I barely remember the spring of 2011, my final year of high school. But certain moments have stuck with me, such as the afternoons I spent on my computer, excitedly committed to UChicago and hungrily scouring the internet for even more reasons to love my soon-to-be school. It was during one such afternoon that I discovered the website for the Major Activities Board (MAB) and read about the history of Summer Breeze.
One of the things that amazed me about the concert’s history was not only the ability of the organizers to draw some of arguably the most influential artists of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, but also their ability to do so in a way that spanned many different genres to create a well-rounded archive of line-ups. These records, preserved on the MAB website, show just how impressive Summer Breeze has been, along with how important it is to our school’s history.
The artists that graced the stage in Hutch Courtyard were always on their way up. Even those artists that had already enjoyed commercial success were still in the midst of their most creatively fruitful years. We hosted U2 in 1981 when, already a solid draw on tour in the United Kingdom, they were taking their first risk on America. We hosted Public Enemy a year after they released It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, the first rap album to be voted “Album of the Year” by the Pazz & Jop critics’ poll in The Village Voice, and the highest-ranking rap album on Rolling Stone’s list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time.” We hosted Sonic Youth in 1998, three years after they headlined Lollapalooza. We hosted The Ramones, The Roots, The Phillip Glass Ensemble, The Decemberists, Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, The Indigo Girls, Jeff Tweedy, The Pixies, and many others.
Wynton Marsalis performed at Summer Breeze in 1985 and 1988. In years following, he became the first jazz musician to ever win a Pulitzer Prize for music, was honored by Time as one of America’s most influential people, and received honorary degrees from Harvard, Princeton, and Yale. When Andrew Bird appeared at Summer Breeze in 2008, his most successful album, Armchair Apocrypha, peaked at No. 76 on the Billboard 200. His two subsequent records have respectively hit No. 12 and No. 10, and his fame only continues to grow. The Black Eyed Peas appeared at the show in 1999. Three years later, they were joined by Fergie, released Elephunk, and went on to enjoy enough success to justify an entire Wikipedia article titled “List of awards and nominations received by The Black Eyed Peas.”
Summer Breeze has hosted many incredible artists, but what is truly impressive is how far it has fallen. I was disappointed when, my first year, Ludacris was the headliner of the event. Though his rap stylings did not violate any previous Summer Breeze programming patterns, he had not released any notable hits since Release Therapy in 2006, which was, until the release of his next album in 2008, his least commercially successful album. This year’s headliner, Nelly, is as ludicrous as the last: Throughout his 13-year career, Nelly has yet to enjoy commercial success rivaling that which he received for his breakout, Country Grammar, in 2000. Entering an era dominated by such critically and commercially acclaimed artists as Kanye West and Jay-Z, whose combined influence will most certainly endure, he will never find himself in a historically important position like many of the other artists hosted throughout Summer Breeze’s 30-year history.
The worst of it is that we already know this. Booking performers is undoubtedly expensive—MAB recently decided to cancel their winter comedy show to increase the budget for Summer Breeze—and it may never again be possible to host influential artists in the height of their careers. But Summer Breeze’s money would be better spent taking risks on up-and-coming performers rather than on lazy selections from the Billboard Top 20 of 10 years ago. Before I attended this school, Summer Breeze organizers were always looking forward; since then, there has been a monumental shift. They are now stuck in the past.
On the bright side, Summer Breeze will, at this rate, probably host Marky Mark and Sir Mix-a-Lot in two years, therefore crossing the line from painfully awkward to edgy and ironic.
Kirsten Gindler is a second-year in the College majoring in English.