The Best Acts to See Every Day at the 2021 Pitchfork Music Festival

It's one of the best festival lineups of the year, so we planned out a perfect schedule for Pitchfork weekend.

Burak Cingi/Redferns
Burak Cingi/Redferns
Burak Cingi/Redferns

Every festival season, it can feel like just about every lineup looks more or less the same. And then there’s Pitchfork Festival, which often has one of the most interesting, coolest bills of the year. Owned and curated by the music publication Pitchfork, the Chicago festival highlights rising acts that will almost certainly be the big names of tomorrow, indie favorites, and headliners, who may be in more, say, pre-headlining slots at other fests, but are contemporary icons nevertheless.

If you’re headed to the three-day event, which goes down in scenic Union Park from Friday, September 10 through Sunday, September 12, chances are you already have great taste in music or are at least drawn to several acts who are set to play. There are a lot of exciting names on this year’s lineup, though, and you might have yet to check out some of the up-and-comers slated to play earlier in the day. So, once you’ve thought through what you’ll be eating and drinking at Pitchfork Fest, we pulled together the ultimate schedule of not-to-be-missed performers, and who to see in case you run into the always begrudging festival conundrum of conflicting set times. Remember to bring your vaccination records or stop by one of the festival’s rapid testing sites in order to meet entry requirements, before catching these acts.

Who to see at Pitchfork Festival on Friday

The small font band to see

When: 1:45-2:25 at the Red Stage
Set times are staggered across the three stages first thing in the afternoon, so if you get there early enough, you can catch everybody who’s kicking things off. That means you have no excuse not to see post-hardcore band Dogleg. Hailing from Detroit, the band pushes Midwestern emo to another level with their aggressive, yet poignant music that’s full of thrills, and basically begging you to bang your head so hard that you almost decapitate yourself. Seriously, if you’re looking to get fired up for the day, they’ll do the trick.

The local act to see

When: 2:30-3:15 at the Green Stage
Since the fest is in Chicago, we’d be remiss not to suggest some hometown heroes, and DEHD have been coming up in the local DIY scene for the past couple years. The three-piece makes a calico brand of surf rock that’s splashed with hints of alt-country and dream pop.

The wildest set of the day

black midi
When: 4:15-5:10 at the Green Stage
Pitchfork adds more experimental artists to its lineup than the average festival, but black midi is certainly one of the most out there acts you can catch. The London-based band’s sound holds no bounds: It’s noisy, jazz-inspired, post-punk experimental rock. That’s a mouthful, yes, but there’s no denying they’ll manage to make their late afternoon set time resemble a wild, late-night gig from their British underground scene.

The biggest conflict of the day

Yaeji and Big Thief
When: 7:45-8:30 at the Blue Stage; 7:25-8:25 at the Red Stage
Pitchfork did not make Friday evening an easy choice. The Brooklyn-based indie rock band Big Thief consistently makes stunning, poetic records. They’ve played Pitchfork in the past, though, so there’s a chance you may have caught them. So, if you’ve filled your Friday with a lot of rock, head to Yaeji’s set instead. The Korean-American DJ makes electronic music that’s stylish and chill, but still danceable. Her beats have a certain dreamy sweetness to them that’ll put you in that blissful late festival daze; just imagine how much fun it would be to vibe to her hit “Drink I’m Sippin On” live¬†to get hype for the headliner.

If you miss Big Thief… see Phoebe Bridgers

When: 8:30-9:50 at the Green Stage
If you end up missing the Big Thief set, you can make up for the lack of folky music by seeing Phoebe Bridgers‘ headlining slate. Her earnest, somber poeticisms might just invite a tear down your cheek, but she’s a powerhouse talent and it’s thrilling to see how her 2020 sophomore album Punisher has launched her into the guitar smashing, rock-star-level stratosphere.

Barry Brecheisen/WireImage/Getty Images
Barry Brecheisen/WireImage/Getty Images
Barry Brecheisen/WireImage/Getty Images

Who to see at Pitchfork Festival on Saturday

The local act to see

When: 1:00-1:40 at the Green Stage
Check out Horsegirl for some semblance of a high school homecoming “Ballroom Dance Scene.”¬†The three-piece is another group of Chicago natives who just graduated high school and expect all of their friends from the scene to make it to the fest. Even though the band is made up of Gen-Zers, they sound straight out of the ’90s with their alt-rock full of fuzzy guitars. They’ve already generated a great deal of buzz with just an EP, so get them on your radar now because they could be the indie stars of tomorrow.

The small font band to see

Bartees Strange
When: 1:45-2:25 at the Red Stage
Alt-rock artist Bartees Strange is supporting names like Courtney Barnett, Lucy Dacus, and Phoebe Bridgers on tour this fall, which is a strong indication that he’s someone to pay attention to and to see solo when given the chance. He blew up last year with his prolific full-length debut Live Forever, which in part explores his experience as a Black artist in the indie scene and coming of age in Oklahoma. It’s full of anthemic tunes that feel like they’re meant to be played at fests (and probably stadiums one day).

The biggest conflict of the day

Waxahatchee and Faye Webster
When: 4:15-5:10 at the Green Stage; 4:00-4:45 at the Blue Stage
Some might call it criminal that Pitchfork booked both Faye Webster and Waxahatchee, the project of singer-songwriter Katie Crutchfield, for nearly the same slot on Saturday afternoon. Atlanta alt-country singer Faye Webster has an after show and you can catch a portion of her set before heading over to Waxahatchee’s, so perhaps see as much as you can of the latter. The folk-inspired artist’s last record Saint Cloud was lovely, and should translate well live with her gentle voice paired with big, passionate guitars.

If you miss Faye Webster… see Jamila Woods

When: 6:30-7:15 at the Blue Stage
Coming up in the Atlanta scene, Faye Webster’s music has hints of R&B to its twang. So why not see neo soul/R&B star Jamila Woods in the evening? She’s another Chicago mainstay, having come up in the city’s poetry scene and an active community organizer. Her voice is gorgeous, and her words are even more powerful, so it’s safe to say you’ll be captivated by her performance.

The rare live performance you can’t miss

Angel Olsen
When: 7:25-8:25 at the Red Stage
Singer-songwriter Angel Olsen has released a lot of new music in the past few years, including her gorgeous 2019 album All Mirrors and a reworked 2020 version of it,¬†Whole New Mess-but she’s only playing two shows in-person this year. One of them just so happens to be at Pitchfork, so that’s all the more reason to see her. Her music and idiosyncratic voice has the power to warm your heart and then rip it out entirely with all of its feelings-and you should absolutely let it.

Barry Brecheisen/WireImage/Getty Images
Barry Brecheisen/WireImage/Getty Images
Barry Brecheisen/WireImage/Getty Images

Who to see at Pitchfork Festival on Sunday

The small font band to see

oso oso
When: 2:45-3:30 at the Blue Stage
Pop-punk and emo are back in the mainstream-but have you taken a deep dive into the artists who really brought the sound back? oso oso is an emo project from Jade Lilitri, who hails from emo stronghold central Long Island, and the band is one of the genre’s finest. Their music gets you right in it with its heartwarming messages about chasing optimism in the face of apathy, which comes through in both their lyrics and exciting guitars.

The most stylish set of the day

Caroline Polachek
When: 4:15-5:10 at the Green Stage
Ever since indie pop group Chairlift disbanded in 2017, their frontwoman Caroline Polachek’s star has only grown. Now a solo pop act, Polachek makes chic, dreamy alt-pop that feels as if its from another realm with her ethereal, high-pitched voice. She has an eye for fashionable aesthetics that feel just a tad dark in the coolest way, so she’ll definitely make the stage her own. The lead single from her upcoming sophomore album “Bunny is a Rider” is a bop, so fingers crossed she previews even more new releases during her afternoon set.

The biggest conflict of the day

Yves Tumor and Thundercat
When: 5:15-6:00 at the Blue Stage; 5:15-6:10 at the Red Stage
Why are Yves Tumor and Thundercat scheduled for the same time? Unclear, but this is yet another festival scheduling offense. Both are funk-inspired musicians who likely have some of the same fanbases. Yves Tumor sounds and performs like a full-blown, futurist rock star, so you should immerse yourself in their live renditions of last year’s excellent, psychedelic-tinged Heaven To A Tortured Mind. Especially if you can’t make it to see any of the legacy acts on the bill, Yves Tumor is resonant of ’70s and ’80s icons, making them a must-see.

If you miss Thundercat… see Flying Lotus and Danny Brown

When: Flying Lotus at 7:25-8:25 at the Red Stage; Danny Brown at 6:15-7:15 at the the Green Stage
Thundercat is a frequent collaborator of producer Flying Lotus, so if you end up missing his set, you’ll want to make Flying Lotus. With his eclectic jazz and rap-inspired sound, you can bet his DJ set will be hypnotic. And who knows, maybe Thundercat will come out on stage for a song or two.

Thundercat tends to dip into some tasteful goofiness in his music with his nostalgic sounds and fun lyrics. As does rapper Danny Brown, who spits verses and performs like a stand-up comedian. If it’s unabashed liveliness and high energy you’re looking for, make sure to get to him at the Green Stage.

Each and every one of the headliners

When: 8:30-9:50 at the Green Stage
Whether you can make it to all three days of Pitchfork or you’ve only got tickets to one, you should make it a mission to see the headliners, who are all women-a true rarity for this (and any) year. As noted, Phoebe Bridgers is a rising talent who closes out Friday night; contemporary rock/indie icon St. Vincent is sure to wow you with her incredible guitar skills on Saturday; and legacy act¬†Erykah Badu is an R&B/hip-hop artist for the ages who’s closing out the show on Sunday.

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Sadie Bell is the entertainment associate editor at Thrillist. She’s on Twitter at @mssadiebell.


Robyn DaCultyre Is Doing It for the Culture

"The cool thing about Ohio is that there is literally a place for everyone."

Photo by Kayode Omoyosi
Photo by Kayode Omoyosi
Photo by Kayode Omoyosi

I was introduced to Robyn DaCultyre at an Untitled Queen show at C’mon Everybody in late January, and it was one of the most unique drag shows I’d seen in a while. Afterwards, I tracked down this self-described “drag creature” and video chatted about her drag origin story, the state of drag in her native Ohio, and the dual identities that make up her persona. Thrillist: I want to ask you about how Robyn DaCultyre came about and your point of view behind your performance.

Robyn DaCultyre: I’ve been travelling around the country from a young age in ministry and Christian studies. I moved to Chicago right after high school. Four years later, moved back to Columbus and decided I didn’t really want to do church anymore; that wasn’t where my heart was.

I had a really low point in my life and had a suicide attempt and then really found drag and started doing drag as a coping mechanism and way to let off steam. I started in July of 2019, and it was really a lot of punk and metal music. I created this drag creature of sorts and they were really out of this world and celestial and all of those fun alien type terms.

And then we went into a global pandemic and I had a lot of time to figure out who I wanted to be. Digitally I was still doing a lot of drag creature-esque numbers and all of that, but I had this moment where we’re on the front lines getting hit with pepper spray and rubber bullets and pepper spray-all of those lovely things. And I said, I have this platform and I need to start showcasing what’s happening.

Untitled [Queen] stepped in at the right time and messaged me and said, “I’m doing this show for Independence Day called Untitled in America with 52 different performers and I want you to be a part of it.” It was at that moment I was able to take the footage I had been recording on the front lines and incorporate it into digital content. I did a song called Black Like Me by Mickey Guyton that talks about white picket fences, but if you want to see how America is, then you should try being Black like me. The imagery of what’s literally happening in Columbus in that digital performance really spearheaded me into focusing on people who look like me.

Nina Simone is one of my biggest inspirations, and one of her quotes that resonates with me is that it’s the duty of the artist to resonate with the times. My art is politically charged. I like to entertain, but there will definitely be a time when you come to a show expecting to have your drink and be chill and that might not be the case.

How did the name Robyn DaCultyre come about?

I was smoking with Ursula Major, who was on season one of Dragula, and the first time I introduced myself to her I was Robyn Banks, which is my drag name originally. She said, “Well, do you just not want to be original at all?” [Laughs] And I sat with that for a couple of months, and I got really stoned one day and was listening to Janelle Monae, and she talks about doing it for the culture, and I said “I do it for the culture, too!” And the rest is history.

And you started a series called Melanated.

We started Melanated last February. I told the idea to my show director that there were no shows specifically run by Black people that only featured Black entertainers. I wanted to do this show for a night and she said, Why don’t we do it once a week for the whole month? The first show happens, and it’s a sold out crowd, and [my director] comes back and says we should do this every month. So I sucked it up and here we are a year later.

Melanated is the only fully Black show in all of the state. It’s a horrible marketing tool and not something I want to promote, but it is just a fact. It amazes me that we are the 13th largest city in America and there’s nothing here that’s fully focused on Black entertainers. The name also comes from Janelle Monae; she says she’s highly melanated and I said, that works.

Photos by Chay Creates LLC (left) and Bridget Caswell (right)
Photos by Chay Creates LLC (left) and Bridget Caswell (right)
Photos by Chay Creates LLC (left) and Bridget Caswell (right)

You refer to yourself as a drag creature, as opposed to drag queen or king…

This is actually the first time I’m making this public. I am in this place where I want to separate the alternative creature from who this melanated goddess or whatever is. DaCultyre is definitely the person who runs Melanated and then Robyn is this drag creature that is out of this world and really loves punk and alternative music. And both intertwine to make Robyn DaCultyre.

You also do pageants. Tell me about that.

In 2020 I was appointed by Nina West, who is from Columbus, as the representative from Ohio for National Entertainer of the Year in Louisville, Kentucky. I placed ninth out of 13 contestants and I really fell in love with the system and fell in love with the pageantry and loved the idea of reigning and being different. I want to show that we as alternative performers, as bearded performers, you can come into these systems and shake things up.

Is there a uniquely “Ohio” style of drag?

No, and I think that’s one of the things that makes it so amazing is that everyone has their own unique style, and it’s all pretty much accepted. I started as a performer and a drag creature and there was space that was afforded to me and I transitioned to more glamor and pageantry and that’s afforded to me as well. I’ve been a bearded entertainer for a year now. The cool thing about Ohio is that there is literally a place for everyone.

I think I have everything I need. Is there anything else I didn’t ask you about that you want to bring up, or‚Ķ

I don’t think so. Are there any generic questions you haven’t asked?

Generic questions‚ĶI think I asked all of them already [laughs]. I like to ask what you’d be doing if you weren’t doing drag?

It’s a great question. I have a day job that is very demanding so I need drag to get away. I’m also very creative and artistic. I used to do web design and all these other things to pull into my creativity. Drag is the longest thing I’ve stuck with in all parts of my life, so I don’t think it’s going anywhere anytime soon.

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John deBary¬†is a drinks expert and writer. His first cocktail book,¬†Drink What You Want, is available now, and his next book,¬†Saved by the Bellini, is expected in early 2023. He is also the co-founder and president of the¬†Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation, which is dedicated to improving the lives of hospitality industry professionals through advocacy, grant making, and impact investing.


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