Groups of house heads traveled from Pittsburgh and St. Louis — the St. Louis contingent wore matching tees — to Chicago’s Jackson Park for a rare 14 hours, and it was all to attend the biggest house music dance party in the world.The 31st year of Chicago’s Chosen Few Picnic and Festival attracted 30,000 attendees on Saturday, and despite early rains, people started lining up at 5 a.m. for a premium spot. The crowd danced, ate ribs, blew bubbles and reunited with friends they hadn’t seen since previous festivals.
They also, for a day, turned a public park in Chicago into what organizers say is the largest, longest running house music festival.
The fest is now a ticketed event, but it started as a free family barbecue in the lawn behind the Museum of Science and Industry in 1990, growing organically by word of mouth and eschewing advertisements and paid ads. The unofficial festival turned legit in 2000 when organizers started selling tickets to avoid fines.
Composed of seven core members who came together in 1977, the group of “Chosen Few” DJs includes co-founder Wayne Wiliiams and his stepbrother, Jesse Saunders, who created the first recognized house track “On and On” in 1984, as well as Tony Hatchett, his younger brother Andre Hatchett, and Alan King. Later, house DJs Terry Hunter and Mike Dunn were added to the official lineup. Chosen Few features these originals every year, plus a few friends, including Chicago natives Lori Branch, and Lidell Townsell, and gospel star BeBe Winans.“This is the best dance floor in Chicago,” David Nasca, 32, of Pilsen said while dancing Saturday. Gov. JB Pritzker also declared the day “Chosen Few DJs Day.”
Multiple attendees, including Michael Byrd, referenced The Warehouse, a terracotta building at 206 S. Jefferson St. in the West Loop, which was established in 1977 by Robert Williams, a NYC DJ who moved to Chicago a few years prior. “I was there when house was born,” said Byrd, “in The Warehouse, when I was a teen.”
Williams, along with Frankie Knuckles, both black gay men in the club scene, opened the doors for a $5 admission. Patrons danced from midnight Saturday to midnight Sunday every weekend in a safe and welcoming environment.
In 2004, Chicago renamed the block “Frankie Knuckles Way,” and declared Aug. 25 Frankie Knuckles Day.
This past June, Chicago’s City Council voted to grant the Warehouse building landmark status.
WBEZ contributing photographer Brittany Sowacke captured scenes from this year’s Chosen Few festivities.
Brittany Sowacke is a photographer based in Chicago.