During my time as a student at the University of Illinois, I’ll admit my knowledge of The Pygmalion Festival was limited at best.
By limited, I mean that I went to a couple shows Junior year, noticed my friends/random people saying this word “Pygmalion” a lot each September, and was aware it took place in various parts of Champaign-Urbana.
Three years after graduating, I finally experienced The Pygmalion Festival in earnest – mostly thanks to its most prominent lineup in (now) eleven years of existence. Ergo, I knew I had to go when I heard Run The Jewels was playing Saturday night.
Always taking place the last weekend of September, Pygmalion 2015 kicked off last Wednesday and wrapped up Sunday night. This was also The Pygmalion Festival’s first year with a ‘Tech’ component (panels on everything from making beer to modern music consumption to sports performance), joining 2013’s additions of ‘Lit’ (author speakers) and ‘Made’ (outdoor handmade & vintage marketplace).
All in all, what used to be an upcoming indie rock music festival has become a legit five-day extravaganza with something for literally everyone.
I was only able to attend the Music portions of Friday and Saturday, but I doubt this will be my last time at Pygmalion.
Scroll through for a rehash of my two days (back) in Champaign.
tUnE-yArDs | Friday, 8:45 pm | Krannert Center Festival Theatre
Like I said, Pygmalion had its best music lineup yet this year – and the genius project of Merrill Garbus starting things off Friday night was Exhibit A.
To put it simply, Tune-Yards is like nothing you’ve ever heard or seen before – and I can now personally attest to the latter. Garbus and her touring ensemble played hits from 2014’s Nikki Nack and 2011’s Whokill, including feel-good jam “Gangsta.”
Seriously, listen to that song and try not to be in a better mood. The Krannert Center’s Festival Theatre – providing a cozy lecture hall vibe – was the ideal Tune-Yards setting, and the packed house certainly showed as much.
Braids | Friday, 10:00 pm | Krannert Center Stage 5 a.k.a. The Lobby
Speaking of cozy lecture halls, I wasn’t exactly sure where this ‘Stage 5’ was located – probably because I already had spent more time in Krannert this night than I did my entire time at U of I.
— Peter Hahn (@Big_Bear11) September 26, 2015
Eventually, I saw people congregating in front of a small stage on the other side of the lobby, which clearly had to be Stage 5. After grabbing a beer from the bar (10 feet to the left of the stage), I settled in to watch Canadian experimental rock band Braids do their thing.
Safe to say that was the most intimate concert experience of my life.
Zola Jesus | Friday, 11:00 pm | Krannert Center Stage 5 a.k.a. The Lobby
After a quick 15-minute breather, it was back to the welcoming and relaxed Stage 5 for Zola Jesus. I had heard great things about the electronic/classical project of Nika Roza Danilova (Zola Jesus herself), and she did not disappoint.
With the help of a 3-man touring ensemble that added trombone, drums and synth – Danilova’s voice and eccentric antics stole the show, which felt like 20 minutes. Those antics included running off the stage (barefoot) mid-song:
It’s hard to have a sound that is both relaxing and stimulating, but Zola Jesus has it.
SAVOY | Friday, 12:00 am | The Canopy Club
Alright, this is when things started to feel like home again. The two Pygmalion shows I did see as a student were at The Canopy Club, in addition to a few others. Basically, if a big music act was in town and not at Assembly Hall, they were probably at ‘Canopy’ – just two blocks down the street from Krannert.
Canopy’s bar also came with a pleasant surprise in the form of a ‘Pygmalion Pilsner’ from local brewer Triptych Brewing – quite ironically located in Savoy, IL. If there was any doubt how far The Pygmalion Festival had come, two Pygmalion Pilsner pints erased it rather quickly.
And then “the originators of Electronic Rock Music” did the same thing with a 2-hour set that had the Canopy crowd up for grabs.
Even if you’re not a huge ‘EDM guy,’ Savoy – complete with live drums and guitar – is easy to enjoy. My personal favorite was their new track “Leaving You” with Sound Remedy and feat. Jojee.
Tara Terra | Saturday, 3:30 pm | Highdive Outdoor Stage 1
After Friday night was on the Urbana part of campus, Pygmalion moved to downtown Champaign establishment Highdive for the weekend – with two outdoor stages in a lot behind the bar and one inside for the late night acts.
First up on (the bigger) Stage 1 was Tara Terra – a band formed by six current U of I students that I sat down with after – playing a quick and fun 30-minute set in some beautiful Saturday afternoon weather.
Come back for more on Tara Terra later, but like I told them – they’re quite hard to describe, and that’s a good thing.
Sarah Jaffe | Saturday, 4:10 pm | Highdive Outdoor Stage 2
Following my chat with Tara Terra, I caught the end of Texas singer-songwriter Sarah Jaffe and her three-piece touring ensemble over on Stage 2.
The Pygmalion website put it best about Jaffe, saying:
“In the six years since her debut EP was released in 2008, Jaffe’s endearingly stark narratives have gone from homespun folk-‐pop songs in the lineage of Lucinda Williams to decidedly cathartic blues-‐pop ballads that rest at the intersection of indie, folk, and electronic.”
Come to think of it, ‘the intersection of indie, folk, and electronic’ is a pretty good way to describe The Pygmalion Festival as a whole.
Purity Ring | Saturday, 8:20 pm | Highdive Outdoor Stage 1
After running back to the hotel to charge my phone/watch a little college football, I was back to the (now much more crowded) main stage for Canadian electronic duo Purity Ring.
As a friend put it, Purity Ring might not be the best addition to your Spotify library, but their live show is awesome. With a trippy light show, catchy vocals and beats best described as ‘piercing,’ Megan James and Corrin Roddick certainly leave an impression.
Run The Jewels | Saturday, 10:30 pm | Highdive Outdoor Stage 1
Finally, what I came for. Don’t get me wrong, I had a damn good time covering all the Pygmalion shows. But Run The Jewels – the dynamic rap duo of El-P and Killer Mike – had been on the top of my ‘to see’ list for over a year (since seeing them at Lollapalooza last summer).
I mean shit, I dressed up as El-P last year for Halloween a few weeks after they released the wildly popular Run The Jewels 2. And if I wasn’t already jacked for ‘RTJ,’ former Illini hoops superstar/my middle school hero Dee Brown came out to introduce them.
Cloud nine. Dee’s introduction was the first of many highlights packed into RTJ’s hour-long set, featuring just about every hit from RTJ2 and 2013’s debut, Run The Jewels.
It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I’ll go with “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry.”
Shortly after the show, I checked my phone to see that Dee Brown had retweeted my announcement of his RTJ introduction.
And at that point, I felt comfortable calling Pygmalion 2015 a success.
Check back soon for interview pieces with K. Flay and Tara Terra.