Photo by Ellie Pritts
“This is my last show in Chicago like this,” Chance the Rapper said during the last, sold-out night of the Pitchfork Music Festival. Celebrating its 10th anniversary, Chance’s headlining set at the music festival was a perfect tribute to the strife and growth of the city of Chicago, the home of Pitchfork.
No contemporary artist encapsulates the spirit, the strife, the beauty or the genius of Chicago quite like Chance the Rapper. For years we’ve touted Kanye West as the champion of the city, but Kanye is too far removed from the Chicago of 2015. In contrast, Chance feels present in the machinations of the city, everything from the rampant violence pocketed on city blocks in select neighborhoods on the West and South Sides of the city to the fervent hope of thousands of teens that they too can achieve greatness. I’ve never felt more proud to be a Chicagoan.
At first glance, Chance the Rapper did not feel like a big enough act to headline Pitchfork Music Festival. Past headliners included Bjork, R. Kelly, and Kendrick Lamar. Chance has yet to release a proper album, instead relying on the undeniable strengths of his #10day and Acid Rap mixtapes. But that didn’t matter to Chance and thank God for that.
I’ve attended nearly every Pitchfork Music Festival and I can’t remember a headliner with such charisma, enthusiasm, and pure joy as Chance. He was not merely an artist performing his hits for an audience of fans like the anemic Wilco from Friday night. No, Chance built a special treat for his city. “I want more for me to perform … I want more from you,” Chance uttered.
Whether or not the audience understood this (looking around at the practically immobile folks around me, I don’t think they did) mattered little.
The hour and 15-minute-long set began with “Home Studio (Back Up In This Bitch)”, a beautiful and fitting starter for his first Chicago show in months. Supported by the inimitable talents of The Social Experiment, the song was a perfect taste of what was to come including flawless instrumentation, a spectacle of lights and lyrically-driven visuals, orchestrated harmonies, and potent shoutouts to the city that started it all for Chance.
Photo by Ellie Pritts
Really, truly, watching the set was a life-affirming experience, especially for those of us who’ve called this city home for our entire lives. The expected “surprises” for the evening (like a Lil B or Kanye West appearance) were usurped by actual surprises. For their cover of “Wonderful Everyday,” the theme song from the cartoon Arthur, Chance brought out Chicago’s Bucket Boys, a group of teens from the South Side of the city who use drumsticks to play 5 gallon buckets and bring much-needed rhythm to millions of Chicagoans and tourists.
The performance was weird and entertaining, like the Bucket Boys themselves. But more importantly, by bringing them out on the stage, Chance was firmly establishing the direction of his set. This was not a moment meant to please everyone, to please outsiders, or to please the many folks probably watching the stream from the comfort of their homes. No, this was an opportunity to bring out the nuts and bolts—the actual people and traditions—of the city itself.
Later, Chance introduced Kirk Franklin, the middle-aged gospel musician. To me, this was the single blackest moment at the Pitchfork Music Festival ever. In a festival born out of the traditions of the largely white, largely male indie rock music community, Chance, a young black man from the South Side of Chicago, instead brought Franklin. I grew up with Franklin’s music, finding his grooves like “Brighter Day” to be a welcome antidote to the monotony of Sunday Baptist church services. Franklin had (or more like, has) a certain level of cool that connected young black kids with their parents and Chance understood this. Even if the audience couldn’t fully comprehend the moment, for Chance, the moment became something personal.
In a way, too, it was a connection to the kind of audience that doesn’t really attend these kind of isolating summer music festivals, whether because of cost or taste. Franklin is not from Chicago, but his ethos of religion and fierce grooves feels at home on the storefront churches that line streets and boulevards on the West and South Sides of the city. This was a moment for the folks who grew up or currently live there, black folks like me, and for that I am grateful.
Peppered throughout each medley—from Acid Rap to features on other people’s songs to Surf, the new collaboration with Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment—were special shout outs to the city. Chance frequently referred to Chicago as “the crib,” like when he played hits including “Cocoa Butter Kisses” or included accompaniment from current and former Chicago vocalists like Eryn Allen Kane or Sir the Baptiste.
“We as a city are growing … Me as a man is growing,” Chance later said and it was true. You could feel it in the attention, dedication, and heart Chance gave each track and moment of the show. Whether he wore a Chicago Bulls jersey or displayed “Sox” and Chicago flag visuals, Chance’s set felt like a bridge between what he was as a Chicagoan and what he will soon become as a superstar.
But the highlight for me was the bombastic rendition of “Sunday Candy.” The first single from Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment’s Surf, the performance was a spectacle of hyper-colored visuals, multi-layered backing vocals, exquisite horns, and the propulsive energy of everyone from the performers on stage to the audience at hand. Although it was not the last song of his set, it was the perfect high to an already stellar set. Finally, this was the moment that all facets of the audience could connect. Folks sang along to the super-sweet, sing-songy chorus, hugged their boos, raised their hands in the air and were overtaken by the music. It was a perfect homecoming.
Britt Julious is a writer based in Chicago. Follow her on Twitter.