Lyrical Lemonade Summer Smash Festival shines spotlight on hip-hopEvan F. Mooreon August 21, 2021 at 12:31 am

Amid rising COVID-19 cases, the ongoing debate over whether or not to have outdoor music festivals during a pandemic, along with high-profile deaths within Chicago’s music and culture scenes, the Lyrical Lemonade Summer Smash Festival kicked off Friday in Douglass Park.

The festival is headlined by A$AP Rocky, Lil Baby, City Girls, Lil Yachty, Lil Uzi Vert, Benny the Butcher, Gunna, Young M.A., Earl Sweatshirt, Swae Lee of Rae Sremmurd and Waka Flocka Flame, among others.

The 20 local acts on the festival bill include Joey Purp, Queen Key, Cdot Honcho, Supa Bwe, Lil Eazzyy, Baha Bank$ and Femdot, along with a Juice WRLD tribute scheduled for Sunday night.

The festival, which was launched in 2013, was created by music video director Cole Bennett, who wanted to provide a platform to local rappers who are historically ignored by industry gatekeepers.

“I feel like that’s my biggest skill set is finding those local acts and even giving them a platform,” said festival co-founder Berto Solorio. “We take a lot of pride in a lot of our bookings that we booked early on. Some of the artists that we booked and start working with are just starting off their careers, but it’s so great to see them progress from their humble beginnings.”

Despite initial concerns regarding COVID-19 and mass-gathering events such as the recent Lollapalooza, Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady announced last week that Lolla showed no signs of having been a “superspreader event.”

Summer Smash festival organizers are mandating festival-goers bring proof — screenshot, photo or email — of a recent negative COVID-19 test or COVID vaccination card. On Friday, security was checking IDs and proof of vax cards at the entrance. Festival officials also have notified attendees of local pharmacies (e.g. CVS, Walgreens, Walmart) in the vicinity of Douglass Park where rapid over-the-counter COVID tests are available.

“Every event I go to, I look at the processes,” said Solorio, who says he attended Lollapalooza. “I look at the things that they do to try to see their efficiencies and their inefficiencies and try to apply it to our event as best as possible.”

Chicago-native Baha Bank$ poses for a portrait backstage after performing on day one of the Summer Smash Festival in Douglass Park, Friday afternoon, Aug. 20, 2021.Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

South Side rapper Baha Bank$, who performed on Friday, is reveling in her opportunity to shine. “For me this is really big, because not only am I a local artist, I’m a fairly new artist,” said Bank$. “I really feel the support for my city because it’s hard for women — especially as female artists. So for me to even get booked on this, it’s a big thing for me.”

Officials announced on social media this week West Side rapper Saba, the leader of local hip-hop collective Pivot Gang, who was scheduled to perform on Saturday’s slate, will not take the stage. Earlier this week, Saba’s fellow Pivot Gang member, and DJ, Squeak, and his uncle, were shot to death in Austin.

Summer Smash runs through Sunday.

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