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Hyde Park Summer Fest Celebrates Hip-Hop On The Midway

Written by on June 26, 2023

This year’s festival drew crowds of more than 20,000 to Hyde Park’s Midway Plaisance for Clipse, Lil’ Kim and Chicago’s own DJ Terry Hunter June 17 and 18. Hyde Park Herald writers Michael Liptrot and Max Blaisdell were in attendance, and bring a recap from the weekend.

Tobe Nwigwe performs on the Midway Plaisance at Hyde Park Summer Fest on Sunday evening, June 18, 2023. Spencer Bibbs / Hyde Park Herald

Editor’s Note: The following article was originally published in the Hyde Park Herald.

When longtime house DJ Terry Hunter took the main stage at Hyde Park’s Summer Fest early Saturday afternoon, the energy in the crowd of hundreds of “die hard” house fans gathered on the Midway Plaisance was electric.  

After leading with his new mixes and his Grammy-nominated remix of Beyonce’s “BREAK MY SOUL”, the South Side native transitioned his set into the “old school Chicago classics” that he said always get the crowd into a groove. A highlight of his set, he told the Herald, were songs “Funkanova” by Wood Brass & Steel and “Let No Man Put Asunder” by First Choice, which resonated well with the crowd.

“My experience at Summer Fest was amazing,” Hunter told the Herald. “(The organizers) always have such attention to detail when it comes to planning.”

“The lineup for both days was mainly hip-hop and R&B, but this is Chicago and you must have house music on the main stage,” he said. “I know my city and preparing to play records for the city I know so well was really easy and I was excited to do it.”

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A DJ of more than 20 years, Hunter has become a mainstay in Chicago’s contemporary house music scene. He got his start in the 1980s as a mentee of Frankie Knuckles, a Chicago DJ known as the “Godfather of house music” who was instrumental in popularizing the dance genre throughout the 1980s and 90s.

“It’s amazing. What Frankie, Robert Williams and Fredrick Dunson represent for this genre of music is simply amazing,” Hunter said. “I was in the second generation (of house artists), but Frankie was definitely a motivation for me to actually produce records.”

Hunter’s June 17 Summer Fest set came just days before Chicago City Council voted to make the Warehouse, a West Loop nightclub considered to be the birthplace of house music, a Chicago landmark. (Knuckles, once the Warehouse’s music director and resident DJ, died in 2014.)

Chicago DJ Terry Hunter performs at Hyde Park Summer Fest on Saturday afternoon, June 17, 2023. Spencer Bibbs / Hyde Park Herald

Started in 2014 by Jonathan Swain, owner of Kimbark Beverage Shop, the festival was originally named Brewfest and meant to drum up business for the shop. But Swain observed that attendees were less interested in tasting craft brews than in seeing live music outdoors.

“We realized that we were filling a void that existed on the South Side,” he said. “Compared to other parts of the city, we didn’t have outdoor summer events for people to participate in.”

Having no previous experience in the music booking business, Swain spent three years working with Chicago Special Events, one of the largest event producers in the city, learning the trade. Since restarting in 2022 after a two-year pandemic hiatus, Summer Fest has gone from a one-day lineup to two days, and introduced a tiered ticketing system offering exclusive VIP areas and amenities.

This year, Swain pulled together numerous big-name acts – 2 Chainz, The Clipse, Lil’ Kim, Robert Glasper — some through personal connections, hoping to deliver a lineup that resonated with his mostly Black audience.

Midday on Saturday, as crowds waited for 2 Chainz to take the stage, Chicago historian Shermann “Dilla” Thomas remarked on the growth of the festival over the years.

“My first Summer Fest was 12 or 13 years ago — it was like a block club party,” said Thomas. “(Summer Fest) has grown tenfold, maybe that’d be an understatement as it relates to not just the growth, but the impact. That particular crowd that (attends) is typically the backbone of the South and West sides.” 

“You spend some time talking to people that were hanging out there, you ran into lawyers, nurses, teachers, police and firemen. So to have that collective, I would refer to that as Black Excellence,” he said.

2 Chainz brought the crowd into the night as he performed his classic songs and features including “No Lie,” “It’s a Vibe,” and “Mercy.” The artist, Tauheed K. Epps, started in the music industry as a protégé of Dwayne “Lil Wayne” Carter, featuring on the song “Duffle Bag Boy.”  Before performing the song at Summer Fest, 2 Chainz gave shout outs to the many big-name Chicago artists he’s collaborated with: Kanye West, Chance the Rapper and  Chief Keef. He also announced a joint album with Lil Wayne expected for release this July. 

2 Chainz performs on the Midway at Hyde Park Summer Fest on Saturday evening, June 17, 2023. Michael Liptrot / Hyde Park Herald

As the sun plummeted behind the treetops of Washington Park, bathing the sky in orange, a stunning contrast with the artificial purples and blues of the stage lights, Jay Illa took over the DJ booth. A part of the Chicago music scene for more than two decades, Jay played his first set as a DJ at an open mic night at K’s Muzik in Hyde Park. 

He mixed mostly hip-hop — some of Kanye West’s discography, some Jay-Z numbers — but sprinkled in soul, house and even Nirvana in an hour-long set that kept the crowd’s energy going strong. He closed the set with tracks by Mobb Deep, Nas and Biggie Smalls, New York rap legends from the 1990s.

One of the most anticipated events of the evening was a headlining performance by Clipse, who were reuniting in Chicago after a long hiatus from performing as a duo. 

Composed of brothers Terrence “Pusha T” and Gene “No Malice” Thornton, Clipse hadn’t performed a full set in more than a decade before linking up at Summer Fest. In 2010, Clipse disbanded to pursue solo careers — Terrence Thornton went on to make a name on his own as Pusha T. 

In an interlude between tracks, Terrence Thornton gave love to Chicago, saying “this is home away from home for us, for real.” 

“Chicago is one of the first cities that ever broke the Clipse,” Terrence Thornton said.

Trading verses, Gene Thornton, dressed in a brown tracksuit, and his brother Terrence Thornton, clad in all-black, gave a pugnacious, swaggering performance. Their setlist was a catalog of their more popular songs from the 2000s: “What Happened to That Boy,” “Keys Open Doors” and “Popular Demand (Popeyes).” They wrapped up the night with their biggest hit,  “Grindin’.” After that the crowd dispersed, home for a brief rest before the second day of the festival.

Thousands of Hyde Park Summer Fest attendees listen and dance to music on Saturday evening, June 17, 2023. Spencer Bibbs / Hyde Park Herald

As attendees began to arrive early Sunday afternoon,  South Side vendors Englewood Branded and Chicago Card Revoked laid out their wares while nonprofits My Block My Hood My City and the Obama Foundation distributed informational brochures. 

An enormous trio of tents in the middle of the dell of the Midway housed the Englewood Food Sovereignty Network and Grow Greater Englewood. A reprieve from all the fried and smoked meats of Harold’s and Uncle Remus’, the two organizations sold fresh fruit for a buck and black boxes containing a number of natural products.

Anton Seals, Jr. founded Grow Greater Englewood in 2017 after working with former Congressman Bobby Rush (D-1st) on policies to address the problem of food deserts on the South Side. 

“More like food apartheid,” he clarified.

Noting that one of the neighborhood’s few grocery stores, Whole Foods, closed in 2022 after a six-year stint, Seals told the Herald, he hopes that by helping residents create their own backyard gardens and by selling fresh produce at weekly farmers markets, the neighborhood will be less dependent on large chain grocery stores.

Some longtime festival goers showed up for the first main stage act on the bright Sunday afternoon to see Grammy-winning gospel singer Jonathan McReynolds, a Chicago native and Whitney Young High School graduate. 

On a picnic blanket under a tree lining the slope of the Midway, Brandi Green and friend Tanya sat listening to McReynolds. They’d been to Summer Fest multiple times and were looking forward to Sunday’s headliner, Lil’ Kim. 

At the time, the Midway was still sparse; the two speculated that ticket prices and the park’s location may have been prohibitive for some.

When the event was free and on 53rd Street, Tanya said, “there were more people, for one, and there was more to do.”

“This year, the price really went up,” Green added. (Day of, a one-day admission ticket cost about $100.)

Ursula Penny, a lover of gospel, house and hip-hop, said she has been attending Summer Fest since before it moved to the Midway. Even as ticket prices rise, she stated her commitment to supporting events in Hyde Park. She noted, however, trouble with ADA accessibility at this year’s event. 

“When I arrived, I didn’t know where to go,” Penny said. 

She came by PACE bus with her walker, a folding chair and a small backpack. Because of her disability, traveling from the entrance on Ellis Avenue to the main stage near University Avenue was prohibitively far. After waiting for some time near the entrance, she flagged down a staff member passing by in a cart, who drove her to the main stage. 

As Summer Fest wound down, Swain said that he evaluates matters every year to see what was successful and what can be improved.

On hand for the Clipse performance Saturday night, he called it “an iconic moment for hip-hop, right here in Hyde Park.”Swain also witnessed the audience’s enthusiastic response to Sunday’s performances by Chicago-natives Twista, Shawna and Vic Mensa.

“As long as the community keeps supporting what we’re doing and we’re in that vein,” he continued, “we’ll keep doing the event.”

Summer Fest headliner Lil’ Kim closes out the Midway festival on Sunday evening, June 18, 2023. Spencer Bibbs / Hyde Park Herald

This article was written by Michael Liptrot and Max Blaisdell, and was originally published in the Hyde Park Herald. Introduction for Vocalo written by Morgan Ciocca.

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