Forty years ago, a group of DJs on Chicago’s South Side started playing a new type of dance music that eventually became known as house music.
Calling themselves the Chosen Few DJs, their style and creativity has helped define the genre not just in Chicago but around the world.
And since the early 1990s, their talents have been showcased every July 4th weekend at the Chosen Few DJs Picnic and Festival in Jackson Park, drawing tens of thousands of fans.
The picnic is back this year on Saturday, July 6. And it will feature not only the Chosen Few but also headliners like DJ and producer David Morales.
But the festival has humble origins. In its first few years, Chosen Few member Tony Hatchett says, it was really just an extension of his family’s Fourth of July barbecue in Jackson Park.
“It started out [as] just a gathering of friends in the summertime, no one had anything else that they were doing,” Hatchett said. “We decided to bring some turntables and mixers and speakers, and this is what it turned into.”
Almost 30 years later, that gathering of friends has become a Chicago institution, one that showcases an integral part of the city’s musical heritage. And it’s also grown beyond what any of the Chosen Few DJs ever imagined.
“We had no designs whatsoever to have a big music festival with 30,000 or 40,000 people, people just kept coming and coming and coming to our little picnic,” says Alan King, another Chosen Few DJ. “So we had to figure out how to keep it going and not lose that family vibe.”
Unlike most major festivals in Chicago, Chosen Few attendees are allowed to bring chairs, tents and their own food to grill. That unique aspect is one reason, King says, they’ve always held the picnic in Jackson Park.
“We’re not interested in changing the essence of the event,” he says.
But the location is also rooted in the community where the Chosen Few grew up. Above all else, Hatchett says, that’s what keeps them coming back every year.
“Our goal is to always maintain our South Side upbringings, every last one of us is from the South Side, and we want to make sure we keep it fair and respectful for everyone that wants to come,” he said. “Because if they didn’t come, we wouldn’t be doing this.”