Chicago hosted Pitchfork Music Festival for the 13th year in a row. The mediocre weather that left the whole weekend in a cloudy, mopey haze didn’t stop the thousands of festival attendees from gathering in Union Park. With over 40 acts playing between three stages within three days, Pitchfork managed to highlight some of Chicago’s brightest talents from Paul Cherry to Saba to Chaka Khan. In addition, Pitchfork has once again outdone itself with curating a standout lineup. Heavily emphasizing colored, female and/or queer artists this year, the diversity of the artists and genres is what made this year’s iteration a unique festival.
Philly rapper Tierra Whack was a last-minute addition to the lineup after Earl Sweatshirt canceled. Her DJ played the first half of her set, leaving the her with only twenty-five minutes to charm the audience. While part of the crowd was being introduced to her for the first time, the newcomer had many fans who knew her entire discography, proving so by rapping along with her.
Hometown hero Saba started off his set with songs off his latest project Care for Me. His music is deeply rooted in his upbringing on the West Side of Chicago, so it’s only fitting that he played Pitchfork. The crowds fed into his energy and shouted every lyric back at him. A little rain didn’t stop Syd from being her charismatic, sensual self. In between songs, she reminded the audience that her songs were dedicated to the ladies, despite the male-dominated crowd.
Celebrating the release of her band’s newest album, Syd brought out The Internet to perform some new songs like “Come Over” and “Rollin’ (Burbank Funk).” Australian singer and songwriter Courtney Barnett thrashed hard with her guitar. She played her heart out to a moshing crowd. Spectators were overjoyed when she played favorites like “Depreston” and “Pedestrian at Best.”
Closing Friday night was Australian psychedelic band Tame Impala. Frontman Kevin Parker did not have a strong stage presence but that didn’t matter to the crowd. They happily ate up every song Parker threw at them. What really sold the show were the beautiful visuals. From the colorful artwork that changed between songs to colored lighting and lasers that blasted the crowd, it was definitely a good way to end day one of Pitchfork Music Festival.
Berhana opened his set with his groovy single “Janet.” His infectiously sweet voice sung love songs while telling tales on how he crafted his music. Donned in red from head to toe, Zola Jesus brought her dark theatrics to Pitchfork. She was accompanied with a live violin and guitar and took it upon herself to fill the emptiness by sprawling and dancing across the stage. Her dynamic performance ended with her crawling through the middle aisle of the crowd.
Contrasting Zola Jesus’ set, the cool and collected Nilüfer Yanya played the red stage afterwards and kept movement to a minimum. Hailing all the way from London, Nilüfer Yanya’s voice was accompanied by three other bandmates. Even without a full album under her belt, she managed to captivate the audience with her slow jams.
Moses Sumney’s set was unlike any other. He turned his voice into unorthodoxed musical instruments with different pitches. All sounds were made right on the spot leaving no room for back tracks from computers. It was a surreal performance.
Kelela didn’t waste time dominating the stage with her two background dancers/singers and DJ. Right away, she began singing with the smash single “LMK.” Although her set was shortened, Kelela made for a spellbinding performance leaving the audience in awe.
Headlining Saturday, Fleet Foxes delivered a solid performance. They played several songs from their three full-length albums. Despite playing some fan-favorites, there was no dancing. The crowd was mesmerized by the six-piece band.
The last day of Pitchfork started later than scheduled but the little hiccup didn’t stop Nnamdi Ogbonnaya from performing in high spirits. He jammed out for as long as he could with songs from his genre-bending album Drool. Kelly Lee Owens took on the Blue Stage where she pumped out heavy bass and ambient-techno beats that she carefully crafted from synthesizers and drum machines.
Her set was followed by Japanese Breakfast. Frontwoman Michelle Zauner gave her best performance yet. She stayed energetic and casually smiled at the crowd at times. Her Philly band fit well with the hazy Sunday by playing their beloved songs from Soft Sounds from Another Planet and a cover of “Dreams” by The Cranberries.
Across the festival grounds, it was time for Ravyn Lenae to shine. From Chicago herself, the songstress gave a genuine performance often detailing the stories that shaped her and her music. Like Smino, Noname ordered white people to not slip up and say the n-word. The lively Chicago MC rapped to new tracks but ended up forgetting the lyrics, claiming that she was “too high” to remember her songs. The most memorable parts of her set were the guest features from Ravyn Lenae, Saba and Smino which showcased Chicago’s newest wave of hip-hop artists.
DIY sweetheart (Sandy) Alex G entered the Blue Stage to Rascal Flatt’s “Life is a Highway.” What he lacked in stage presence, he made up for by playing such hits like “Bobby” and “Proud.” Eventually, he was joined onstage by Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast for a rendition of “Brite Boy.”
Big Baby DRAM radiated positive energy on the Green Stage. He preached about love and told the crowd multiple times, “if you love your mama, say yeah dawg.” Much to everyone’s delight, DRAM ended his set with “Broccoli” which left the audience in a high.
Chaka Khan was still kicking ass at 65. The pro knew exactly what she was doing. Her performance was engaging and passionate. She was effortlessly cool and groovy. Her set was the perfect segue to the main act of the night.
Easily, Lauryn Hill was the most anticipated performance of the weekend. Only 23 minutes late to her set, her DJ managed to fill the void on stage playing classic hip-hop tracks. When Hill finally broke onto stage, the crowd seemed to forget her tardiness when she played “Lost Ones.” This year marked the 20th anniversary of groundbreaking album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, so of course she performed her beloved album in its entirety. Hill delivered a powerful and influential performance that held true to her legendary status. Although there were some technical difficulties with the sound, she powered through, securing her status as hip-hop royalty.