Sasquatch! Music Festival, Day 3: Chance the Rapper

Gabe Pollak
all photos by Matthew Thompson

Throw out your rule book and rewrite the record book. That's what you must do to keep up with Chance the Rapper. Earlier this year, the 24-year-old Chicago rapper became the first musician to win a Grammy without releasing physical versions of his songs, clinching "Best Rap Album," for his uplifting, genre-hopping gospel hip hop masterpiece, Coloring Book. Before that, he became the first artist to chart based on streaming plays alone. On top of that, he's done all this without the support of a label, as he reminds listeners on songs like "No Problem," and "Mixtape."

It was no surprise that Chance opened his Sunday night set at Sasquatch with the latter, bursting onstage to fireworks and bombastic drum fills. The most trap-affected track from Coloring Book, "Mixtape" is a kind of anthem for Chance, who has made his career releasing his music as free mixtapes online. The irony of an entire crowd chanting the line, "we don't know none of your words," back at Chance was lost beneath the brooding beat and pyrotechnics.

Apart from the bravado of "Mixtape," Chance focused less on himself, and more on connecting with the crowd. Standing onstage in front of thousands, Chance consistently downplayed his stardom, making his story more relatable and his songs more inspiring. Announcing that Sunday was the anniversary of the release of Surf, he spoke as if he wasn't sure the crowd would remember the 2015 summer smash. "I don't know if you know, but today is the anniversary of a special project," he said, before a roar from the crowd welcomed the upbeat piano intro of "Sunday Candy," the project's inescapable Grandma's boy jam.

As if the tightly-packed crowd didn't know he was - some had waited in the pit all day to see him - Chance repeatedly introduced himself between songs. "My name is Chance the Rapper and I'm from Chicago, Illinois," he said, like a kid rehearsing his first sentences to his peers on the first day of school.

As innocently as Chance spoke, the set was anything but amateur. Chance hit every melodic rhyme with warmth, enthusiasm, and clarity. The group of musicians assembled onstage behind Chance sounded just as tight. Backing vocalists ThirdStory provided heavenly harmonies, Neco Segal (formerly Donnie Trumpet) played his trumpet with squeals of delight. Even Chance's energetic moves complemented the music. During "All We Got," Chance performed a midrun twirl during the line, "I might give Satan a swirly," not missing a syllable of the song's rapid-fire rhymes. It was a perfectly-executed set.

As professional as the group played, Chance's show was far from impersonal. Some of the best moments arrived when the band dropped down and Chance offered between-song sermons, speaking simultaneously to the people in the pit who'd waited all day to see him and the swath of fans the top of the Gorge.

During closer, "Blessings (Reprise)," Chance sang a verse that doesn't appear on record with only the twinkling of Peter Cottontale's keyboard alongside him. "I've had my ups and I've had my downs," he sang simply three times as Cottontale backed him with soft, warm, church-sounding chords on the keys. As Chance hit a raw, but right high note on the third time through the word "up," he and Cottontale stopped together. "And I've had my downs." The new verse drove home the point Chance had been making the whole show: The star on stage is no different from the fan in the pit. As Segal's trumpet tip-toed back in and ThirdStory's swelling gospel chorus crept back in, Chance encouraged the crowd to sing along, shouting with the urgency of a drowning man, "You've got to be able to hear your own voice."

If anything's for sure, it was less so he could hear his own lyrics shouted back at him, and more so the crowd could internalize the inspiration of the music. Chance wants his story to be their story too.

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