Spotlight on Levitt AMP Springfield

The "Y-Block" in downtown Springfield before and during the Levitt AMP series

The “Y-Block” in downtown Springfield before and during the 2019 Levitt AMP Springfield Music Series

Tonight, experience an all-new virtual concert from harmony-driven acoustic folk trio The Deep Hollow as part of the Levitt AMP Virtual Music Series! The show is co-presented by Downtown Springfield Heritage Foundation in partnership with Downtown Springfield, Inc. and Springfield Area Arts Council, the nonprofits behind the Levitt AMP Springfield Music Series. Known in their native Springfield and beyond for their raw, sparse and powerful take on traditional Americana, The Deep Hollow are a Midwestern sensation with a rapidly rising profile. Tune in tonight at 8pm ET / 5pm PT at!

An Abe Lincoln lookalike poses in front of Springfield's historic state capitol building

An Abe Lincoln lookalike poses in front of Springfield’s historic state capitol building

Situated in the heart of the vast, flat prairies that span most of central Illinois, the state capital of Springfield is home to about 120,000 residents. Springfield — not to be confused with its fictional Simpsons namesake — is perhaps best known for its historical ties to America’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln. Prior to becoming president, Lincoln lived in Springfield for 17 years, with many pivotal moments in his life and political career unfolding there.

Today, Springfield is home to the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, and many places once frequented by the former president have been designated as National Historic Landmarks.

Though much of the city’s identity is tied to its history, Springfield is very much a modern urban hub for arts and culture. “If you visit Springfield for the Lincoln sites,” says Lisa Clemmons Stott, executive director of Downtown Springfield, Inc., “you will find a warm, welcoming community with a strong foodie culture, with many farm to table restaurants and the largest farmers market in downstate Illinois, and an amazing arts and culture scene.” The historical-meets-modern aspect of Springfield is most apparent in the city’s downtown district, where 19th century buildings, locally-celebrated restaurants, and emerging businesses come together in one place. Many consider Springfield a community on the rise, and a recent article from Business Insider even ranked it as the #1 Midwestern city to move to after the pandemic.

Folk/Americana trio The Deep Hollow

Folk/Americana trio The Deep Hollow

For this summer’s Levitt AMP Virtual Music Series, Stott and the rest of the Levitt AMP Springfield team wanted to “share a band that was quintessentially Springfield,” and The Deep Hollow fit that description perfectly. All three members of the band were raised in Springfield, and even as their artistic profile grows, they remain deeply rooted in their community. “We love that we can show a homegrown band that has national or even international chops,” says Stott. Tonight’s virtual concert was recorded live at Springfield’s Hoogland Center for the Arts with the help of Crowdson Creative Media Production.

A long-dormant destination
For decades, a large vacant lot has dominated an entire city block in the center of downtown Springfield. Once home to the Hotel Abraham Lincoln, which was demolished in 1978, the lot — known as the “Y-Block” — fell into disuse after a plan to build a state court complex and legal education center on the site was halted shortly after the demolition. For many years, the vacant space served as an informal parking lot for city employees, but was of little use to the general public. In 2014, the City of Springfield purchased the lot, though revitalizing it proved to be difficult — after three rounds of proposals, a consensus had not been achieved, and years later, the site remained entirely unused.

An artistic depiction of downtown Springfield from 1860

An artistic depiction of downtown Springfield from 1860

In 2018, a group of nonprofits in downtown Springfield (Downtown Springfield Heritage Foundation, Downtown Springfield, Inc., and Springfield Area Arts Arts Council) partnered to apply for a Levitt AMP Grant as a first step towards activating this “sleeping block” in the heart of the community. After seeing how a Levitt AMP series in nearby Jacksonville, Illinois, about a 45 minute drive from Springfield, had revitalized a public space in that community, Stott and other organizers hoped that a Levitt AMP series would engage the public and bring residents from all parts of the city into the discussion surrounding the lot. “The city had been squabbling over whether it should be a park, or a park and a building, or a giant residential area,” recalls Stott, “and we thought Levitt AMP would help us have a more intelligent conversation about the future of [this space].”

Nearly 8,000 people attended the inaugural Levitt AMP Springfield Music Series last summer, and lawn surveys conducted by volunteers show an enthusiastic response from the community. Over 80 percent of respondents said that they would like to see a permanent concert venue in the space, and would regularly attend concerts if a permanent band shell was constructed. Other suggestions from the community include a dog park, tennis courts, food truck plaza, and more. “No one was using this block before Levitt AMP,” says Stott, “and now people see the possibilities.”

Joyous scenes from the Levitt AMP Springfield Music Series last summer

Joyous scenes from the Levitt AMP Springfield Music Series last summer

A place to be together
In addition to renewing interest in this long-dormant public space, the Levitt AMP Springfield Music Series has also served as a catalyst for addressing deep-seeded divides in the city. More than three quarters of Springfield residents are white, while 15 percent are Black, and historically, race relations have been difficult. In 1908, a violent riot erupted against the city’s Black community, creating a wound that is far from healed over a century later. “We have this dual nature,” says Stott. “We’re the home of Abraham Lincoln, but we are also the site of such a tragic incident.” In response to the violence in Springfield, W.E.B DuBois, Ida B. Wells, and others founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), now a leading civil rights organization. As a neutral site where the East and West sides of Springfield literally come together, Stott and other organizers hoped the concerts at Y-Block would foster a space where people of all cultures and races could feel welcome.

Outreach to diverse populations within the city was key to achieving this. Through a partnership with Urban Action Network, a local nonprofit, volunteers went door-to-door in historically Black neighborhoods on the city’s East side to personally invite residents to the free concerts downtown. For a Merengue Night concert last summer featuring several major Latinx artists, Levitt AMP Springfield organizers recruited community member Julio Barrenzuela to serve as “Salsa Ambassador.” Barrenzuela danced to music that would be featured in the show at 30 Zumba classes around Springfield in the days leading up to it, resulting in massive turnout, especially from the Latinx community. An artist featured in the concert recalled seeing at least a dozen nationalities represented in the audience that night. Overall, survey data from the 2019 series showed that demographics on the Levitt lawn largely matched the demographics of the city, with many concertgoers attesting to its inclusive, welcoming atmosphere. One audience member succinctly summed up their experience as follows: “You look around, look at all the different people here, there are no political parties, there is no animosity, just two great musicians. This is all family…It’s just us together…that’s what I see. There are so many different age groups, diversity…and there is no one arguing…that’s what’s cool.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, another round of Levitt AMP concerts won’t take place this summer, but Stott is already looking forward to resuming the series in 2021. As the Springfield community continues to assess the economic fallout from the virus, many things remain uncertain, but the impact of the series continues to resonate. “Levitt spawned a local feeling that we’re all in this together,” says Stott. “We have a long ways to go, but it’s a great jumping off point for these important conversations about the economy and race.”

Tonight as part of the the Levitt AMP Virtual Concert Series, you can tap into a uniquely Springfield experience with an intimate new performance from The Deep Hollow. Watch the show at 8pm ET / 5pm PT at!

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