‘Wake Up, We’re At Pitchfork’: Three Days At Chicago’s Indie Music Festival

From July 15-17, Chicago’s Union Park was home to Pitchfork Music Festival, highlighting rappers, indie bands and everyone in between.


From July 15-17, Chicago’s Union Park was home to Pitchfork Music Festival, highlighting rappers, indie bands and everyone in between. Despite the rain and mud which lasted the length of the festival, Pitchfork’s masterful curation of each lineup made for three days of eclectic artistic creativity.

Friday July 15

The festival was opened by indie artist Arooj Aftab sporting a reflective silver blazer as gray clouds occupied the sky. The peaceful delivery of her Urdu lyrics cascaded over the acoustic guitar to her right and violin to her left, almost making the drizzling rain a non-factor for those in the crowd.

Bassist Rivka Ravede stole the show with SPIRIT OF THE
BEEHIVE. (Ella Govrik / The Phoenix)

One of the most surreal performances of the weekend came from electric rock group SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE who ran their entire set without stopping. Images of a crooked smile, suburban homes and autumn leaves projected on screen behind the band, emphasizing their quirky vibe as they played serene transitions between songs.

Indigo De Souza’s voice blanketed Union Park during her intimate and comforting set. The indie singer-songwriter belted the lyrics to her song “Real Pain” as the audience ignored the falling rain to admire her vibrant stage presence and unwavering vocal talent.

The National played at the first ever Pitchfork
Music Festival in 2006. (Austin Hojdar / The

The entire day was leading up to headlining alternative band The National, who haven’t played at the festival since 2009. 

“We missed you a lot,” lead singer Matt Berninger said. “We’ve been very, very lonely.” 

Colorful stage lights and explosive instrumentals contrasted the band’s dark lyricism and calm disposition. Berninger’s emotive hand movements corresponded with lyrics centered around feelings of isolation and internal conflict. 

Saturday July 16

Jeff Parker & the New Breed kicked off Saturday’s lineup with another set of nonstop music. Parker rested on the left side of the stage as he strummed smooth guitar chords, which were supported by three singers and the rest of his band. 

Coming off the peaceful jazz of Jeff Parker, the day took a sharp turn when vulgar wordplay icon CupcakKe made her appearance on the red stage to deliver a bold set.

“This is about to be the most sexual set in this b—-,” the Chicago rapper said.

And it was. 

Nevertheless, she took a break from her incredible vulgar rapping to sing “Total.” The song focuses on the emotional aspects of CupcakKe’s relationships.

“What is it worth? Is it worth not being solo? / How much love can you give me? What’s the total?” she rapped. 

The Linda Lindas had the most unmissable mid-day performance, mesmerizing the crowd with their brightly colored get-ups and screamo lyrics. As the youngest performers of this year, the 11-17 year olds successfully demonstrated that punk rock is for all ages.

With synchronized stage movements and declarations of love for their cats, their youthful charm and passion for music resonated with festival goers throughout the park. 

Adding to the whiplash of going from CupcakKe to The Linda Lindas, yeule gave a haunting performance at the festival’s blue stage. Her intricate tattoos, black corset and performative hand movements captivated the crowd despite the performer’s chilling aesthetic.

In corresponding spandex suits, Magdalena Bay welcomed all of Pitchfork to their “Mercurial World,” both the title of their latest album and the hyper-realistic space they created.

“Matt, wake up, we’re at Pitchfork,” frontwoman Mica Tenenbaum said to her bandmate Matthew Lewin, who pretended to sleep on the stage at the beginning of the duo’s set.

The second half of Magdalena Bay, Matthew Levin carried the set with his
steady guitar playing. (Ella Govrik / The Phoenix)

Embodying extraterrestrial personas, Lewin shredded his guitar and Tenebaum wowed the crowd with intense synth breaks while encouraging them to “jump around just a little bit.”

Lucy Dacus drew her fans to the green stage with her steady vocals and relatable lyricism. She had no trouble encouraging audience engagement through humorous remarks and questions surrounding her songs “VBS” and “Kissing Lessons.” 

Dacus’s fans nearly drowned out her powerful belting during her closing performance of “Night Shift,” the lead-off track from her 2018 release “Historian.”

“You got a 9-to-5, so I’ll take the night shift / And I’ll never see you again, if I can help it,” she sang as she strummed along on a bright blue guitar. 

Following Dacus, a wreath of orange and white flowers surrounded a gong on the stage across the field, which served as a centerpiece for Japanese Breakfast’s evening performance. Lead singer Michelle Zauner bounced around in a white shirt adorned with a stuffed poodle head, gong mallet in hand. 

Her youthful voice and lively personality motivated the crowd to dance and sing along to some of their most popular tracks, including “Be Sweet” from their 2021 album “Jubilee.”

Dacus and Japanese Breakfast perfectly prepared the crowd for Saturday’s headliner Mitski.

Besides her powerful voice, Mitski threw
her whole body into her interpretive
dances. (Austin Hojdar / The Phoenix)

As soon as she walked through the darkness, one slow step at a time, the crowd was possessed by her performance. She opened with “Love Me More” which immediately built to a climax. Going from slow ballads to uptempo songs, she went wild during “The Only Heartbreaker,” dramatically collapsing afterwards.

“I know you’re all cynical Pitchfork readers, but I’m gonna say something corny right now,” Mitski said. “Life is truly just a few moments and it’s gone forever. And I’m just so grateful I get to share this short little moment with you.”

Sunday July 17

The final day of the festival welcomed Pink Siifu as the day’s opening performer. The gold-grilled rapper shared a friendly dynamic with his backup singers and entourage who danced and jumped around as they took turns performing the verses of his songs.

He ended his set by throwing his mic and letting out puffs of smoke as he strutted off stage.

Born and raised in Chicago, KAINA made her mark with her soulful vocals and undeniable passion for music. 

Singing “Casita” from her March album “It Was A Home,” KAINA’s concept of home played a significant role in her performance as a first-time Pitchfork performer.

Just before the rain returned, the bubbly personality of rapper Noname floated throughout the field as fans giggled along with her playful banter.

“The cul-de-sac was getting crowded, and I need my zen / Sitting in the wind, city of the ‘Go,” Noname rapped acapella after asking the crowd to stay silent.

Leading the crowd in flipping off billionaires, walking around with a drink in hand and celebrating her mom’s birthday from just four days before, Chicago-native Noname gave Pitchfork a joy that was hard to match.

Completing the trifecta of Chicagoans, the ever-mellow Earl Sweatshirt sauntered out in a red raincoat, black sandals and socks. 

As one of many artists who had to repeatedly stop their sets because of fans in need of medical attention, the rapper maintained his blunt sense of humor as he interacted with the crowd.

“Make some noise for hydration, b—-,” he said. “We love water in this motherf—er.”

“Captain” Kirk Douglas was one of many
Roots to take centerstage and perform a solo.
(Austin Hojdar / The Phoenix)

He opened his set with “Shattered Dreams” from his 2018 hit album “Some Rap Songs.” With backup from his DJ Black Noi$e, the crowd also shouted along to songs from his latest January release “SICK!”

Chaz Bear, known professionally as Toro y Moi, made his way to the stage in a cream suit and retro silver sunglasses. The singer maintained a chill vibe as he opened his techno R&B set with “Déjà Vu” from his April album “MAHAL.”

The Roots proved to be worth the wait as Sunday’s headliner and the festival’s last performance. It makes sense they would have the best stage presence, having been active since 1987. 

Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter led the nine person hip-hop collective through an upbeat and funky performance with showstopping solos from drummer Questlove, guitarist “Captain” Kirk Douglas and the rest of the band members.

Even as attendees filed out, the Philadelphia band’s energy never faded as they teased the end of the set five times. The weekend crescendoed to its final moment as the horns, drums and vocal stylings of The Roots brought the festival to a momentous and glorious end.

This story was written by Ella Govrik and Austin Hojdar

The Phoenix Staff

The Phoenix Staff