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The Soul of Summer Fest

Photo Credit:
Photo by Gabriel Montgomery. Makeup by Melanie Weaver

The Hyde Park Summer Fest: Rooted in Culture and Community

What started in a parking lot in the Hyde Park neighborhood has grown to an event attended by more than thirty thousand people.  For over seven years, the Hyde Park Summer Fest (HPSF) brings together artists, local brands, and the neighborhood to enjoy a weekend filled with music, community, and a celebration of Chicago culture.  Over the years, the festival has grown and evolved. This year the Hyde Park Summerfest is being held at the Midway Plaisance to accommodate its growing attendance.
This year’s festival takes place June 17-18th and features a star-studded lineup, including Tobe Nwigwe, Robert Glasper, Uncle Waffles, Terry Hunter, Alex Isley and more. This year’s festival also celebrates #HipHop50 with some of the genre’s brightest stars from Chicago featuring Vic Mensa, Twista, Shawnna, Crucial Conflict and Do or Die.   The iconic hip hop duo, Clipse also reunites at this year’s festival for a special performance to commemorate the 50th anniversary of hip hop.

"As a Black-owned festival, it's important for us to create a welcoming, inclusive space for our neighbors and business owners to celebrate Chicago culture through music and food while honoring hip-hop's impact on the world," said Jonathan Swain, founder of Hyde Park Summer Fest.

For many, the Hyde Park Summerfest serves as the unofficial kickoff to #summertimechi on the Southside of Chicago.  Co-founders, Jonathan Swain, and Dave Jeff along with Nosa Ehimwenman, President & CEO of BOWA Construction sat down with CNW Weekly to discuss this year’s festival, it’s evolution and why the festival remains committed to the neighborhood and the community.

The Hyde Park Summerfest returned in 2022 after a brief hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The festival returned with a new name, new location and for the first time, the festival charged attendees to enter.  Initially the response was mixed with some questioning if the festival would still maintain its neighborhood party vibes with a new location and ticketing structure.  

Co-Founder, Dave Jeff says he felt the support from the community even with the changes.  “We’ve taken this from a street fest to a festival. Those who have supported us over the years continue applauding the growth.”  
2022’s was one for the books with epic performances by DJ Jazzy Jeff, Ashanti, Busta Rhymes, Lucky Daye, Marshia Ambrosius, Lupe Fiasco and more.  The new location, midway Plaisance, was more spacious, allowing attendees plenty of room to dance, enjoy the music, shop, and eat.  Throughout the festival were new activations and plenty of “Instagram-able moments”.  Co-Founder and entrepreneur Jonathan Swain said, “The overwhelming response last year was great.  People were excited about having an opportunity to celebrate community and enjoy top quality musical talent on the Southside of Chicago”.

This year’s festival comes in the midst of construction in the area for the new Obama Presidential Center.  The HPSF team took that into consideration in planning the logistics for this year’s festival. In addition, the team also listened to feedback from festival attendees and added new additions to this year’ festival along with many improvements.

Summerfest  2023 will have improved points of entry. There will be multiple general admission entry points and a separate VIP and GA+ entry point.  In addition, the site is oriented so festival attendees can enter via the western end of the midway, away from the Obama Center construction area.  Organizers encourage attendees to use public transportation or rideshare services.
Beach towels, ponchos, and foldable chairs in bags are permitted but are subject to security screening. Outside food, drinks, umbrellas, coolers, and large carts are not allowed.  For a full list of permitted items, visit their website.

Festival organizers say they grow from listening to the community and from listening to those who regularly attend the festival each year.  Swain says, “Attendees said they wanted to see local talent highlighted more at the festival. “ This year, the HPSF added two additional stages and will host a local music showcase to highlight more local talent.

“We definitely listened, heard what they said  and answered the call from our people to include more local talent. We want everyone to understand that this festival is inclusive,” says co-founder Dave Jeff

When the Summerfest returned in 2022, many balked at the idea of paying for entry, however, festival co-founders Swain and Jeff strongly felt the need to make sure this annual event gave something back to community. “Business is not solely about padding your pocket. It’s about creating an economy for those you care about,” Swain says.  The festival hires residents from the community, uses a majority of small black and brown owned businesses as food and merchant vendors and takes a share of the festival proceeds to donate to local public schools in the community. In 2022, Hyde Park Summer Fest donated $75,000 in proceeds to five area high schools, created nearly 200 temporary jobs in the community, and encouraged participation from over 50 local small businesses. They expect to surpass these numbers in 2023.
In other neighborhoods there is talk of getting rid of certain festivals.  Community residents feel that some neighborhood festivals do nothing but take resources and space away from community members without investing in those same communities.  

With festivals such as “Riot Fest”, held in Douglas Park, receiving community pushback from residents on the Westside, The Hyde Park Summer Fest, a Black Owned and operated music festival continues to receive community and neighborhood support.  A fact that festival organizers say is rooted in their commitment to community first.  Swain says, “In the midst of doing all of the financial and economic stuff, we realized there has to be a philanthropic side because business drives a lot of philanthropy, especially in the black community.”  

That’s where Nosa Ehimwenman, President and CEO of BOWA Construction enters the picture.  

Nosa Ehimwenman says "Partnering with Swain and Jeff was an extension of the work he does with his construction company.  “It’s about economic impact and driving what we do every day in business to positively impact the community. It is how we connect economic development and construction to social impact and a community, creating a pipeline with our youth though architecture, engineering, and construction and now through art and music."  

He continued, stressing that the festival is more than producing a high-quality event, it’s about leaving something better to the community. “Our initial involvement centered around how we can inject financial resources that are going to impact this festival by bringing top-quality, award-winning artists and putting together a great production.  It doesn’t end there, however, Ehimwenman continued. “Afterwards, when everyone goes away, the economics of what we brought into the community can facilitate and filter into the south side.

It’s what the Chicago mainstream media doesn’t want you to see. With so much chatter in the media about public safety and how Black people gather, particularly in summertime, the Hyde Park Summer Fest is one of a few Black owned and operated music festivals in the city.  Although rarely reported by the mainstream, each year the festival is attended by thousands and has remained violence and incident free since its inception.  Dave Jeff says the festival remains a space of safety and black joy because of the positive energy they bring to the curation of this event.  

“We owe our community everything. We just mirror goodness.  I call it staying in the good.  We live by that and that is what I believe is returned to us each year by those who attend this event”- Hyde Park Summerfest co-founder, Dave Jeff.

Nosa Ehimwenman believes staying true to their foundation allows the festival to stay rooted in the culture. “Whenever you create the right culture and develop it, that creates a good brand. As long as the partners and principals stay true to that foundation and the culture that built it, the brand can sustain itself.
HPSF co-founder, Jonathan Swain echoed those sentiments ,saying they are more than businessmen and entrepreneurs who created an idea and event to generate money.  They are neighbors and residents of the Southside’s Hyde Park and Bronzeville community who see the festival as giving back to the community that has given them so much.  

“We are businessmen who are driven at a high level by our values.   How we approach it may be different, but our values are aligned and that’s what keeps us grounded.  We approach this as neighbors of the community who want to minimize any impact our event may have on the community while providing this brand benefit. We want to continue to make sure that the benefits outweigh the downsides”, Swain said.

Celebrating Chicago Hip Hop

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the genre of Hip Hop.  Yes, 2023 marks the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, with celebrations planned both nationally and globally.  Swain,  Jeff and Ehimwenman as the festival organizers,  they knew that they had to commemorate the occasion with a special tribute featuring some of Chicago’s best and most beloved talent in the hip-hop game.  

The festival features a special celebration hosted by Dave Jeff with DJ Mustafa Rocks to celebrate Chicago’s contributions to hip-hop on day two with performances by Do or Die, Crucial Conflict, Vic Mensa, Twista and Shawnna. Dave Jeff says there are other surprises in store for festival attendees. “We are going to curate something special that represents the dope Chicago timeline in hip-hop.” In addition to the Chicago hip-hop 50 tribute, rap superstar, 2 Chainz and brothers Pusha T and No Malice also known as “Clipse” reunites to headline the first night of the festival and hip-hop icon, Lil Kim headlines night two.
"This is a huge win for Chicago and the music industry overall, especially since our city's hip-hop influence is often overlooked and underestimated," said Dave Jeff, co-producer of Hyde Park Summer Fest

Always for the Culture
Curating a two-day music festival not only takes business acumen and planning, but it also takes organizers who remain committed to the original vision of celebrating culture and community.  Swain says it’s about showcasing the best of Chicago and the southside in particular.  “We are always looking to bring different people and different music to the stage.  In previous years, we’ve layered a mix of house, hip hop, gospel, r&b, and jazz influenced music to this event”.

This year’s festival also includes afro-beat artists, Uncle Waffles, Oxlade and Tobe Nwigwe, R&B songstress, Alex Isley, and Gospel artist, Johnathan McReynolds. “It’s about capturing the current appetite and culture” says Jeff, “we are thinking broader each year.”
House music also remains a staple of the Hyde Park Summerfest with 2 time Grammy nominated producer and Chosen Few DJ, Terry Hunter returning this year to the festival. Local DJs, Boolu Master, Duane Powell and Dee Jay Alicia round out this year’s house music selectors.

We Deserve to Celebrate Black Joy
Swain said, “The festival is diverse in the different element’s attendees can enjoy, but this is rooted in our community and our culture but is open to anyone. We want everyone to come and celebrate the best of the Southside.”

Nosa Ehimwenman echoed the sentiment, saying, “Why can’t we have our own…built by our own…for our own…in our community?  This also creates a lasting impact on our youth who can see three Black men coming together from different sectors to build this great festival.”

The Hyde Park Summerfest is one of those events filled with laughter, good food, curated cocktails, music, beer, good times and memories with family and friends. It’s a celebration of Black joy and the festival’s organizers know they have created a safe space for attendees to relax, unwind and enjoy their neighborhood in summertime.

“We are able to keep this going because we put God first. We pray about this and we create a space where joy can be present. I think ultimately that’s the fundamental foundation of how this works.   It’s how different businessmen came together to create joy for our community. Black joy is beautiful…and we deserve it,”cites Jonathan Swain.

Two-day general admission tickets start at $129- and single-day general admission at $79, with prices subject to change. Hyde Park Summer Fest takes place June 17-18, 2023, at Midway Plaisance Park in Chicago's historic Hyde Park (1130 Midway Plaisance, Chicago, IL 60637).
For more information on Hyde Park Summer Fest's lineup, tickets and sponsorship opportunities, visit www.hydeparksummerfest.com.

Photo Credit:
Photo by Gabriel Montgomery. Makeup by Melanie Weaver

About Author:

Danielle Sanders is a multimedia professional with over 20 years of experience as a writer, journalist, and editor. Danielle frequently covers politics, local news, and entertainment.



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