Last Friday night at Chicago’s 5000-seat Congress Theater, Meek Mill headlined a performance known as Spring Fest. Scheduled openers included a who’s who of contemporary Chicago hip-hop stars: Twista, Bo Deal, LEP Bogus Boys, King Louie and Chief Keef, the 16-year-old rapper reportedly set to work with Kanye West, were all scheduled to perform. The concert was controversial: neighborhood Alderman Proco Joe Moreno apparently hired private security workers to police the venue in addition to the theater’s existing security over concerns about Chief Keef. According to an open letter written by the venue’s owner, when a fight broke out in the lobby early on in the night, Moreno’s private security quickly called police, who locked down the venue and wouldn’t let anyone enter for a full hour while the Fire Department made sure the venue—which had only just begun to fill—wasn’t over capacity. The rest of the night, the Congress’ front entrance was the stage for a huge police presence. Bo Deal and LEP Bogus Boys weren’t even able to enter the venue to perform, and ticket holders were turned away.
Despite concerns about the behavior of Keef and his crew, the group arrived through the main entrance without incident and interacted with fans in the lobby before heading backstage. Keef was joined by a large crowd, including Lil Reese, Fredo Santana, SD and DJ Kenn. Keef’s visible ankle bracelet was the only evidence of his legal troubles (he is on house arrest, but was given permission by a judge to fulfill his contract with the show’s promoter).
The concert continued despite the lockdown. Artists in attendance spent time hanging out in the crowd. There, different crews of aspiring artists wore matching shirts with the name of their group written across the front and, often, a Twitter handle printed on the back. Keef and the Glory Boyz hit the stage along with King Louie and Lil Durk. Lil Durk performed his “L’s Anthem” to kick off the crew’s performance. The group was accompanied by a deep crowd of supporters, as seen in this picture; the entire neighborhood seemed to have traveled with them from the South Side. Audience members ducked as CD copies of Keef’s Back from the Dead pinwheeled into the crowd at high velocity. After Lil Reese performed his solo track “Us”, Keef was joined by King Louie, who appeared with recently-repaired front teeth, for the duo’s Young Chop-produced track “Winning.” The audience exploded when Keef kicked into (Kanye’s favorite song) “I Don’t Like,” although they seemed momentarily disappointed when the DJ cut it off after one verse to jump directly into “3hunna.” A small group of Twista fans unfamiliar with Keef who had traveled, they said, from out of town, glanced at the exuberant crowd with quiet confusion.
After the DJ finally managed to clear the large crowd from the stage, King Louie returned to perform “Go In (Remix)”, and moved through several of his biggest songs. “Bars” and “Motion Picture,” each from his recently-released Motion Picture mixtape, received big responses. During signature track “Money Dance,” the audience in the balcony threw dollar bills down onto the main floor. Other performances included Butta Da Prince, nephew of imprisoned former gang leader Jeff Fort, and the Rack Boys, who showered concertgoers with dollar bills from the stage.
Although individual performances would light up the stage, the concert’s pacing was interminable. There were many artists, and the performance order seemed arbitrary. Waiting for large crowds of supporters to clear the stage at the end of each set made the audience increasingly impatient as time passed. It was also clear that, despite the energy of artists’ particular fanbases, there were few artists present who seemed to capture the enthusiasm of all the attending concertgoers. The exception was Meek Mill, who finally hit the stage around 1AM and performed for a half hour, running through some of his biggest hits before ending with a full rendition of “I’m a Boss.” His arrival sent the entire audience running to the front. Although the Alderman’s controversial approach to security is what everyone was talking about the next day, to those who attended the concert, the real concern might be less about the danger created by artists than about how events are planned. Chicago might have some rising talent, but the business end could use some streamlining and professionalism.