Each year, the Pitchfork Music Festival curates a unique lineup full of up-and-comers, indie darlings and under-the-radar rap artists, and 2018 was no different. The three-day event, which took over Chicago’s Union Park from July 20-22, boasted a collection of buzz-worthy acts – many of whom call The Windy City home – but it was a pair of legends, Ms. Lauryn Hill and Chaka Khan, that absolutely stole the show.
Hill’s presence permeated every aspect of the third and final day of Pitchfork, starting with her early afternoon soundcheck that delayed the schedule of the Green and Red Stages. Festival-goers could be heard speculating about everything from what time Hill would go on to if she would cut the set short or if she would take the stage at all. When she finally walked out to begin her festival-closing, headlining set, the crowd absolutely erupted, already in awe of the talent before them.
Images of the works of gripping artists including Nina Chanel Abney, Rehema Chachage and more, accompanied by a hip-hop/reggae soundtrack from Hill’s DJ, set the stage for a performance that would be at once serious and celebratory. After approximately 20 minutes of hype, Hill emerged from stage right ready to reveal the many ways music can change the world.
Her Green Stage set was billed as a 20th anniversary performance of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, but that didn’t mean it was predictable. Hill changed up the track order, led her jazz-influenced band in new arrangements and extended jams, all the while injecting a renewed intensity – perhaps inspired by the perspective gained in the past two decades – into each song. From her “Lost Ones” opener to the genre-merging closer “Doo Wop (That Thing),” Hill wielded her virtuoso vocal and lyrical gifts to deliver results that were nothing short of stunning.
Earlier in the evening, 10-time Grammy Award winner Chaka Khan performed to a massive crowd at the Red Stage, belting out some of her biggest hits including “Tell Me Something Good,” “I’m Every Woman” and “Ain’t Nobody.” Khan’s backing band was at its funky best on the Rufus track “I’m a Woman (I’m a Backbone)” thanks to a confident, wandering bassline introduction and spotlight-stealing guitar solo that mirrored Khan’s message of empowerment.
While the day belonged to the icons, several young artists showed that they are more than ready to accept the baton with star-making sets of their own. Chicago’s own Noname’s speedy and smart lyrical flow was even more impressive in the live setting, while her humor and authenticity charmed everyone within earshot. At one point, a weed-induced haze caused her to flub some lyrics and, rather than starting the track again, Noname leaned into the moment, dropping an impressive, impromptu a capella verse.
Courtney Barnett’s effortless cool highlighted the Friday fun and – as one of only a handful of straight-up rock acts on this year’s lineup – her freewheeling guitar solos offered a sound that combined past, present and future. Odd Future alum Syd and Big Thief also performed memorable sets on Friday, and Saturday saw Zola Jesus and Kelela, among others, step into the spotlight. The War on Drugs, Fleet Foxes, Tame Impala, Japanese Breakfast and many more also made Pitchfork 2018 a festival to remember.
In a time when major music festivals seem to have a self-imposed problem with booking female-fronted acts, Pitchfork stands out as a beacon of light for fans who appreciate listening to diverse voices share their stories in song. We can’t wait to see what 2019 brings!
More information on the Pitchfork Music Festival can be found at www.pitchforkmusicfestival.com.