“I appreciate you guys for letting me do whatever the fuck I want,” Chance the Rapper told the attendees of his Magnificent Coloring Day festival in Chicago last Saturday. It’s true that the audience willingly accompanied him through the unconventional bumps and quirks of his performance, full of long, unexpected pauses and massive singing puppets. But their appreciation wasn’t charity. Concertgoers—assured by Chance’s vulnerability and sincerity onstage—were happy to follow him on an idiosyncratic musical journey.
Until Chance’s set, the anticipated event was impressive, yet traditional. It featured famous artists, classic hits, and surprise guests, from comedian Hannibal Buress to hip hop king Kanye West himself. Hanging for a break between sets, crowds sprinted back upon hearing the opening notes of Ye’s “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1.” Fans resourcefully used port-a-potties to launch themselves down the stadium walls towards the mosh pit.
Kanye’s appearance was one of the day’s highlights and culminated with Chance’s joining him for their collaboration, “Ultralight Beam.” They ended affectionately, the South Side mentor hugging his South Side mentee. Francis and the Lights, Common, Lil Uzi Vert, Tyler the Creator, Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz (under the name of their joint project “ColleGrove”), John Legend, Alicia Keys, and Skrillex also performed, offering high-energy hits. Other memorable moments included Alicia Keys’ rendition of “Fallin’,” which she began with an impossibly high, belted extension of the opening phrase, and Lil Wayne’s constant and casual smoking of blunts throughout his shared set. Periodically he’d sit at the back of the stage and let 2 Chainz take control while he lit up.
Around 9 PM, Chance took the stage, opening with his Chicago-inspired track “Angels.” Theatrics ensued: a lion puppet named “Carlos”—depicted with the “big fella” voice we know from Chance’s hit “”No Problem to give the MC spiritual and emotional guidance during song interludes. His advice directed the set list and transformed a string of songs into the story of Chance’s discovery that “music is all we got” and that we must to be “ready” for our spiritual blessings (i.e., the opening and closing tracks of his latest album Coloring Book).
Chance’s set also featured elaborate scenery, a gospel choir of backup puppets, a light-up jacket, dramatically silhouetted musicians, including frequent collaborator Donnie Trumpet, and a fireworks show. Despite the spectacle, Chance proved to be the subtlest performer of the festival (except Young Thug, who failed to show up). Rather than jump around the stage, he was often still, focused on communicating the emotional details within his lyrics. The narrative interludes between songs often incorporated subtle physical comedy, requiring viewers to intently focus on Chance’s image on the giant video screen.
“I don’t need no friends, I don’t need no label,” Chance told the crowd as he began “No Problem.” The latter fact is well established; Chance has grown and supported himself financially without a label’s aid. By night’s end, he made a convincing case for not needing friends, either. Although he performed a slew of tracks that he made with artistic collaborators, from Noname to Action Bronson to Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz (who had only recently left the stage), he opted to either skip over their verses or perform them himself.
Thematically, Chicago united the day from start to finish. The event was held inside U.S. Cellular Field, home of the Chicago White Sox, and broke attendance records there as nearly 48,000 fans attended the ballpark’s first ever music festival. (It wasn’t a flawless venue; Tyler the Creator spent much of his set yelling profanity at “whoever put this setup together” because it left sections of the audience without a sightline of the stage).
Apart from Chance, Common and Kanye were the only featured performers who hailed from Chicago, but others eagerly shouted out the city. Alicia Keys changed “New York” to “Chi-Town” for her hit “Empire State of Mind.” But Chance was the most visibly moved by the show of unity in so many thousands of people coming together to listen to his music. When he first emerged onstage for “Ultralight Beam,” he paused to gaze at the crowds: “Chicago, I just want to look at y’all for a second.” Chicago proudly looked back.