29th Chosen Few Picnic attracts thousands to Jackson Park

Kenwood resident and Chosen Few DJ Alan King performs during the Chosen Few DJs Picnic and Festival in Jackson Park, Saturday, July 6, 2019. (Photo by Marc Monaghan)

Staff writer

Thousands of people came to Jackson Park for the Chosen Few Festival & Picnic 2019, where 15 artists performed from morning through nightfall in one of the Hyde Park’s preeminent music festivals.

“There are some people who don’t like the idea of 45,000 people dancing all day,” said emcee Robin Robinson to the overwhelmingly African American audience of a festival that is little-known on the North Side. “They get a little worried about that — dancing to what? They don’t know what house is; they don’t understand the house culture of love.”

House music grew as a more minimal and electronic form of disco, long the domain of LGBTQ and African American music scenes. Hyde Parker Marta Hopkins, who on Saturday was given the “I Love Music” award for her “dedication in building the foundation of Chicago house music,” said she first encountered club music in Atlanta’s gay bars in the mid-1970s, when she was a student at Spelman College. Alan King said on Sunday that he and the other Chosen Few DJs began spreading house music to straight audiences, having been inspired by gay performers like Frankie Knuckles.

The area’s local and state legislators — Alds. Sophia King (4th) and Leslie Hairston (5th), County Commissioner Bill Lowry (3rd), State Reps. Curtis Tarver II (25th) and Kambium Buckner (26th), and State Sen. Robert Peters (13th) — joined her on stage. “There are people, fortunately, who have the fortitude to run for office and, thanks to you, get to be in office that understand a great thing when we see it,” Robinson said.

Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Chicago City Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin, newly appointed Illinois Supreme Court Justice P. Scott Neville, Jr., and Lieutenant Gov. Juliana Stratton then took to the stage; Stratton read a proclamation from Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who declared July 6 the Chosen Few DJs House Day in Illinois.

“It’s a take-over!” Robinson joked, adding that the crowd had no idea how Stratton could “get her dance on” and happily observing the number of female elected officials present.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot arrived a few hours later with County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and became the first Chicago chief executive to address the event, urging concert-goers to “have a great time, be safe and enjoy the music.”

Hopkins was still on Cloud Nine when reached for comment Sunday, calling it a “complete and utter surprise” to have been given the award and “an honor to be recognized in that way.”

When she was back home in Chicago on break from school, Hopkins went to Knuckles’ club, the Warehouse in since-gentrified West Loop (its last syllable gave the music its name), and saw the new style taking form. “There’s this big debate about when house started and when disco dissolved,” she said. “For me, I don’t get into that. I just go by the music and how it makes me feel, and I love a deep bass. What I love about the Chosen Few is that you can feel that bass, and it hits your heart and your spirit.”

King, who performed last, said the performers “are people who are very well-known and very seasoned performers, and once they get up on that stage, they just realize that there’s nothing like the Chosen Few Picnic.”

“There were a lot of tears that were flowing on that stage, from people who perform all over the world, and it just reminds us of how special and unique this event is.” King said the Chosen Few Picnic is distinct from other festivals on the electronic dance music circuit because of its predominantly Black audience and, more importantly, because the “magic” from its beginning as “a small Fourth of July family picnic manages to somehow hang on … despite some-30,000 people now out there” — the families, college friends and high school classmates reuniting for an annual dawn-to-dusk picnic on a field in Jackson Park.