House music fans celebrate the Chicago-born genre at the Chosen Few picnic

Desiree Taylor, 47, from Baltimore, came to Chicago for the first time with eight friends who go to house music festivals every year for the “funkier” and “more soulful” approach of house music.

SHARE House music fans celebrate the Chicago-born genre at the Chosen Few picnic
People danced during the Chosen Few picnic at Jackson Park on Saturday. It’s one of the biggest house music festivals in the country.

The crowd dances during the Chosen Few picnic in Jackson Park on Saturday. It’s one of the biggest house music festivals in the country.

Pat Nabong / Sun-Times

The Chosen Few picnic got off to a rainy start Saturday, but the rain couldn’t dampen the good vibes that brought thousands of house music fans to Jackson Park for the annual celebration of the genre that was born in Chicago.

As skies cleared, hundreds of grills placed under even more tents kept the festival true to its picnic name and its roots as an actual family reunion.

Desiree Taylor, 47, from Baltimore, came to Chicago for the first time with eight friends who have made a tradition of traveling to house music festivals every year.

What draws them, she said, is the “funkier” and “more soulful” approach of house music, which she said “takes you over. You can feel it deeper. You feel like you can be free. You can just be yourself and not feel like you have to perform a certain way.

Desiree Taylor from Baltimore dances during the Chosen Few Picnic at Jackson Park in the Woodlawn neighborhood, Saturday, July 8, 2023. The Chosen Few Picnic, now one of the biggest House Music festivals in the country, was born out of a group of South Side DJs called “The Chosen Few Disco, Corp.” who played in basements and eventually gathered with family and friends for a reunion that turned into a yearly festival.

Desiree Taylor from Baltimore dances during the Chosen Few picnic in Jackson Park on Saturday. The event, now one of the biggest house music festivals in the country, was born out of a group of South Side DJs called “The Chosen Few Disco, Corp.” They played in basements and eventually gathered with family and friends for a reunion that turned into a yearly festival.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

“We could stay out here all day and all night. It’s the energy, it’s the vibe, it’s the look in everybody’s eyes. We all don’t know each other, but we look at each other’s eyes, and we know each other.”

For others, it was a pilgrimage, bringing old house heads back to where it started.

George “Mikey” James, a former South Sider who moved to Atlanta in 1996, said he used to attend the festival in its early days, when it took place behind the Museum of Science and Industry. The self-described “deep house head” remembers going to parties at the Warehouse, the birthplace of house music, which was recently granted landmark designation by the city.

“The music is spiritual,” James said. “It takes us back to times we really enjoyed, memories we created, that make all this seem like a dream come true.”

George “Mikey” James, who said he has been attending the Chosen Few Picnic since it started, poses during the Chosen Few Picnic at Jackson Park in the Woodlawn neighborhood, Saturday, July 8, 2023. The Chosen Few Picnic, now one of the biggest House Music festivals in the country, was born out of a group of South Side DJs called “The Chosen Few Disco, Corp.” who played in basements and eventually gathered with family and friends for a reunion that turned into a yearly festival.

George “Mikey” James, who said he has been attending the Chosen Few picnic since it started, poses Saturday in Jackson Park during the annual event.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Derrick Rice, 57, a Georgia resident who grew up in Chicago, happened to be in the city Saturday and said he couldn’t miss the festival as a former “young guy who’d sneak in” to house parties to watch DJs when he was in his teens.

Rice said not much has changed since house music’s early days. He said he felt the same energy at Jackson Park that he felt in the garages and basements where he once went for house music shows.

One feeling is different, though, Rice said: House music’s queer community — which was often limited to those underground party spaces — can celebrate the genre much more freely.

“This is not new to anybody out here who’s from Chicago,” Rice said. “This is what we do.”

Still, he said, for people in the LGBTQ+ community “to be able to move from having to go to a garage to party to being wide open at the largest house party in probably the country is a good thing.”

The crowd dances during the Chosen Few Picnic at Jackson Park in the Woodlawn neighborhood, Saturday, July 8, 2023. The Chosen Few Picnic, now one of the biggest House Music festivals in the country, was born out of a group of South Side DJs called “The Chosen Few Disco, Corp.” who played in basements and eventually gathered with family and friends for a reunion that turned into a yearly festival.

The crowd dances after outlasting the rain Saturday at the Chosen Few picnic, which drew fans of house music from around the country.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Dee Jay Alicia, a Chicago house music DJ, attended the festival ahead of her after-party performance at The Loft in Lincoln Park. As she walked through the crowd, people came up to greet and hug her.

“In this community, we’re really tightknit,” she said. “We’re just connected.”

The DJ said she remembered being in the front row at the festival in 2011 and being inspired to push on by DJ Jamie 3:26’s set despite some pushback she’d faced as a young, female DJ.

DJ Jamie 3:26 performs during the Chosen Few Picnic at Jackson Park in the Woodlawn neighborhood, Saturday, July 8, 2023. The Chosen Few Picnic, now one of the biggest House Music festivals in the country, was born out of a group of South Side DJs called “The Chosen Few Disco, Corp.” who played in basements and eventually gathered with family and friends for a reunion that turned into a yearly festival.

DJ Jamie 3:26 performs during the Chosen Few picnic in Jackson Park on Saturday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

“I was standing in front of that stage, not knowing in four years I’d be on that stage,” Alicia said.

In 2016, she took the stage at the festival for the first time — a “dream come true” — and looked out at the people who had helped her get there.

“When I looked out in the audience, it was like a timeline of my evolution in house music,” she said. “I could see the people I became friends with along the way. They were all there to support me and cheer me on. It was unforgettable.”

The crowd dances during the Chosen Few Picnic at Jackson Park in the Woodlawn neighborhood, Saturday, July 8, 2023. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The crowd of house music fans dances during Saturday’s Chosen Few picnic in Jackson Park.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

DJ John Morales performs during the Chosen Few Picnic at Jackson Park in the Woodlawn neighborhood, Saturday, July 8, 2023. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

DJ John Morales performs during Saturday’s Chosen Few picnic.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The crowd dances during the Chosen Few Picnic at Jackson Park in the Woodlawn neighborhood, Saturday, July 8, 2023. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The crowd dances in Jackson Park during the Chosen Few picnic on Saturday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton presents a proclamation to the Chosen Few DJs during the Chosen Few Picnic at Jackson Park in the Woodlawn neighborhood, Saturday, July 8, 2023. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton presents a proclamation to the Chosen Few DJs during the Chosen Few picnic in Jackson Park on Saturday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

DJ Jesse Saunders, a Chosen Few DJ, receives a hug as he gets emotional while reading a proclamation that had been presented by Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton during the Chosen Few Picnic at Jackson Park in the Woodlawn neighborhood, Saturday, July 8, 2023.

DJ Jesse Saunders, a Chosen Few DJ, receives a hug as he gets emotional while reading a proclamation that had been presented by Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton during the Chosen Few picnic.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Attendees walk through smoke during the Chosen Few Picnic at Jackson Park in the Woodlawn neighborhood, Saturday, July 8, 2023. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Attendees walk through smoke from barbecues during the Chosen Few picnic in Jackson Park on Saturday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

People prepare to eat inside a tent during the Chosen Few Picnic at Jackson Park in the Woodlawn neighborhood, Saturday, July 8, 2023. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

People prepare to eat inside a tent during the Chosen Few picnic in Jackson Park.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Joe Sincere from L.A. poses during the Chosen Few Picnic at Jackson Park in the Woodlawn neighborhood, Saturday, July 8, 2023. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Joe Sincere from Los Angeles strikes a pose during the Chosen Few picnic.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

DJ Stan Zeff performs during the Chosen Few Picnic at Jackson Park in the Woodlawn neighborhood, Saturday, July 8, 2023. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

DJ Stan Zeff performs during the Chosen Few picnic.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Donna Shirley and her co-worker Michelle Elliott dance for the camera during the Chosen Few Picnic at Jackson Park in the Woodlawn neighborhood, Saturday, July 8, 2023. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Donna Shirley and her co-worker Michelle Elliott dance for the camera Saturday during the Chosen Few picnic in Jackson Park.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The crowd dances during the Chosen Few Picnic at Jackson Park in the Woodlawn neighborhood, Saturday, July 8, 2023. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The crowd dances to the house music at the Chosen Few Picnic in Jackson Park on Saturday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

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