12 Artists to See at Pitchfork 2021

It feels like literally yesterday that I was sitting down to write my pre-Lollapalooza coverage, and now I’m sitting to do the same for Pitchfork Music Festival! While we were all pretty concerned to see what could potentially come out of Lollapalooza going on with regular scheduled programming this year, the city has reported that the event was NOT a super-spreader, which, at least to me, was shocking.

According to The Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady, only 203 attendees had tested positive for COVID-19, or 0.05% of the people who attended. This was the data provided approximately two weeks after the first day of the four-day festival, where nearly 400,000 people attended.

The Chicago Tribune reported that Pitchfork’s typical capacity is 19,000 people, a number that is incredibly smaller than the one I just mentioned above. As of right now, the three-day passes are sold out.

Though I’ve attended Pitchfork before, it was only as a fan and I only attended one day each weekend during the two separate years I went. It’s also going to be interesting to experience a festival in a (normally) cooler time of year in Chicago compared to its usual weekend slow in mid-July. Other events like Arc Fest (9/3 and 9/4) and Riot Fest (9/17-9/19) are also the bookends to Pitchfork this year. September’s looking busy in Chicago!

One reason why I’ve always enjoyed scouring the Pitchfork lineup every year is because there’s never been a time where I’m familiar with every single artist’s music. There’s also ALWAYS a heavy amount of local bands playing on the bill, and this year is no different! I’ve included some of them in our round-up below: so hopefully you find someone new to vibe to.

Dehd – Green Stage, 2:30-3:15pm
Genre – Punk Rock
For Fans Of – Soccer Mommy, Slow Pulp

We begin to highlight our chosen list of artists with Dehd: a Chicago-based band with extensive experience making the rounds of the city’s DIY indie rock scene, eventually garnering the band multiple Pitchfork features and even a “Best New Music” rating of their own in July of 2020. Band members Emily Kempf, Jason Balla, and Eric McGrady have been making music together for six years at this point: their 2019 album Water recorded very soon after Kempf and Balla broke up.

Dehd’s 2020 release of Flower of Devotion, a surf-rock and post-punk album straight out of the ’60s, skyrocketed the band from recording in their homes to an actual recording studio: and I’m sure the energy bouncing off every inch of the record will come to life in Union Park in just a few days.

Hop Along – Red Stage, 3:20-4:10pm
Genre – Indie Rock
For Fans Of – Charly Bliss, Diet Cig

Will you trust my opinion if I start this paragraph by saying Philadelphia-born band Hop Along’s lead singer Francis Quinlan’s voice reminds me of Liz Phair, but raspier? Regardless, I’m going with it. After aimlessly scrolling through the abyss also known as Spotify, I found Hop Along’s 2018 album, Bark Your Head Off, Dog, and was instantly a fan. It’s hard to believe that this is the band’s most recent album, but I will be happy to see if they end up playing a handful of those songs, cause I’m selfishly a fan.

Hop Along is described by a lot of genres on their Wikipedia page, but my personal favorite is that their music is also called “Freak Folk,” also known as psychedelic folk. Another band on the lineup that’s also referenced under this genre? Animal Collective.

Ela Minus – Blue Stage, 5:15-6pm
Genre – Electronic/Techno
For Fans Of – Disclosure, Helado Negro

Look, we all know I’m not the biggest fan of dance music, and the genre itself, though absolutely worth being credited as an influential one in Chicago’s music history and music as a whole, confuses me. Sometimes I don’t feel cool enough to listen and enjoy it, and sometimes I really feel like most dance music fans are the type of people who don’t care about how silly you decide to move your body in the crowd. So, the point I’m trying to make is if and when I do highlight dance music, I really freaking love it.

Columbian musician Ela Minus is no exception: once a member of an emo band in her home country, Ela enrolled in Berklee College of Music to become a jazz drummer. Here, she learned to design and build synthesizers (literally the coolest thing ever to me), which inspired her to later write, produce, and record her debut album acts of rebellion, which dropped last year. I imagine this will be a chill, laidback set with the occasional dance break: and it’ll be a nice change of pace to the overall lineup of indie bands and artists I’ll likely be watching all weekend.

Phoebe Bridgers – Green Stage, 8:30-9:50pm
Genre – Folk/Rock
For Fans Of – Julien Baker, Elliot Smith

Is it shocking to anyone that we’ve included Phoebe Bridgers in Pitchfork 2021’s highlight reel? Coming from someone who’s been following Bridgers’ career for the last three years, it’s a super crazy sight to see her headlining a major music festival, when she was performing at Lincoln Hall just a couple years ago. Bridgers is one of the artists whose sophomore album release, Punisher, arguably defined what 2020 was for a lot of people. It also helps that the team at Staged Haze named it the best album of last year.

Though we will never know what the year would have looked for her if she were able to do a traditional album rollout and promotional cycle, along with a tour that was a bit more timely with the album release, it is really wild to look back and see how Bridgers became a household name over the year and a half. I’ve seen her perform live four times before (only two were solo sets: the other two were with side projects Better Oblivion Community Center and boygenius), and I’m very much looking forward to hearing songs from Punisher live for the first time in just a couple weeks.

Meet Bartees Strange, Vital D.C. Indie Musician | Billboard

Bartees Strange – Red Stage, 1:45-2:25pm
Genre – Literally Everything (But fine, Pop/Rock)
For Fans Of – Pom Pom Squad, Oso Oso

I have to admit that even though I run a music publication, it’s really easy to let artists slip through the cracks, even the ones that are getting incredible reviews to the point where their albums are popping up all over major outlets’ “Best Of” lists at the end of the year. I realized my mistake in the beginning of 2021 after our team member Brittany included British-born, USA raised Bartees Leon Cox Jr.’s album Live Forever on our “Best Albums of 2020” list – essentially vouching for its legitimacy on her own within a team of five writers (at the time):

Live Forever mixes genres, from the soaring indie rock of “Mustang” to the rap-tinged “Boomer” to the electronic stylings of “Flagey God” to the spoken word of “Mossblerd” to the acoustic singer-songwriter guitar on “Fallen For You” and “Far.” The record does indeed feel cohesive, asking listeners of one genre to understand other distantly connected genres, much like the way we ask others to embrace the complexities in ourselves.

With that being said, we all realized how much we missed out on an incredible album: one that also was his debut full-length project (he released an EP of songs that were all covers of various songs by The National in March 2020). I’m pretty surprised he’s playing this early in the day: and I’m super intrigued to see his live set and what kind of crowd he draws. I’m very much looking forward to redeeming my lack of awareness for this album, though it WAS only released in October of last year.

Waxahatchee Interview 2018 - Northern Transmissions

Waxahatchee – Green Stage, 4:15-5:10pm
Genre – Americana
For Fans Of – Fleet Foxes, Sharon Van Etten

If I could compare Waxahatchee’s music to anyone with hopes that it would make sense for the person I’m explaining it to, I would say that she’s a female version of Fleet Foxes (or lead singer Robin Pecknold, to be specific). Though I can easily admit that Waxahatchee (Katie Crutchfield of Waxahatchee, Alabama), has been an artist I’ve only listened to in passing or casual experiences, I feel strongly that her live performance will be one of the best of the weekend, and one surely not to be missed.

Saint Cloud, Waxahatchee’s breakthrough album of 2020, is steeped in folk, country and Americana roots, moments that very much make me look back at my childhood in the backseat of my mom’s car as she drove my sister and I around every summer with The Chicks and James Taylor playing in the background. Like Emma M. wrote in her contribution of Saint Cloud in our Best of 2020 post (Saint Cloud came in at #11):

Waxahatchee drenches every contour of the natural world with human meaning in a set of eleven airtight Americana-inspired tracks. Sonically, it’s soothing and familiar, and lyrically, it unlocks emotional reactions in me that feel reassuring.

Jamila Woods – Blue Stage, 6:30-7:15pm
Genre – R&B
For Fans Of – Solange, Ravyn Lenae

Another local artist shoutout! Chicago native Jamila Woods is a triple threat as an artist: including her activism work and award-winning poetry. On top of that, she writes and sings her own music? What more could you be talented at: truly. Woods, who started her career in music singing in church as a kid, eventually graduated from Brown University with a degree in Africana Studies and Theatre Arts & Performance Studies.

Woods has made quite the name for herself in Chicago’s music scene, collaborating with the likes of Chance The Rapper (“Sunday Candy”) and even getting a spot on Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “White Privilege.” Woods’ most recent album, LEGACY! LEGACY! dropped on Jagjaguwar (Angel Olsen, Big Red Machine, and Moses Sumney, to name a few), in 2019, receiving stellar reviews from major publications like Pitchfork themselves.

St. Vincent's new album sounds like “being down and out in downtown New  York”

St. Vincent – Green Stage, 8:30-9:50pm
Genre – Alt Pop
For Fans Of – Fiona Apple, Japanese Breakfast

I have no problem admitting that I haven’t listened to St. Vincent’s Daddy’s Home more than two times in its entirety. So you’re probably wondering why I’m including her in this round-up. Well, it’s for a lot of reasons. Not only is unprecedented to see three females topping the bill of Pitchfork this year, but it’s also really freaking cool to see someone at the level of Annie Clark to be performing at Pitchfork this year.

I suppose the fest has gotten other very large names as headliners in the past, but considering how mainstream (at least I think) St. Vincent’s persona has become over the last couple years, thanks to her work with artists like Jack Antonoff and Taylor Swift, it seems like a really big grab for the festival. I like a select handful off the album that I’m assuming will be performed live, and it goes without saying that we’ll also hear a lot of Annie’s classic songs as well. I was able to see about 30 minutes of her set at Lollapalooza a few years ago, and it’s safe to say she was a phenomenal performer. The energy will be in more palpable this year in the right environment and as the last performance of the evening.

Cassandra Jenkins – Green Stage, 1-1:40pm
Genre – Singer/Songwriter
For Fans Of – Flock of Dimes, The Weather Station

At the beginning of 2021, Cassandra Jenkins dropped a seven-track EP that essentially stopped every die-hard music fan dead in their tracks. Staged Haze’s writer, Brittany, wrote about the project and its standout track, “Hard Drive,” in a post earlier this year: “Hard Drive” is one of my top tracks from this year so far. It combines several elements I love: Jenkins’ soothing audiobook voice, the jazzy saxophone in the back that never becomes overbearing, the constant feeling of expansion throughout the song that complements Jenkins’ increasing sense of self-realization. For those looking for a more peaceful, The National-influenced version of Black Country, New Road, check out Cassandra Jenkins.

I admit that I haven’t spent too much time with the rest of the tracks off An Overview on Phenomenal Nature, but it certainly won’t stop me from attending Jenkins’ set on the main stage, starting the last day of the weekend with a dramatic (yet quiet) bang.

Interview: Mariah the Scientist, Get to Know Her Musical Evolution |  Glitter Magazine

Mariah The Scientist – Red Stage, 3:20-4:10pm
Genre – R&B
For Fans Of – Sza, Victoria Monėt

One of my most enjoyed discoveries of 2021 lives in Mariah Buckles, also known as her stage name, Mariah The Scientist. Her debut album Master dropped in August 2019, though I personally hadn’t heard of her until one of her singles from her recent release, Ry Ry World, appeared on one of the Spotify playlists I follow. Mariah is signed to RCA Records and Tory Lanez’s label One Umbrella. After an unfortunate year in COVID times, Mariah’s appearances at a handful of major US festivals were put on hold, though she is set to perform at Pitchfork (of course) and Music Midtown in Atlanta, and Rolling Loud in San Bernardino, CA later this year.

If you like SZA or Doja Cat, I guarantee you’ll like Mariah The Scientist, too. 

Caroline Polachek on Writing "No Angel" for Beyonce and Being a  Non-confirming Pop Star

Caroline Polachek – Green Stage, 4:15-5:10pm
Genre – Pop
For Fans Of – Maggie Rogers, Chairlift

When I realized that Caroline Polachek, also half of the pop duo Chairlift, had her debut album drop almost TWO years ago, I was shocked. It feels like yesterday where I first heard the album, Pang, but it’s actually been quite some time since it was released. With that being said, it’s obvious that Polachek probably would have had a bigger 2020 if she was able to fully tour the album (I saw her perform in January 2020 as one of the few shows I attended before lockdown began), and it was a very fun and entertaining performance.

Polachek has certainly gotten a lot bigger since then, and I’m super curious to see how the crowd vibes with the music, which is of course, fairly dated at this point. I believe Polachek was one of the artists slated to perform at P4k in 2020, along with Waxahatchee and a couple others. I don’t see it being that much of an issue at all, considering how long music fans have been waiting to hear live music in general.

A Feline Feelin' Fine and Playing the Bass, Thundercat at the Showbox – The  Spectator

Thundercat – Red Stage, 5:15-6:10pm
Genre – R&B Funk
For Fans Of – Flying Lotus, The Internet

I really don’t know how to explain what Thundercat’s music sounds like, but I do know that whatever he does on Sunday evening, it’s going to absolutely smash.

If the name sounds familiar, it’s probably because his song “Funny Thing,” went absolutely viral on TikTok last year, soon after the album It Is What It Is dropped in April of 2020. Stephen Lee Bruner, aka Thundercat, also performed in the crossover thrash band Suicidal Tendencies in the ’80s and early ’90s. Thundercat’s music incorporates jazz, R&B, jazztronica (also known as nu jazz: a genre that features funk and electronica).

I’m pretty sure that Thundercat’s performance is going to be one not to miss: his music ands style reminds me a lot of Flying Lotus (another artist performing at Union Park this year) and Blood Orange: an artist who I saw at Pitchfork a few years ago and completely blew me away.

Check out our Pitchfork 2021 playlist, including a handful of other artists that we wanted to highlight before the big weekend. More information on Pitchfork Music Festival is here.

Our previous Pitchfork coverage lives here.

1 comment on “12 Artists to See at Pitchfork 2021

  1. Pingback: Staged Haze Takes Pitchfork Music Festival 2021: Our Recap

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