I can’t imagine summer in Chicago without the Chosen Few Picnic & Festival, and that’s not just because this grassroots house-music gathering is celebrating its 30th annual installment (plus two years online during the pandemic). It’s also because house music—and Chicago—would be very different if it weren’t for the Chosen Few DJ collective. Chicago’s gay Black nightlife scene birthed house, and the Chosen Few helped turn it into a movement among young Chicagoans of color. At the time, the members of the Chosen Few were part of that demographic: Wayne Williams was still in high school when he founded the crew in 1977. The second permanent member was his stepbrother, Jesse Saunders—in 1984 he’d release what’s widely considered the first house 12-inch, “On and On”—and in 1978 the crew became a “Few” when Tony Hatchett joined. The collective took on four more members in the decades to come, adding Alan King (1980), Tony’s younger brother, Andre (1981), Terry Hunter (2006), and Mike Dunn (2012). The members haven’t all lived in the same place for most of that time, and their annual festival began as an excuse to get everyone together. It helped that the Hatchett family already hosted a reunion picnic behind the Museum of Science and Industry every Fourth of July, and in 1990 the rest of the Chosen Few showed up to spin informal DJ sets.
As house music became the soundtrack for Chicago, the Chosen Few made Independence Day weekend the date of a bona fide local tradition. Their festival brings around 40,000 house heads and their loved ones to Jackson Park, where folks set up tents and steel-drum barbecue grills and dance. Over the course of the day, all seven Chosen Few members spin solo sets, and they always leave plenty of time for guests—this year’s lineup includes 1990s Basement Boys hitmaker DJ Spen, Yoruba Records founder Osunlade, and New York DJ Natasha Diggs, a favorite of much of the esteemed Soulquarians collective. I recommend you arrive early, to make sure you’ll catch R&B powerhouse Dajae no matter when her set turns out to be—my money’s on her belting out her legendary 1992 Cajmere collaboration, “Brighter Days,” with its palpitating ooh-oh-ah-ee hook. But there’s no bad time to show up to Jackson Park. Few events manifest carefree summer joy as reliably as the Chosen Few Picnic.
Chosen Few Picnic & Festival The day’s lineup includes the Chosen Few DJs, Osunlade, DJ Spen, Teddy Douglas, Natasha Diggs, J Star, D Train, and Dajae. Sat 7/2, 8 AM – 10 PM, Jackson Park, 63rd at Hayes, $60-$475, all ages