From July 15 to 17, Chicago’s Union Park hosted Fork Music Festival, highlighting rappers, indie bands, and everyone in between. Despite the rain and mud that lasted the duration of the festival, Pitchfork’s masterful handling of each lineup enabled three days of eclectic artistic creativity.
friday july 15
The festival was opened by independent artist Arooj Aftab wearing a reflective silver blazer as gray clouds filled the sky. The peaceful delivery of his Urdu lyrics cascaded over the acoustic guitar to his right and the violin to his left, almost making the pouring rain a non-factor for those in the crowd.
One of the most surreal performances of the weekend came from electric rock band SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE who performed their entire set non-stop. Images of a smirk, suburban homes and autumn leaves projected onto the screen behind the band, accentuating their quirky vibe as they played serene transitions between songs.
Indigo De Souza’s vocals covered Union Park during her intimate and heartwarming set. The independent singer-songwriter sang the lyrics to his song “Real Pain” as the audience ignored the falling rain to admire his vibrant stage presence and unwavering vocal talent.
The whole day led to the headlining act of alternative band The National, who have not performed at the festival since 2009.
“We missed you very much,” singer Matt Berninger said. “We have been very, very alone.”
Colorful stage lights and explosive instrumentals contrasted with the band’s dark lyricism and calm disposition. Berninger’s emotive hand movements matched lyrics centered on feelings of isolation and internal conflict.
Saturday July 16
Jeff Parker & the New Breed kicked off Saturday’s lineup with another round of nonstop music. Parker rested on the left side of the stage as he strummed soft guitar chords, which were backed by three vocalists and the rest of his band.
After Jeff Parker’s peaceful jazz, the day took a turn when vulgar pun icon CupcakKe appeared on the red stage to deliver a daring set.
“This is about to be the sexiest set this b—-,” the Chicago rapper said.
And it was.
Nonetheless, 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 is the total? she rapped.
The Linda Lindas had the most unmissable performance of the midday, mesmerizing the crowd with their brightly colored outfits and shouto lyrics. As this year’s youngest performers, 11-17 year olds successfully demonstrated that punk rock is for all ages.
With synchronized stage moves and declarations of love for their cats, their youthful charm and passion for music resonated with festival-goers throughout the park.
Adding to the boost of moving from CupcakKe to The Linda Lindas, yeule gave a haunting performance on the blue stage at the festival. Her intricate tattoos, black corset and performative hand movements captivated the crowd despite the performer’s creepy aesthetic.
In matching spandex costumes, Magdalena Bay welcomed all of Pitchfork to their “Mercurial World,” both the title of their latest album and the hyper-realistic space they’ve created.
“Matt, wake up, we’re at Pitchfork,” singer Mica Tenenbaum told bandmate Matthew Lewin, who pretended to be sleeping onstage as the duo’s set began.
Portraying alien personas, Lewin shredded his guitar and Tenebaum wowed the crowd with intense synth breaks while encouraging them to “hop a little”.
Lucy Dacus drew her fans onto the green stage with her steady voice and relatable lyricism. She had no trouble encouraging audience engagement through humorous remarks and questions surrounding her songs “VBS” and “Kissing Lessons.”
Dacus fans nearly drowned out his mighty belt during his closing performance of “Night Shift,” the first track from his 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, strumming a bright blue guitar.
After Dacus, a wreath of orange and white flowers surrounded a gong on the stage across the pitch, which served as the centerpiece for the evening performance of Japanese Breakfast. Singer Michelle Zauner was bouncing around in a white shirt adorned with a stuffed poodle’s head, holding a gong mallet.
Her youthful voice and lively personality got the crowd dancing and singing along to some of their most popular tracks, including “Be Sweet” from their 2021 album “Jubilee.”
Dacus and Japanese Breakfast prepared the crowd perfectly for Saturday’s headliner, Mitski.
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 peaked. Moving from slow ballads to rhythmic songs, she went wild during “The Only Heartbreaker”, falling apart spectacularly afterwards.
“I know you’re all cynical Pitchfork readers, but I’m going to say something corny now,” Mitski said. “Life is really just a few moments and it’s gone forever. And I’m so grateful to be able to share this little moment with you.
Sunday July 17
The last day of the festival welcomed Pink Siifu as the day’s opening performer. The gold-toasted rapper shared a friendly dynamic with his backing vocalists and entourage who danced and jumped while taking turns performing the verses of his songs.
He ended his set by throwing up his mic and letting out puffs of smoke as he strutted offstage.
Born and raised in Chicago, KAINA made her mark with her soulful voice and undeniable passion for music.
While singing “Casita” from her March album “It Was A Home,” KAINA’s concept of home played a big part in her performance as Pitchfork’s debut performer.
Just before the rain returned, rapper Noname’s bubbly personality floated onto the pitch as fans giggled with her playful banter.
“The cul-de-sac was getting crowded, and I need my zen / Sitting in the wind, town of ‘Go,” Noname rapped acapella after asking the crowd to be quiet.
Leading the crowd in knocking down billionaires, walking around with a drink in hand and celebrating her mother’s birthday four days prior, Chicago native Noname gave Pitchfork a cheer that’s hard to match.
Rounding out the Chicagoans’ trifecta, the ever-plush Earl sweatshirt came in a red raincoat, black sandals and socks.
As one of many artists who repeatedly had to stop their sets due to fans needing medical attention, the rapper retained his sense of humor when interacting with the crowd.
“Make some noise to hydrate yourself, b—-,” he said. “We love the water in this mother-er.”
He opened his set with “Shattered Dreams” from his 2018 hit album “Some Rap Songs.” Backed up by his DJ Black Noi$e, the crowd also roared songs from his latest January release “SICK!”
Chaz Bear, known professionally as Toro y Moi, took to the stage in a cream suit and retro silver sunglasses. The singer maintained a laid-back vibe as he opened his R&B techno set with “Déjà Vu” from his April album “MAHAL.”
The Roots were worth the wait as Sunday’s headliner and the festival’s final performance. It makes sense that they 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 jaw-dropping solos from drummer Questlove, guitarist “Captain” Kirk Douglas and the rest of the band.
Even when the contestants pulled out, the energy of the Philadelphia group never faded as they teased the end of the set five times. The weekend crescendoed to its final moment as The Roots’ horns, drums and vocal stylings brought the festival to a memorable and glorious end.
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