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Rhymefest will tandem jump with parachute team to open Chicago Air & Water Show

Hip-hop artist, songwriter and activist Che "Rhymefest" Smith, pictured in 2016 in Beverly Hills, Calif. | Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Opening ceremonies for the 60th anniversary of the Chicago Air & Water Show will include one of the city’s favorite sons.

Hometown rapper Che “Rhymefest” Smith will officially open the show on Aug. 18 when he tandem jumps with the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute team, landing at North Avenue Beach at 10 a.m. The Grammy- and Academy Award-winning singer/musician/activist is jumping in memory of his late grandfather, George Smith, a Vietnam War veteran and paratrooper with the Army 173rd Airborne Division. Members of Art of Culture, Inc., the community arts organization founded by Rhymefest and his wife Donnie, will sing the national anthem.

U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds fly over North Avenue Beach during the 58th annual Chicago Air & Water Show on Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016. The legendary troupe are among the headliners for the 2018 show. | Lou Foglia/Sun-Times
U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds fly over North Avenue Beach during the 58th annual Chicago Air & Water Show on Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016. The legendary troupe are among the headliners for the 2018 show. | Lou Foglia/Sun-Times

“Just growing up with someone who was in the military and actively served, the stories we got to hear and the questions I got to ask, it’s a blessing,” Rhymefest said Monday, when reached by phone. “This is a celebration [of his life]. And I get to see what it feels like to fly!” Rhymefest plans to wear his grandfather’s Army jacket during the jump in homage to him.

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The singer is also planning to live rap on the day of the event to mark the occasion, and will later craft a new song based on the experience, as a thank you to the Golden Knights.

“I don’t believe anything is complete unless I put something to a beat,” he said, chuckling. “Definitely gonna write something to honor the moment, to honor my grandfather.”

According to Monday’s announcement from the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, other highlights for the milestone extravaganza include a U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds fly-along by “Hometown Hero” and Chicago Park District employee/Special Olympics coach Kate Grant, and a Young Eagles Flight Program fly-along with Sean D. Tucker of Team Oracle featuring Chicago Air Force Academy High School freshman Angel Cardenas. The two events take place at the show’s official media day on Aug. 16 in Gary, Indiana.

Rhymefest continues a tradition of notables making the giant leap with the Golden Knights for the air show opening ceremonies. Previous tandem jumpers with strong Chicago ties have included former Cubs catcher David Ross (2017), former Chicago Bears player Charles “Peanut” Tillman (2016), actor and Lake Forest High School grad Vince Vaughn (2011), and comedian-actor Bill Murray (2008).

As for the anthem singers from Art of Culture, Rhymefest hopes their performance at the show will spread a vital, positive message to everyone.

“We are teaching our young people to use their talents to not only benefit themselves but to strengthen the community and the country,” he said.

“We tend to hear a narrative that everyone on the South Side is at risk and everything on the South Side is struggling. These kids and Art of Culture [run by Rhymefest and his wife, Donnie] are proof that people are doing well, too. I’m looking forward to more revelations, more stories to tell young people about the heights we can go to, the things we can achieve in life.”

The Air & Water Show runs 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Aug. 18-19 at the lakefront, from Fullerton to Oak Street; North Avenue beach serves as the show’s center stage (1600 N. Lake Shore Dr.). Herb Hunter, affectionately known as “The Voice of the Show” for more than 20 years, returns once again to deliver his insightful and entertaining running commentary.

Also participating this year are: the U.S. Navy Parachute Team Leap Frogs, the P-51 Mustang, the KC-135 Stratotanker, the USAF C-130 Hercules, the U.S. Navy F-18, the U.S. Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin Helicopter, the AeroShell Aerobatic Team, Bill Stein Aerosport, Chicago Fire Department Air/Sea Rescue team, Chicago Police Department Helicopter, Susan Dacy in the Super Stearman Model 70, the Heritage Museum Foundation, the Firebirds Delta Team and more.

More than 2 million people make the annual trek to the lakefront for the free show, so expect large crowds both days. Viewers also should keep in mind that blankets, chairs and coolers are permitted at the show, but following items are NOT allowed:

—Alcoholic beverages

—BBQ grills (open flames)

—Fireworks or explosives

—Illegal substances and weapons

—Pop-up tents/canopies

—Balloons

—Kites

—Flag poles

—Pets (except service animals)

For complete information and show lineup visit chicagoairandwatershow.us.

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Expected to be wowed at the annual Chicago Air & Water Show. | Courtesy DCASE
Expected to be wowed at the annual Chicago Air & Water Show. | Courtesy DCASE