I Got So Much Magic, You Can Have It: How the Near West Side Was Won at Pitchfork Fest

Solange, Angel Olsen, Kamaiyah, and a host of brilliant female artists took over Chicago's Union Park this weekend.

“I do a lot of festivals and a lot of shows, and there’s never enough women,” said Oakland emcee Kamaiyah midway through her unfortunately short set at this weekend’s Pitchfork Music Festival. The fest has called Chicago’s Near West Side, specifically Union Park, home since its debut in 2005. This year, Kamaiyah would be happy to know that the women on the lineup delivered the majority of the weekend’s memorable, powerful performances—and the competition was fierce.

Solange at Pitchfork Fest / photo by Matt Lief Anderson

It would be disingenuous to start or end with anyone but Solange, who had the crowd in the palm of her hand the moment she and her band stepped onto the stage. The brilliance of A Seat at the Table is its subtle confrontation, and Solange used her Pitchfork time to showcase that. Song titles and lyrics like “Don’t Touch My Hair,” “Don’t Wish Me Well,” and “Weary” were delivered via flawless, jazzy beauty, but they left nothing misunderstood. During “F.U.B.U.,” she stepped off the stage to sing straight into the front row. “Some shit is for us,” she told them to their faces, in no uncertain terms. She dedicated “Junie” to the late Junie Morrison, of P-Funk and the Ohio Players. After hearing his song “Super Spirit,” “I slid into his DMs,” she said of the start of their friendship, which meant a great deal to her. Then the horns kicked up and everyone started moving.

Though she easily rose above everyone else, Solange was hardly the only artist to make a lasting impression. Oxfordshire shoegaze mainstays Ride expertly performed new songs alongside old. LCD Soundsystem had the entire park jumping during their closing set on Friday night. Vince Staples was on fire. And despite it being their first show without the late Phife Dawg, A Tribe Called Quest delivered one of the best sets of the fest, taking a minute to leave the stage and literally spotlight Phife’s verse from “Butter.”

Kamaiyah at Pitchfork Music Fest / photo by Kristina Pedersen

Notably, though, the women of Pitchfork 2017 went above “solid” and “dependable” to make the stage something more than just a structure. When Jamila Woods took the Green Stage instead of the scheduled Blue (an emergency with The Avalanches left the former open), it became a launchpad. Chicago already knows her well, but on Sunday afternoon, with no conflicting performances during hers, she had the entire headliner-sized crowd to herself, and she owned it. A highly accomplished poet as well as a singer, she recited “Blk Girl Art,” the end of which goes like this:

I won’t write poems unless they are an instruction manual, a bus
card, warm shea butter on elbows, water, a finger massage to the scalp,
a broomstick sometimes used for cleaning and sometimes
                                                                         to soar.

She closed her set with the song “Blk Girl Soldier,” to the delight of the crowd.

Angel Olsen at Pitchfork Fest / photo by Alexa Viscius

Two fifty-foot queenies performed one after the other on Saturday, and it couldn’t have been better. Angel Olsen played flawlessly to what felt like the entire park. And though an outdoor PJ Harvey performance almost screams for a later slot, after the sun has set, she still managed to transfix the audience, starting with her newer, quieter stuff and ending with a handful of ’90s classics.

Near the end of her set and the close of the weekend, Solange stopped for a minute to thank her fans for supporting her through good times and bad, even when she was “acting a fool in public.” She needn’t have worried; by that point in the evening, the audience would have followed her anywhere, including into a tense elevator with JAY-Z. She then addressed the festival, which first hosted her in 2013, and its organizers directly: “I thank you, Pitchfork, for evolving and growing and changing too. There’s a lot of fucking work to do.” There is—there always is—and the women did a whole lot of it this weekend. All we need to do is get on their level. FL

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