Two of Chicago’s most popular South Side summer festivals are held within two miles (and two weeks) of each other in July, with cultural ties to music and art.
The Chosen Few Picnic and Festival in Jackson Park and the Silver Room Sound System Block Party, held along 53rd Street in Hyde Park, have a cultural significance in the community. Their founders will team up Thursday night to discuss just how they’ve made their monumental events, and hope people can leave the conversation with business ideas of their own.
“At the end of the day, we are both small, black-owned businesses and have had some modest success,” Chosen Few Picnic co-founder Alan King said. “And we're proud of that and we're open to sort of sharing what we've done with others.”
Both events have been notable area attractions for years. The Chosen Few Picnic has been held in Jackson Park since 1990, drawing what the group estimates is 40,000 house music fans to the area in an ever-growing celebration and appreciation for house music as a genre and culture.
The Silver Room Block Party’s first year in Hyde Park was 2016, but its Chicago roots date farther back. The Silver Room, a store, opened in Wicker Park in 1997. Its owner, Eric Williams, started the block party in 2002 and continued the tradition after a move to the 53rd Street corridor in 2015.
Organizing events of this magnitude, Williams said, costs.
“After just seeing how expensive this event is to put together, I've had a greater appreciation for the Chosen Few Picnic,” Williams said. “This is a lot of work and a lot of money, and I think we both started off doing it for the love, but then it's just a lot of expenses.”
Proceeds from Thursday’s event at The Promontory in Hyde Park will create the House Music Scholarship for Kenwood Academy High School, which school leadership will give to deserving students heading to college. The conversation will be followed by a night of music from DJ Ron Trent and members of The Chosen Few DJs. Williams and King believe this type of collaboration puts a positive spotlight on the South Side, music and culture.
“If you watch the news, you might not believe that some 30 or 40,000 people can be in a park on the South Side for 12 hours, drinking and eating, and you know there's no violence, no security incidents, nothing in frankly [the Chosen Few Picnic’s] 29-year history,” King said. “And that's true for Eric [and the Silver Room Block Party] and his history as well.”
And sharing how others can also have successful events and business ideas, Williams said, aligns with this year’s block party theme: “the greater good.”
“I was thinking about that idea of a sacrifice and the idea of sharing,” Williams said. “And for me, the reason why I did the block party was [to have] a community coming together.”
This year, the Chosen Few Picnic and Festival will be held on July 6, and the Silver Room Sound System Block Party will be July 20.
Arionne Nettles is a digital producer at WBEZ covering arts and culture. Follow her on Twitter at @arionnenettles.