As live shows begin to come back during the pandemic, Cole Bennett’s Lyrical Lemonade annual Summer Smash festival made its return to Chicago’s Douglass Park as a wholly independent-ran event with ASAP Rocky, Lil Baby, and Lil Uzi Vert headlining the event.
Though this was my first time attending Summer Smash, I was the most excited about this festival’s lineup in particular. It included a good mix of performers such as the trailblazing underground rap icon Xavier Wulf, Chicago’s own DCG, Queen Key, and C Dot Honcho, as well as all the artists you’d expect at a Lyrical Lemonade event such as Don Toliver, Lil Tecca, Blueface, Dro Kenji, and Warhol.ss.
From day one, fans swarmed Douglass Park that overstretched miles of land allowing plenty of room to move between the main Lyrical Lemonade Stage, the SPKRBX stage, which was catacorner next to it, and Lenny’s Tent, where the most rambunctious up-and-coming acts came to play.
Despite the rise of Delta around the world during the festival, much about the event felt as safe as possible, including what appeared to be fewer people at this festival than others and that proof of vaccination and a negative COVID test was a requirement for entry (though those can easily be faked). It provided a level of comfort where I could freely walk around without fighting my way through sweaty bodies and BO. It was great. The staff at the festival were very accommodating and this was one of the best festivals to get around logistically. As a plus, a majority of the performances were on time.
On day two, Baby Keem had one of the more stand-out performances. His set drew out an intense and passionate mob that clung on to his every word and they had no problem opening up a mosh pit to get dirty to some of his most popular cuts like his self-titled anthem “Baby Keem,” latest release “Durag Activity,” and popular banger “Orange Soda,” which really got the everyone amped. Remember, Baby Keem only has a handful of songs out and he’s still on the come up despite his relation to Kendrick Lamar. The crowd’s reaction to him foretells a certain future for him that includes packed-out and sold-out shows from dedicated fans (as if he’s not doing that already).
Lil Baby was also really impressive. Seeing him perform live made me even more of a fan because he put effort into his entire stage set and design. Before Lil Baby hit the stage, the lights were shut down and the festivalgoers went crazy. With blue lights beaming down on him, Baby hopped off something that looked like a couch, which sat above the stage and over the crowd. Soon after, he began to rap his verse off his Drake collaboration “Wants And Needs” before getting into “Sum 2 Prove.” His energy stayed high the entire time and so did the legion of fans watching.
On the final day of Summer Smash, there was a Juice Wrld tribute helmed by DJ Carnage on the Lyrical Lemonade stage with fans singing along to his songs and paying their respect. The tribute was followed by a few surprise guests. Over the weekend everyone had their guess on who it could be. Kanye West? Polo G? To the crowd’s shock, it was Lil Durk. The Voice popped out with his crew, filling out the entire stage, and a few fans hopped over the fence into the pit, where they weren’t supposed to be, to catch the Chicago icon perform his hits. First, he made the crowd sing praises to the late King Von by saying his name before getting into his 2020 cut “Redman” off his mixtape The Voice. The crowd ate up every word and at one point Durk hopped into the pit to interact with the energetic crowd and began shooting a music video. The show abruptly came to an end, with Durk not really wanting to dip, but being told he had to. One of his boys tossed hundreds into the crowd and I managed to scoop up a few for myself.
There was also a second surprise guess and it was none other than Chance The Rapper. He only did one song though, and quickly left the stage. Some backstage shenanigans going on after their surprise set caused the festival to shut down for a little bit, and The Kid Laroi, unfortunately, was not able to perform.
Closing out the festival was Lil Uzi Vert, one of the most energetic and engaging performers, ever. His alien stage set design was ethereal and really set the tone for the entire show. One thing is for sure, it’s obvious that Uzi loves his fans and had no problem with them throwing their phones at him on stage — or throwing anything on stage for that matter. Uzi loved the chaos as his set was a maelstrom of space rage. Almost immediately he wanted a taste of the crowd so he hopped off the stage, into the pit to be closer and in tune with the people to rap “Move” with them. Then he ran to the end of the pit to climb the soundstage’s tent to do a massive stage dive into the crowd to the sounds of “POP.”
The chaos didn’t end there, though. Throughout the night Uzi would stop and playfully grab a phone thrown on stage to have the crowd participate in saying a long “hello” to each one. While he was performing “The Way Life Goes,” one kid hopped on stage and did a backflip, but security was too slow to catch him. Uzi on the other hand absolutely loved it.
It was the perfect ending to a 3-day festival that was already smooth to begin with.
Summer Smash is just one of many festivals to make its return post-pandemic and it did so in a grand way while priming itself as a premier hip-hop experience. Considering that this festival has no ties to a big corp like Live Nation or Goldenvoice, it was one the most polished and well-run festivals I ever attended outside of normal festival annoyances such as entry and exit. Heck, even the entry and exit weren’t that bad. Cole Bennett certainly outdid himself with the return of Summer Smash, especially as the world seems to be an apocalyptic blender. Attendance was so worth it.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.