicago rapper Kweku Collins, who was probably more excited than anyone to be on the big stage. Tons of his former high school classmates and friends lined the front barricade, wearing neon shirts that said “I <3 Kweku”, ensuring that Collins was smiling for his entire set. Following Collins’ set, Ravyn Lenae played the stage across the park dressed in a silver beaded top and donning a microphone adorned with a red boa. Another Chicago native, Lenae has been playing city festivals more and more for the past few years and is only getting bigger. She serenaded the crowd and made everyone pinky promise to move their bodies to her songs.
Ms. Lauryn Hill was slated to headline Sunday night, but many people were skeptical she would show up. The problematic artist is notorious for keeping fans waiting for hours, playing shortened sets, and canceling shows altogether. Waiting in the photo pit and watching the thousands of fans crammed up against the barricade, it was clear that many people had the same fears. As her DJ played for 5, 10, 15 minutes into her start time, lots of fans started checking their phones and rolling their eyes. However, it was a Pitchfork miracle; Hill was only 23 minutes late! Wearing a beautiful white ball gown skirt and a large floppy hat, she immediately commanded everyone’s attention and played The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill in its entirety. It’s hard to believe the album is 20 years old, but it’s even harder to believe that Lauryn Hill hasn’t released a new album since then. But, for her Pitchfork set, no one was concerned about the lack of new music or the tardiness; they just wanted to see one of their favorite artists play some of their favorite songs.