Chance the Rapper's Teens in the Park Festival went off on Northerly Island last night, and unsurprisingly, it was a massive success. Organized by the Park District, Chicago City of Learning, and Chance Bennett, the free festival was restricted to ages 13–24; adult chaperones were allowed in, but were asked to stay in a cordoned-off section in the back. The effect was a wholly for-kids by-kids festival, and as Chicago's resident child, I went to scope it out.
Like Chance's past efforts with City Hall (where his dad works as Rahm's Deputy Chief of Staff), the idea of TIP Fest is that it gives kids an alternative to crime, or, more directly, hurting one another. Accordingly, the fest perimeter was lined with booths promoting free summer programming from sponsors including the Art Institute, Shedd Aquarium, Donda's House, and Redmoon Theater, who hosted a series of b-boy battles:
Age-wise, the crowd looked 50/50 college-kid/pure-teen. One group of early-20s U. of C. students I talked to said they "felt old" for the festival; later, a Whitney Young senior told me she'd seen at least 15 of her classmates at the festival. Consensus with those I talked to was that the event was a little dorky—host Phenom had to win the crowd back after City Treasurer Kurt Summers came onstage to give away a scholarship while Rahm milled in the wings—but that it was a welcome alternative to sitting around bored. Nobody was wasted, which was nice, though it didn't help the event's time slot (4 p.m. on a Wednesday) feel any less bathetic.
An abridged opening set by Logan got people moving, but more stirring were performances by alumni of Chance's quasi-monthly Open Mike nights (also only for teens), a sort of who's who of Chicago's rising performers. Students rhapsodized everything from young love to gun violence in song, spoken-word, and slam-poem, which was doubly impactful at an event advocating for creative space for youths (Chance and the mayor used the event to announce newly allocated funds for Harold Washington Library's YOUmedia library, which hosted the open mic nights Chance himself was discovered at).
DLow led the DLow Shuffle as only DLow can (imagine a hip-hop line dance), spawning scattered footwork circles throughout the crowd. His new, Bop It-sampling dance the Bop Challenge also got an age-appropriate coming-out party.
The Social Experiment's set served more as a grand finale than a headliner—a dozen-piece collective led at any given moment by Donnie Trumpet, Mike Golden, Joey Purp, and Chance himself. The band played tracks from both Donnie's Surf and Chance's Acid Rap, and even gave its low-budget "Home Studio" the full-band treatment. Kendrick Lamar was the night's guest of honor, coming out unannounced halfway through the set to perform "m.A.A.d. City" and "i" to the sound of 9,000 roaring teenage fans.
Still, the night's best moments were when it felt like something was happening—four CPS students' elegy to the Charleston shooting and Chance's promise, between songs, that this summer would be different. "I know what its like being a teenager in Chicago," he told a crowd of rapt peers before performing "Smoke Again." "Y'all are very cool people, and you deserve a lot more. This is what we've got for you."