With the 15th edition of PYGMALION only a couple days away, it’s time for our breakdown of what’s what as the interdisciplinary festival sets up for a jam-packed weekend in Champaign-Urbana.

THURSDAY, September 26th

PYGMALION kicks off on Thursday with a host of different performers and events, highlighted by comedian Michelle Wolf’s show at Krannert at 8 p.m. Even before she took the 2018 White House Correspondents’ Dinner by storm with her bold routine, Wolf was a rising star in comedy. Her first stand-up special, Michelle Wolf: Nice Lady, debuted on HBO in 2017 and she hosted a weekly talk show on Netflix called The Break with Michelle Wolf last year that had a less political focus. Whatever you think of her, Wolf’s set is sure to be something memorable.

The incredibly talented and dynamic Michelle Zauner is one of the must-see artists this year, and she will hit the Canopy Club stage on Thursday night, headlining as Japanese Breakfast.

Japanese Breakfast took flight after the release of Psychopomp in 2016, and last year, Soft Sounds From Another Planet expanded Zauner’s bedroom pop sound into more indie rock territory. If you’re on the fence about attending the Canopy show, slide through to Krannert at 7:30 p.m. as Zauner does a free(!) reading on Stage 5. Japanese Breakfast will also be joined by Beach Bunny and local group Mermaid Heaven at Canopy Club that night.


Japanese Breakfast, photo by Jackie Lee Young

Just off Main and Race in Urbana at Rose Bowl Tavern, funk duo Black Pumas will hit the stage fresh off their East Coast tour. Comprised of singer Eric Burton and Grammy Award-winning guitarist/producer Adrian Quesada, Black Pumas has already transformed from a single session’s work into a fully blooming act. They built up a big buzz in Austin with a monthly residency at C Boys and then stunned at South by Southwest before being named to Rolling Stone’s “One of the Best 30 Best Bands We Saw in Austin” list. Black Pumas will be supported by another captivating funk act, The Data Waves. The group, made up of U of I students, blends their sound with jazz and hip-hop influences, and their PYGMALION performance comes on the heels of having played shows at Canopy, Krannert, Blackbird and Elbo Room and Safari Lounge in Chicago.

There’s plenty of free programming throughout the festival, including Human Library, which will take place at Krannert from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. on Thursday evening. Human Library works to engage people in dialogue to promote understanding as individuals have one-on-one conversations, with participants acting as "books" and "readers". The "books" are volunteers that will share their experiences of discrimination based on race, religion, sexual preference, socioeconomic class, gender identity, sex, age, lifestyle choices, disability and other areas of life.

FRIDAY, September 27th

Hip-hop’s biggest names don’t often grace C-U with their presence, but on Friday night at Canopy, budding star JID is set to hit the stage with his energetic flow and uncanny lyricism. The 28-year-old from East Atlanta has had a long and steady rise releasing his first tape in 2010 and signing to J Cole’s Dreamville Records and Interscope Records in 2017. He took the hip-hop world by storm with the single “NEVER” in 2017 and was named to XXL’s 2018 Freshman Class just a year later.

Featured prominently on Dreamville’s collaborative record, Revenge of the Dreamers III, JID looks like the heir-apparent to J Cole’s place among hip-hop’s heavyweights. St. Paul-native Dua Saleh will take the stage before JID. The dynamic vocalist who has racked up 70,000 monthly listeners on Spotify in just two years, largely as a result of presenting a sound that transcends genres and makes a lasting impression on their listeners. JID will also be supported by another talented lyricist in U of I rapper IsaiahG, who we featured a few weeks back. Since coming from Chicago to C-U for school, IsaiahG has collaborated with the likes of talented Chicago artists like Saba while developing his own sound and story-weaving abilities.

When the reboot of Bravo’s 2003 television series Queer Eye hit Netflix in 2018, it impressed with how it kept the original charm while adapting to today’s era. The Emmy-winning show’s food and wine expert, Antoni Porowski, is set to be joined by Michelle Zauner in conversation and put on a cooking demonstration at Krannert at 8 p.m.


Antoni in the Kitchen, photo from Porowski's website

The 35-year-old Porowski worked in restaurants from New York to Montreal as he developed his cooking skills, eventually coming under the mentorship of Ted Allen, of Queer Eye’s original Fab Five. He recently released his own cookbook, Antoni in the Kitchen, which is currently at No. 2 in the Advice, How-To & Miscellaneous category of the New York Times Best Sellers list.


HOME by Geoff Sobelle, photo by Peggy Baud Woolsey

Over at Krannert’s Colwell Playhouse (on both Friday and Saturday night), Geoff Sobelle’s large-scale performance, HOME, is sure to captivate as it dives into the relationship between ‘house’ and ‘home’. HOME combines dance, engineering (the house is literally constructed during the performance), illusion, music and audience interaction as residents of the house over a wide swath of years all return for a party at their former residence. HOME won a Bessie Award for Outstanding Production in 2018, telling a powerful story of life, death, move-ins, move-outs, marriage, divorce and more.

PYGHACK returns to Krannert again, presented by Research Park at the University of Illinois and the Siebel Center for Design, and the free event is open to anyone, even kids. Registrisants can be as a team or solo and will run from 5-11 p.m. on Friday and from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. on Saturday.


PYGHACK, photo by Veronica Mullen

For those who love a good poem, PYGMALION is putting on a twenty-five poet-long marathon at Bread Company on Friday and Saturday from 6:30 to midnight. Poetry Marathon! will feature a host of poets as they share their work and passion with the community.

Also back is Made Fest, a free street festival that loaded with a variety of arts, crafts, vintage items and more from a selection of local vendors. Made Fest will be out on Goodwin Street, just off Oregon Street, and will be open from 5 to 11 p.m. on Friday and from 3 to 10 p.m. on Saturday.

Over at the Rose Bowl Tavern at 11:30 p.m. on Friday, Nigerien Tuareg guitarist Mdou Moctar will showcase why his debut LP Ilana (The Creator) is turning heads. Saharan rock is a genre that seems to be growing in influence and prominence in the United States today, and Moctar is a bold, energetic innovator who would make a perfect introduction to the genre. He’ll be joined by Boogarins, a Grammy-nominated duo who hail from Brazil and have racked up millions of streams since releasing their home-recorded debut, As Plantas Que Curam in 2013.

SATURDAY, September 28th

If you haven’t heard of him yet, comedian/actor/TV host/musician Eric Andre is headlining Canopy Club on Saturday in a set that is sure to be… interesting. In the midst of his Legalize Everything Tour, Andre is known for his wild antics and chaotic sense of humor. He broke into the mainstream consciousness on the back of the success of his Adult Swim series The Eric Andre Show, which he hosted with Chicago comedian Hannibal Burress. Just watch this interview with Lauren Conrad from 2014 (warning: it’s really weird, but that’s Andre). The show is actually sold out already, but you can sign up for the waiting list here in case some more tickets are made available.


The New Pornographers, photo by Ebru Yildiz

Before Andre, at 7:45 p.m., Canadian indie rock outfit The New Pornographers will take the Canopy Club stage. The performance could be pretty special, as the group is set to release their new project, In The Morse Code Of Brake Lights, the day prior. Also, former vocalist Neko Case is back touring with the group right now, so it’s a good time to catch the well-respected group in person.

New York Times best-selling author and speaker Rob Bell will speak at Spurlock Museum at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday as he shares An Introduction to Joy. Bell is a former pastor who is renowned for his podcast, RobCast, which is the No. 1 spirituality podcast on iTunes. He’s spoken in hundreds of cities and venues around the world, including going on tour with Oprah Winfrey, and was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World by Time Magazine in 2011.


Rob Bell, photo by Russ Dixon

Contemporary poet and author J. Allyn Rosser and her husband Mark Halliday will be at Stage 5 of the Krannert Center at 4 p.m. on Saturday to share their work. Each of them are renowned for their work and have released recent collections of poetry, with Halliday most recently publishing Losers Dream On in 2018 and Rosser’s Mimi’s Trapeze releasing in 2014.

PYGMALION takes place September 26-28 at a variety of venues in Urbana, check out the full schedule here and get your tickets here.

Top photo from PYGMALION 2018 by Sam Logan.

Full Disclosure: PYGMALION is owned by the same parent company as Smile Politely.