It was announced last week that the Pitchfork Music Festival, which takes place every year in Chicago, had never booked as many local artists as it did in 2015. Vic Mensa, Wilco, How To Dress Well, Freddie Gibbs (who’s from down the street in Gary, Ind.) all played various stages over the weekend, and Mensa’s closing set on Saturday night was undeniably one of the best of the Fest. But once Sunday rolled around, it turned into Chancefork.
This my show #chancepitchfork— Chance The Rapper (@chancetherapper) July 19, 2015
From the moment the gates opened, the crowd was littered with humans of all ages wearing Chance the Rapper-related memorabilia. SoX shirts, Acid Rap tees. New fans, old fans, it didn’t matter—the people were out to support their hometown hero, who just a few years back had to hop the fence to get into the festival. Now he was closing out the weekend in the headlining position, a slot reserved for the likes of Kendrick Lamar and R. Kelly (who closed out the two previous years.)
But this was so much more than just an artist doing a traditional set. This was a musical, a carefully crafted piece of art that wouldn’t have been out of place on a Broadway stage. Chance and his 50-person staff rehearsed for months in preparation of what he claims will be his only Chicago performance of 2015. So those in attendance were treated to a powerful—and historic—evening. No expense was sparred and all details were meticulously combed over. Every light, every animation, every dance move—it looked like a big budget Hollywood film.
Backed by his Social Experiment crew, Chance played maestro controlling his musical counterparts as well as the crowd. He told the crowd he needed their energy to continue, and commanded and received their respect throughout. The Social Experiment had a slew of singers on stage, a choir, the Chicago bucket boys and some amazing choreography curated by Chicago dance phenom Ian Eastwood. They ran through fan favorites from Surf, 10 Day and Acid Rap—as well as many feature verses from Chano’s extensive catalog.
Rumors swirled all weekend that Chance had a number of special guests set to appear on the main stage with him. Of course, Kanye West was the most obvious choice, and the rumor would not die, despite sources confirming he would not be in attendance. Those who understand how Chance works, know you should always expect the unexpected. He wants to keep you guessing. That’s part of the magic. He brought out R. Kelly at Lollapalooza last year, and Kendrick Lamar at his Teens In The Park Festival just a few weeks ago. So yes, his rolodex is impressive, but last night’s special guest was too crazy and random to have been predicted.
Chance performing on a Sunday was also no coincidence. It was more than just a timeslot on a day—it meant more. It’s part of his faith, and meaningful to his upbringing and close-knit family life. Its significance is uncanny. So when gospel superstar Kirk Franklin emerged to the stage as the surprise guest it made all the sense in the world. Sure Kirk’s identity was amiss to most of the crowd, but they weren’t concerned. We all caught the holy ghost once Kirk performed his 1997 hit “Stomp.”
Kirk hung around to perform “Sunday Candy” witch the SoX crew, which sits as the Social Experiment’s biggest song of the year. But the breakout star of the evening was vocalist Jamila Woods, who handles the hook on “Sunday Candy.” Her voice was somehow able to cut through the massive crowd at Union Park and smack concertgoers in the face. It was beautiful.
Donnie Trumpet also made a big splash, hitting the stage donning a white tuxedo, with his horn squealing through the Chicago night. Before exiting the stage he announced to the crowd “I used to play basketball at this park.” It was a moment.
Yes, Chance is the front man and the centerpiece of this collective. But this was a team effort. It took all players involved to execute. As they say, there are no small roles, just small actors. And everyone from the stagehands to the set designers played a part, and it went off without a hitch. Their blood, sweat and tears were felt amongst the Union Park crowd, and the synergy displayed was amazing.
It’s what happens when creative young minds join together in hopes of creating greatness, and they succeeded last night. It was a historic evening for someone such as myself who has watched Chance rise from humble beginnings to become the most important musician in the city. It’s been a fun ride, but this is only the beginning—and that’s the scary part.
Andrew Barber is a writer living in Chicago. Follow him @FAKESHOREDRIVE.