Pitchfork Music Festival 2021 took place this past weekend with three days of non-stop live music in Chicago’s Union Park. Along with thousands of music lovers, I checked out some big names in alternative hip hop, R&B and neo soul like Flying Lotus, Jamila Woods and Erykah Badu. With the COVID-19 check-in process being thorough (fest goers showed vaccine cards, negative tests, and could even get tested on-site), I felt comfortable enough to get in the middle of the action. Here are my takeaways.

Friday

DJ Nate performed Friday afternoon on the Blue Stage at the @pitchforkfest. He was supposed to perform last year, but the festival was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unfortunately for fest goers, DJ Nate was on severe “C.P. Time.” He was supposed to start at 2:45 p.m. but didn’t start until 45 minutes later. According to his IG Stories, he was stuck in traffic trying to get to the fest. Once his set started, he was having sound issues and he wanted a microphone, but never got one.

His performance was hype though, with a crowd eager to see him. He even dropped a new single called “Big Mad,” where he raps over a Chicago footwork-type beat. Fans wanted to hear his two big hits – “Below Zero” and “Lil Mama Bad As Hell” – but he ran out of time. His set initially was supposed to end at 3:30 p.m. He ran over his set time since he started late, and the sound guys cut him off at around 3:50 p.m to prepare the stage for the festival’s 4:00 p.m. act, The Soft Pink Truth.

Saturday

Houston-based rapper and songwriter Maxo Kream gave the Blue stage at Pitchfork exactly what we were waiting for, with an intense performance from start to finish.

Although the Blue stage is the smallest at the festival, the setting is great if you have a loyal following, which Kream does. He took the opportunity, in a more intimate setting, to talk to his fans during every break in between songs.

After coming out to his new single “Big Persona,” featuring fellow rapper Tyler The Creator, he addressed the crowd saying, “Y’all so turnt, I gotta get right! Let me take this hoodie off!”

He joked with the crowd saying, “this the only city that’s windy and still hot.” 

Although his music has yet to reach the commercial mainstream, Maxo showed he is not without big-time features, showcasing songs such as “Fetti,” with Playboi Carti, “Capeesh,” a song featuring Trippie Red, and the song “Mars,” with Lil Uzi Vert. 

With a mixture of mainstream songs and fan favorites like “Drizzy Draco” and “Grannies,” Kream’s performance hit right on target for the diverse Pitchfork crowd. 

Kream’s new album, “Weight of the World,” will be available soon.

Chicago-based singer, songwriter and poet Jamila Woods proved that she should be booked as a festival headliner going forward. She is a force to be reckoned with.

Saturday night at Pitchfork, Woods opened her set on the Green stage with “Holy,” a fan favorite and one of her biggest records, with more than two million views on YouTube. Woods was initially scheduled to perform on the Blue Stage but was bumped up to the bigger stage, after Jay Electronica was unable to perform his set “due to unforeseen circumstances” (Pitchfork Fest announced via social media). 

But Woods was ready for the moment, playing into the diverse Pitchfork crowd’s music taste. She performed a cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and her version of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car.” She also debuted a new song entitled “Headfirst.” She said it was the first time she performed it in front of an audience.

Woods also performed other favorites, including “Lonely” and “Giovanni.” Her band backed her up in the best way, making for dramatic crescendos and musical breakdowns.

The crowd loved Woods’ show so much that she did an encore for the fans screaming for more after she left the stage. Her set was the perfect way to end the night.

Sunday

On Sunday, singer-songwriter KeiyaA blessed Pitchfork’s Green Stage when she opened up her show with an energetic version of her warm track “Way Eye” from her 2020 debut album, Forever, Ya Girl. She expressed her excitement for the opportunity to perform at Pitchfork, adding in, “You know I was born and raised in Chicago, right?!”

KeiyaA took us to church with her set, singing with passion and swinging her braids while performing more tracks off of her debut album, including “A Mile, A Way” and “Rectifiya.” She’s based in New York these days, but her Chicago soul hasn’t left her.

Los Angeles-based singer and bass guitarist Thundercat rocked Pitchfork’s Red Stage as a part of Sunday’s line up. His breezy falsetto, mixed with funky basslines, gave him some of the best audience receptions of the day. 

Known for his precise, rapid bass play, Thundercat oftentimes would direct his band into an impromptu jam session for many minutes, showcasing his bandmates. 

He kept the crowd guessing, going from fast-paced punk songs such as “I love Luis Cole” to funky fan favorites like “Them Changes,” “DragonBall Durag” and “Funny Thing,” which he ended his set with.

A spirited group of fans filled the mosh pit at the Green Stage, and lucky for Detroit-based rapper Danny Brown, they helped him along as he made it more than evident he had forgotten lyrics due to the pandemic and not performing for so long.

Danny also joked about his age, as he recently turning 40.  “When I put out XXX I was 30. That was 10 years ago!” I’m old as f—! I take a Tylenol at night, just in case.”

His music and dynamic stage presence have withstood the test of time. Among the songs he performed “Dip,” “Lie4”, and “Die like a Rockstar” were some of the favorites, receiving the best applause from the crowd. 

Brown’s distinct voice, hype beats, catchy lyrics and energy didn’t go unnoticed. He fit in seamlessly on a Sunday lineup filled with stars.

What can I say about Ms. Erykah Badu? She’s a legend! She was 30 minutes late to the Green Stage, but still performed an array of songs that the audience enjoyed, ranging from classics like “Bag Lady,” “Love of My Life” and “Tyrone.” The true Badu fans vibed to a sultry, slowed-down version of “Phone Down” along with “Hello” her take on the classic The Isley Brothers hit “Hello, It’s Me” and Faith Hope & Charity’s “To Each His Own.”

I say true Badu fans, because I didn’t get the sense that I was amongst a crowd to die hard fans. The call and response moments were a little too faint. 

Her background singers and band were a delight, with harmonies hitting like they needed to, especially on tracks like “Other Side of the Game,” which was vocally the most impressive display of the show. 

Since Badu was late for her set, she hinted that festival officials wanted her off the stage. She left fans wanting more, since she didn’t perform hits such as “Window Seat,” “Back in the Day,” and “Next Lifetime.”

All in all, I had a good time mingling and enjoying music with festival goers, in an environment that surprisingly felt pretty chill. Pitchfork Fest has me feeling like live music is back for good.

is the host of "We Real Chicago" on TRiiBE TV.