Today, the Silver Room Block Party is a massive event in Hyde Park: Tens of thousands of people gather to dance, eat, shop and celebrate. But Silver Room owner Eric Williams said the first event, which he staged in an alley next to his eclectic Wicker Park jewelry store in 1997, wasn’t really big enough to fairly call a block party.
“It was more of a customer appreciation party, honestly, is what it really was,” Williams said. “I had been open for about four years, and in that time, I met all of these interesting people from different parts of the music industry. And so I’m like, it’ll be kind of cool to have an event that really features my customers in some ways. I’m in my 20s. Wicker Park was very vibrant, very diverse. I had no money. I didn’t know what I was doing.”
Williams said he had been trying to get city festivals to include more Black and Brown acts in their lineups without much luck.
“They just always had some reason to say no,” Williams said. “And I’m like, you know what, I’m not gonna keep begging them. I’ll just start it myself. I called up some friends, some customers. ‘Oh, what do you do?’ ‘I paint?’ ‘OK, cool.’ I went to Home Depot, got some extension cords. I ran a cord from my house upstairs down to the alley, and that powered the entire block party. The first 10 years we had no vendors, we had no security, no nothing. Those first ones were great. They were magical because it was just so pure.”
The small size of the event also meant Williams could foot the bill without too much trouble.
“My thought process was: OK, our store can be a little bit busier. That can help pay for this block party that costs 400 bucks,” he said.
Over the years, the event outgrew its alley, and Williams said he continued to absorb much of the cost himself. In 2015, when the Silver Room and the block party moved to the heart of Hyde Park, the event took on an even bigger profile — and expense.
“When we moved down here is when it really escalated, and it just became this huge, huge ordeal,” Williams said. “Now it’s not 100 people, it’s 40,000 people. You go from 400 bucks to over a million dollars. It’s a little bit different.”
The event remained free to attend until the 2022 festival, which was ticketed. But now as the owner of multiple businesses, Williams said it’s tough to continue taking on the labor and cost that goes into making the party happen.
“I don’t think that the average person understands how much time, resources, money is involved in creating an event like this,” Williams said. “It takes almost a year, basically. And we don’t have a team of 100 people. It’s me and three or four friends.”
Williams said that’s a big part of why the 18th year of the Silver Room Sound System Block Party will be its last.
“I think it’s time,” Williams said. “Sometimes things need to end. And I’m happy it’s been a great 18-year run and had an impact on so many people, so many artists. People are really sad about it, you know. And to me, it’s not a time to be sad. It’s a celebration. I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to dancing. I’m looking forward to seeing some old friends. People are like, what are you going to do? I’m like, I have like, eight jobs. So, yeah, I’m good. I’m good.”
Even though this will be the last Silver Room Sound System Block Party, Williams said he’s continuing to keep the party fresh. For one thing, the party will last two days this year: It runs July 29-30 at Oakwood Beach. He also added a July 14-15 film festival, screening 35 films by local filmmakers. Tickets for the block party and film festival can be purchased at the event’s website.
Find the full lineup of artists scheduled to perform and a schedule of events for the two-day block party here.
Note: This article was updated to reflect the film festival runs both July 14 and 15. This article was originally published July 8, 2023.