Over the past 20 years, Millennium Park has gained a reputation as one of Chicago’s most heralded tourist attractions. The 24-acre park features the iconic Cloud Gate sculpture (a.k.a.  “The Bean”), a beautiful pasture of native perennials and bulbs in Lurie Garden, the state-of-the-art Jay Pritzker Pavilion and more.

To commemorate Millennium Park’s 20th anniversary, Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Events (DCASE) is bringing a full slate of free performances to the Jay Pritzker Pavilion. 

Taking place almost exactly 20 years after the park’s official opening on July 16, 2004, the celebration will take place from July 18-21 throughout the park. It will feature four days of activities for family and youth, including dance performances, new public art, and concerts with award-winning headliners. 

South Side native Common is headlining the anniversary celebration. His performance will be accompanied by the Grant Park Orchestra in what is sure to be a bone-chilling performance at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion on July 20 at 7:30 p.m. Reserve a seat in the seating bowl via online reservation while supplies last – otherwise seating on the Great Lawn is free and open to the public, first come, first-served. 

After wrapping up a rehearsal with the orchestra in June, The TRiiBE caught up with Common to talk about his upcoming performance.

“I’m honored to perform with the Grant Park Orchestra,” he told The TRiiBE. “I’ve had the blessing of being able to perform with orchestras around the country, and none will be like Grant Park.”

Common is in the midst of a press tour promoting his upcoming July 12 album The Auditorium Vol. 1 with fellow hip-hop veteran Pete Rock. Still, he said being able to come home and be a part of this celebration is monumental for him.

“I just want to say thank you all for all the support you’ve given me throughout the years, throughout these decades. We got more to come,” he said. 

Common, now 52, is a hip-hop legend. He released his first album, Can I Borrow a Dollar, in 1992 under his initial moniker, Common Sense. Since then, he’s accumulated three Grammy Awards, and is now the only rapper with an Emmy, Grammy, and Academy award under his belt. With his love for performing, and an undying passion for hip hop, there’s no wonder why Common has remained a staple in the music industry for over 30 years. 

“I love creating new experiences for people,” he said. “We’ll be going through that boom-bap catalog and the soulful music catalog, but you’ll be hearing strings and an orchestra putting their spirits into it. That [orchestra] just creates something new that you’ve never heard before.”

His passion is not only limited to music and entertainment. Common has a reputation for being quite the humanitarian and philanthropist. He’s currently involved in three charitable outreach programs: Imagine Justice, the Common Ground Foundation, and Free to Dream. 

The goal with Imagine Justice is to uplift stories of hope, redemption and humanity from people impacted by mass incarceration. The Common Ground Foundation seeks to empower and uplift youth from Black and brown communities to become future leaders. Free to Dream, his newest initiative, will provide career exploration and skill-building experiences to underserved youth across the country.

“I had a foundation at home. My mother provided love [and] spirituality at home. That gave me a foundation to grow within myself and pursue my visions and dreams. I believe we all deserve that,” he told The TRiiBE.

Participating in a “free to the public” concert, such as the Millennium Park Anniversary, is definitely in Common’s wheelhouse. “The Creator created us for grace and happiness and joy. And I believe in distributing that,” he added. 

South sider and Hip hop legend, Common talks with The TRiiBE about his excitement with headling Millennium Park's 20th Anniversary event along with Grant Park Orchestra. Photo by Ash Lane for The TRiiBE®

DCASE Commissioner Clinée Hedspeth said what makes Millennium Park special is its focus on the people. 

Hedspeth pointed out that the park is public transit-friendly and inviting to people from all backgrounds. Millennium Park and DCASE, she said, have a track record of offering free programming to the public. Hedspeth doesn’t trivialize access to these public spaces. 

“Unfortunately, the city is still plagued with segregation and yet the park is one of the most diverse places in the city, if not the most diverse place in the city, which is a big deal,” she said. 

“We should always try to be sensitive to the importance of human centered design. Public space is public space,” Hedspeth continued. “The majority of society understands that we need to have access to beautification, we need to have access to green spaces.”

For the 20th Anniversary of Millennium Park, it wouldn’t be a Chicago party without house music. With 2024 marking the 40th anniversary of house music, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion will host The S&S Chicago Experience curated by DJ Shannon “Skip” Syas and legendary house pioneer Steve “Silk” Hurley on July 21, plus a lineup of some of their favorite artists including CeCe Peniston, Syleena Johnson, Chantay Savage, B. Lauren, Jamiesha Trice and more for the last day of the festivities. 

This is a full circle moment for Hurley, as he was invited 20 years ago to DJ the opening of Millennium Park. This time, Hurley plans on giving the crowd a performance they won’t forget. 

“We want to treat the people to the S&S Chicago Experience, but this time not just having the DJ, but having the artists who actually sing on the records that I’ve produced through the years,” he told The TRiiBE. Some of the songs he’s produced include “I Can’t Turn Around,” “Jack Your Body,” and “The Word is Love” (Say the Word).

In what is sure to be a lively performance to close out the anniversary program, Hurley plans to bring 10 different singers to the stage to help bring an experience attendees won’t easily forget. 

Millennium Park’s 20th Anniversary will certainly honor Chicago, the city’s roots and musical individuality, as well as celebrate Millennium Park as one of Chicago’s prime attractions. 

“That’s what I love about my city,” Hurley said. “We all came together to create this [house] genre, and we banded together and played each other’s music and really built it up. It became a worldwide phenomenon.”

To get the full lineup of the celebration, go to www.MillenniumPark.org.

is a culture correspondent with The TRiiBE.