Recap: R. Kelly Fights Back Tears In Stunning Pitchfork Music Festival Performance


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A little rain didn’t wreck the flow as thousands crowded around the usually rock-driven Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago on Sunday night. But this time around, the sea of folks of every color, age, sex and size gathered ‘round to see the King of R&B, R. Kelly, kill it in his hometown.

An hour prior, Brit electro-pop princess, M.I.A., commanded the stage in her gold, glittery, bedazzled top and equally loud stage set decorated by lights, lights and more lights to create a carnival theme, complete with a Ferris wheel and other whimsical rides. Her colorfully clothed background dancers gyrated as she mixed things up on her dubstep board and playfully showed off her gangster ways with every note she sang. The crowd was hype as the smoky aroma of lit herbs filled the air and the 38-year-old teased leaning into the conglomeration of fans, at one point nearly immersed in a full-on crowd surf. Fans lost it as she closed things out with her two smash singles “Bad Girls,” and “Paper Planes,” in a synchronized chorus, reciting every word to both songs. It called for a great open to a wonderful night in Union Park.

After M.I.A. tied things up, the attention shifted from the red to green stage as an automated voice amped up the true Kellz fans and counted down the seconds until the musical genius would make his extravagant entrance.

“The show will commence in R-minus 10 seconds…9…..8….7….6…5..4..3..2.1!”

A choir draped in luxurious robes glided across the stage as the anticipation hit its peak. Singing harmonious melodies, they quickly bent down to reveal a dark figure in all white—shirt adorned by silvery sparkles, and a white bedazzled mic to match.

“It’s the remix to Ignition, hot and fresh out the kitchen, momma rollin’ that body, got every man in here wishin!” The crowd excitedly reacted in uproar as the Pied Piper of R&B recited the words to his chart-topping “Ignition (Remix).”

And then it began. Hit after hit after hit he sang—everything from his “Flashing Lights (Remix)” to “Go Getter” and “Get Freaky in the Club” to “Wonderful.”

After his a cappella rendition of “Sex in the Kitchen,” the Southsider switched things up. “Let’s go old school R. Kelly,” he suggested before moving from “Half on a Baby” to “Down Low” and then to having fun with “Feelin’ On Yo Booty.”

“Feelin on yo bugga-bugga-bugga-bugga booty,” he joked, as audience members got down and dirty, grinding on each other.

Watch: R. Kelly Gives Behind-the-Scenes Look at Filming ‘Trapped in the Closet’

After at least 20 snippets of some classic Kellz tracks he took a moment to break. “I didn’t realize I had so many songs!” He exclaimed, with a response of more uproar from his sea of supporters. “Every time I do a song, it brings back old memories from my own life,” he added.

“I’ll write a song off of anything,” he bragged before showing off his masterful improvisational skills, singing, “I shed so many tears,” asking the audience to sing along.

“It aint been easy, y’all just don’t know,” he said. “As I look at the crowd tonight and see people that love me…I been in this business 27 years. I’m not gon’ front, that make me wanna fuckin’ cry.”

After 27 years in the game creating chart-topping hit after hit and receiving almost 25 Grammy nominations, three of which he’s won, R. Kelly has truly become the embodiment of musical genius and Sunday night, he brought it all home.

In an emotional close, the 46-year-old proclaimed, “I dedicate this next song to Chicago,” before beginning an impassioned rendition of his most highly-acclaimed track, “I Believe I Can Fly,” with the choir in back and fans singing along to every word, moving hands side-to-side. On this dark and dreary evening, with rain sprinkling the crowd, he released at least 50 white dove balloons in the air. As he looked around and embraced all the love, all he could do was step back and say “Wow.”

For a city so often regarded as a dangerous murder capital, it truly was a beautiful evening to be in Chicago. —Shannon Powell (@shannonmichele_)