A&O keeps it local to revitalize Benefit

    A&O Productions must be listening to a lot of Chance The Rapper these days. The group known for putting on loud, exciting, liquor-soaked hip-hop shows like Blowout and Ball announced it will bring rapper Noname, featured on "Finish Line/Drown," and singer Jamila Woods, featured on "Sunday Candy," to SPACE tomorrow for its Chicago Benefit show. Streetbeat DJ Rachel Williams will open with a DJ set, and comedian Rebecca O'Neal will host. The proceeds will go to the Academy for Arts and Music Education.

    But wait – this isn't a new A&O show. It's actually a revamped version of Benefit.

    Maybe you remember Benefit – that show that used to be held in the spring, as a Dance Marathon charity event, with bands you very likely hadn't heard of before. (Unless you were here for Magic Man in 2014 or Best Coast in 2011, in which case this writer is pretty jealous.) This year, A&O made a few big changes: moving the show from spring to winter, where there’s less A&O programming; moving the show indoors, so weather won’t be an issue; focusing on local talent, instead of low-recognition national artists; and changing this year's beneficiary to AMASE (said kind of like "amaze"), a group that teaches music and arts to children with special needs in the Chicagoland area.

    "People didn't just understand what Benefit was," said Ali Lefkowitz, A&O's concert chair. "I sort of made it my own child."

    A&O got the initial idea for Chicago Benefit from last year's board, which wasn't able to make the event happen for 2016. This concert sold out in minutes, before Woods was even announced as the opener. Lefkowitz, a Weinberg senior, said A&O wanted to book up-and-coming artists for the show, and sees the show's success as partially due to Noname’s fan base in the area.

    "She is a Chicago rapper," Lefkowitz said. "She loves to emphasize that, and I think it's nice that we are not only able to speak to her popularity across the country, but specifically acknowledge that like, look at how cool that we get to be in the city where she comes from."

    But A&O didn't just want to book musical performers for the show. That played into the decision to have Williams open with a DJ set and O'Neal host the show, which A&O Marketing & Media Co-Chair Justine Yucesan said makes Benefit more than just a concert.

    "We were really trying to target not only one specific audience," Yucesan said. "We really approached it with the idea of … a showcase of Chicago."

    Williams, a Weinberg senior, has experience with the Chicago music scene through her Streetbeat show on WNUR, where she works with local DJs.

    "The big thing, especially with Streetbeat, is to support local artists and Chicago artists," Williams said. "I think it’s really cool that A&O's doing this because it's good to support the community that we're in."

    And to Yucesan, Williams and O'Neal alike, it's especially important that all the performers at the Chicago Benefit are women of color.

    "I'm always happy to see a lineup of three Black women who I know are going to really kill it," O'Neal said. "For your $10, you're going to get a hell of a show."

    But perhaps the most important part of the Chicago Benefit is who it will benefit. AMASE, who said the proceeds from the show – where concertgoers were asked to make donations to the organization in addition to the $10 price of the ticket – will pay for instruments, art supplies and events such as end-of-quarter concerts and a sensory-friendly carnival. A&O hopes to change the event's beneficiary each year.

    "We are very much definitely a small organization," said Keishel Lee, AMASE’s co-operations director. "I think that this was definitely a great opportunity for us to put ourselves out there in the Northwestern community, and A&O, they did us a great deed of reaching out to us."

    Most of the key minds behind revamping Benefit – A&O's co-chairs, Will Corvin and Caroline Kelly, along with Lefkowitz – won't be around for next year's Chicago Benefit. But, they're proud of the work A&O members have done for the event, and confident in what the show can become.

    "I really have hopes for what future exec boards can do," said Corvin, a Weinberg senior. "I think we've done an incredible job of laying the foundation of what this event can be. Selling out in our first year is incredible and all we could hope for."

    First, though, Corvin looks forward to seeing this year’s show come fully to fruition.

    "I'm just really excited to see campus, other students there, enjoying the event," Corvin said. "[To] be able to really witness what our hard work has gone into, firsthand."

    Editor's note: This story was updated at 12:30 a.m. on Feb. 2 to reflect the group nature of A&O Productions' work to plan Chicago Benefit.


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