Pitchfork Fest 2021

Writing by Alea Doronsky
Photography by Rachael Crouch


Pitchfork Fest 2021 is one of the best things that has ever happened to me; I love music and I love Chicago. It was my first time at Pitchfork, and I aim to go back every year for the rest of my life. The six-hour drive from Columbus to Chicago at night was pleasant enough, dotted with a Marathon gas station every other mile. Upon arriving at the festival, I immediately knew I was home. Everyone was wearing a cool outfit and carried a welcoming midwestern attitude. The weather was warm and breezy, with cool nights and low humidity. It all felt very divine and provided a great release after a year-and-a-half of so much grief. I am grateful to have attended such a festival and experienced it with friends, old and new. I came home to Columbus feeling reborn, inspired, and pretty damn tired. All I could have asked for and more.

Black Midi

Black Midi was my first show of my first Pitchfork, a fury of prog-rock that dominated the Green Stage mid-day. I wasn’t familiar with their sound, and immediately linked them as descendants of Rush or the Canterbury Scene. The band looked like they had just left the office, stepped into their living room, and decided to play the most mathematical tunes they could dream up. With a saxophone player at the front, controlled chaos ensued throughout the crowd. Little did I know, my friends were deep in the mosh pit, leaving it bruised and blackened from dust.

Animal Collective

Animal Collected hosted a more traditional 2010’s psych-rock set up. Hazy fluorescent graphics were projected behind them as they played their mellow synth music, eventually evolving into a harder rhythmic experimental sound. Their layered vocals and mature instrumentation shined through as seasoned performers who knew their audience and delivered as expected. As twilight approached, they began to spiral up and off into space as the pace quickened and sound harshened, concluding their set on a high.

Big Thief

Big Thief is a unique band that hosts two members with successful solo projects and totes an extremely loyal fan base. Their sound ranges from moody folk, to folk-rock, to pure rock, particularly when Adrienne Lenker decides to obliterate a guitar solo. Their understated style and purposeful lyricism cuts deep and clear across the memorable guitar chords. Big Thief’s sound is witty and bittersweet, with Adrienne and Buck Meek locked in as if you are observing their private jam session. Big Thief’s music catches you where you are, forcing you to feel everything at once, while Adrienne’s guitar solos provide you with the strength to endure it.

Phoebe Bridgers

Phoebe Bridgers stands out in today’s music world. She is one of the best of our times, a lowkey pop star in her skeleton jumper with an earnest voice and angelic looks. Phoebe’s dry, flirtatious nature wins over the masses, as her relatable music confronts the challenges that we all face in the modern age. She covered Bo Burnham’s “That Funny Feeling,” a song of the times that addresses our modern ticks and troubles. Her Pitchfork set had a fairytale backdrop for every song, each animation opening and closing like a story book. At the end of the set, the animated house burned down, maybe signaling starting over, or potentially a critique of the institutions we are governed by. Her cultural awareness is conveyed through her talent as a singer and songwriter, delivering something for everyone in a clever and self-aware manner.


Waxahatchee arrived Saturday afternoon in a breezy calico dress with Bonny Doon as her backing band. The rose-covered microphones and bright sun brought her southern rooted lyrics to life as she embraced the crowd with open arms. Her presence was truly filled with light and grace as she sang and played her acoustic guitar. I couldn’t help but think that she is one of the figures who will usher in the forthcoming country revival, owing to the honest lyricism of John Prine and Willie Nelson. We are all in for a refreshing dose of sunshine and honesty these days.

Ty Segall & Freedom Band

Ty Segall & Freedom band gave a supreme performance of hard psych rock. They went beyond all limits and into deep solos, blurring the lines of written music and improvisation. The wailing guitar solos and trance-inducing drums held the crowd in place, except for those who were in the pit. Head banging and belief in the power of Ty’s magnetic stage presence kept me grounded, a performance that truly left it all on the stage. My sense of time dissolved as I was lost in the fuzz and destruction of the Freedom Band’s tonic.

Kim Gordon

Kim Gordon is one of the most innovative musicians alive. As one of the founding members of Sonic Youth and the genre of noise rock, Kim is the definition of a bad ass, expressing this through her harsh, metallic music. In a cream silk blouse and black leather shorts, Kim dominated the stage against a projected backdrop of mundane industrial roads. Her female guitarist played her guitar with a screwdriver, while the bassist drowsily leaned against the amp. The drumming was fierce and guitar discordant while the sky appropriately darkened. Kim’s taunting, coarse voice exposed the dystopian sentiments of life and the performance aspect to it all.

Jamila Woods

Jamila Woods had the warmest energy and exceptional chemistry with her band, creating an extremely soulful performance. Set on the Blue Stage, a more intimate performance for a smaller crowd, it was perfect for her voice to reach each member of the audience individually. Graceful and powerful, her neo-soul sound coursed through the audience and into our hearts. Her song “SULA (Paperback)” expresses her depth as an artist, from spinning a Toni Morrison novel into a raw ballad about love and fulfillment. Each song tells of her experience as a Black woman elegantly and with grace.

St. Vincent

St. Vincent set a new standard for what I expect from a rock star and played the most camp show I have ever witnessed. She went as far as to create a custom guitar to fit the female form and used the instrument like it was truly an extension of herself. She incorporated an element from every genre into her music, creating a new spectrum of sound that felt boundless. A new mood arose throughout each part of the performance as she danced around the stage on a Broadway style set. Her backup vocalists were also incredible dancers who could move in slow motion and in perfect sync. The show was truly powerful and explosive, unfolding unto itself like a living organism.

Caroline Polachek

Caroline Polachek showed up and out, dressed in a black and white set, elegant and composed. Her operatic voice carried itself fluidly across the crowd, whether in pop ballads or a flamenco style song. Caroline was accompanied by her synth, a guitarist, and a drummer. This minimal ensemble allowed her to strut across the stage and bewitch the crowd with her calculated dance moves. Her hit single, “So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings” was the closer we all hoped for and reaffirmed her status as a pop darling.


Thundercat is an insanely talented musician who is obsessed with both anime and Jaco Pastorius. I was lucky enough to sit in on an interview of him where he said, “give people their flowers while they’re alive.” I thought it was an important sentiment coming from someone who has experienced so much loss and learned to express that vulnerability in his music. That passion definitely translated to his stage presence, where his quirky personality let loose. The sound guy had to add another amp so that his bass could be heard over the keys and drums. It was an insanely loud performance and very experimental, traveling into that prog and free jazz territory once again.

Andy Shauf

Andy Shauf came all the way from Saskatchewan with his fashionable band to play brighter editions of his two latest albums. Mr. Shauf’s smooth vocals and restrained mannerisms contribute to his very delicate performance, the bands’ attitude being not quite somber, but professional. The addition of clarinet and saxophone warms the music up to create a soft jam you can dance to. Andy paints pictures of socially awkward scenarios, whether in a fluorescent Canadian bar or someone’s living room, exploring connection and rejection. His music is very dear to me, and the stories he tells never lose their color.

Erykah Badu

Erykah Badu was my most anticipated artist that I never thought I would get to see until maybe my next lifetime. She has outgrown her nineties neo-soul persona and transformed into an alien being. Up on the stage, she wore huge platform boots and looked as if she hadn’t aged a day, timeless like her music. Her set was remixed with glorious back-up vocalists and cosmic noises. You couldn’t help but move to her supernatural set of rhythm and blues.

Additional Artist Pictures


Kelly Lee Owens

Faye Webster

Danny Brown


Angel Olsen

Yves Tumor