On Thursday, members of The Silver Room and the Chosen Few DJs spoke openly and candidly about the costs behind their summer events | Photos by The TRiiBE

It costs real money to throw events. There’s really no way around that, according to members of The Silver Room and the Chosen Few DJs.

On Thursday at The Promontory in Hyde Park, both groups talked openly and candidly about the incredible amounts of time, labor, love and money it takes to host two of the biggest Black Chicago parties of the year.

This July 6 marks the 29th anniversary of the Chosen Few Picnic & Festival, which originally started as an intimate family reunion behind the Museum of Science and Industry. Today, the house music picnic brings about 40,000 people to the South Side’s Jackson Park, according to Block Club Chi.

The Silver Room Sound System Block Party is celebrating its 16th year on July 20. The party got its start in Wicker Park near The Silver Room’s first location at 1442 N. Milwaukee Ave. When owner Eric Williams moved The Silver Room jewelry and apparel shop to 1506 E 53rd St. in Hyde Park, the block party moved with it.

Both events have generated $4 million in revenue since their starts, according to Lumpen radio personality Mario Smith, who moderated Thursday’s conversation.

Williams doesn’t see any of that money. The Silver Room Block Party is free, and most attendees spend their money at vendors inside of the party or at surrounding businesses. Though, when Williams asks local businesses for donations and support, the answer usually is “No.”

“I remember at the old Block Party [in Wicker Park], 7-Eleven would have a line out the door,” Williams said Thursday. “They made tens of thousands of dollars. I asked them to give me $300 or $400. They said, ‘No. Go get sponsors.’ It ain’t that easy.”

One challenge for the Chosen Few DJs is getting people to understand the reason behind their ticket prices. When the house picnic was behind the Museum of Science and Industry, it was free. Once more people started showing up, and they had to move to Jackson Park, expenses increased exponentially. They had to charge attendees for entry.

“We have to set up a fence around that entire park where we have the Chosen Few picnic,” said Alan King, one of Chicago’s original house music djs. “Just to put up the fence, before you think about putting anything inside of that fence, is $20,000. Our expenses annually are hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Thursday’s event served as a kickoff to both group’s July events, and a fundraiser for a new scholarship they’re launching at Kenwood Academy High School. The scholarship is their way of continuing the legacy and traditions of house music and Black culture in Chicago. Read Thursday’s conversation below.

On the costs of throwing the Silver Room Sound System Block Party and Chosen Few Picnic & Festival:

Wayne Williams (Chosen Few DJs): If you have a House party, and you invited 20 people, and 2,000 come to your party, you gon have to buy some more food. You gotta get more bathrooms. You gotta get more food. You gotta get security, and more sound [speakers]. It was free when it was 50 people and 100 people and 250 people [attending the picnic]. But 20,000 people? C’mon now.

Alan King (Chosen Few DJs): I can sit here and go through all the expenses: security, permits and insurance. It’s hundreds and hundreds of bathrooms, and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of tents. [There is] a VIP area with a huge viewing stand that gets constructed and air-conditioned tents and a caterer and food. We have to set up a fence around that entire park where we have the Chosen Few picnic. Just to put up the fence, before you think about putting anything inside of that fence, is $20,000. Our expenses annually are hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Eric Williams (The Silver Room): The first year we did it, it probably cost me $800. We had extension cords from the house. Our generator costs tens of thousands of dollars now. It went from $0 to a whole bunch. Security was my boy. Security now is $30 or $40 an hour [per security guard]. Stages are a whole bunch of money. So the cost is hundreds of thousands of dollars. We technically can’t charge because we’re on the city street. I remember at the old Block Party [in Wicker Park], 7-Eleven would have a line out the door. They made tens of thousands of dollars. I asked them to give me $300 or $400. They said, “No. Go get sponsors.” It ain’t that easy. People always say that.

Ron Trent (The Silver Room): We’ve talked about this for years: the spirit of reciprocity. I don’t understand how you expect anything to grow without putting it back into your own community. I don’t get it. This idea of everything being free is actually what’s destroying our scene. It was an exclusive thing when we were going to underground parties in the 80s. You had to hear about it, but you also had to pay money to keep the lights on [and] to keep things so that it can be an enjoyable experience for you. So why would you expect it to be anything else now? But that’s the problem with our people. We don’t put back into our communities. We want everything for free but we don’t wanna put no energy back into our communities. We sat up and tried to figure out ways to get some of the neighborhood restaurants and things of that nature [to give] us a little money for all the people that we’re bringing into the neighborhood. They won’t even do it, but they make thousands upon thousands of dollars. That’s greed.

Terry Hunter (Chosen Few DJs): I swear to you I would never ever forget this. I had a connection with a major credit card company. I’m not going to say the name. We sent them the very beginnings of the sponsorship deck, and they wanted in. Once I sent them the [actual] deck, they looked at us and said, “We can’t put anything into this. We can’t put any money in this.” And I was, like, “Why not?” They was, like, “First of all, your price point is too low. Probably 1% of your crowd uses our credit card.” And I’m, like, “That’s the reason you should be trying to sponsor this.” They was, like, “No, because I don’t think they really can afford the card.” Our cover at that time, I think, was still $20. They was, like, “We sponsor events that’s $100 or more.”

Mario Smith (Lumpen Radio personality): I want to speak to one thing really quickly about 7-Eleven. This is the honest to God truth. For the one day, in Wicker Park, when the Silver Room Block Party was being held, that one 7-Eleven on the corner made more money in one day than any other 7-Eleven in the region. We’re talking about the Midwest. Why couldn’t they [donate] $500 when they were making tens of thousands of dollars from noon ‘till whenever people left? That speaks more to them than it does to us.

[l to r] Wayne Williams, Alan King and Terry Hunter of the Chosen Few DJs.
On when planning begins for the Silver Room Sound System Block Park and the Chosen Few Picnic & Festival:

Alan King (Chosen Few DJs): I would say after we sleep for about two days. We always have a recap right after and we’re planning for the next year immediately. We’re thinking about things that went well [and] things that didn’t go well.  Early in the year, January-ish, we’re meeting with the park district, police district, fire department [and] all the constituents that are there. Another thing a lot of people don’t see is [that] our event is on Saturday but if you go out to the space starting the Monday before, there are tons of people working full-time to set up that infrastructure and get that event ready for you all to stroll in on Saturday with or without a good attitude. We are paying a lot of money in labor for days and days and days.

Eric Williams (The Silver Room): I try to take a little break. I start thinking about it in August or September. It really starts gearing up and ramping up on Jan. 1 with weekly meetings and planning stuff out and trying to secure equipment because it’s festival season. You gotta get the stuff early because the cost will go up.

[l to r] Ron Trent, Rob McKay and Eric Williams of The Silver Room.
On their biggest mistakes and accomplishments:

Eric Williams (The Silver Room): I honestly can’t say there’s been any huge mistakes that I can really think of. Let’s knock on some wood. I have two favorite times [of that day at the Block Party]. One is the 2 PM to 3 PM. People are jumping rope. The kids are there. It’s not so crowded. The second part of the day is when Ron [Trent] starts playing [his dj set]. I can stand on stage and watch everybody else have a good time. I think the biggest accomplishment is just the fact that we’re doing it. [It’s been] 16 years.

Alan King (Chosen Few DJs): It’s certainly the 29 years [of doing the picnic]. When this thing got to a certain point, it was almost out of our control. We had been financing it out of our own pockets. That way wasn’t ‘gon continue to work. We really had a decision to make at a certain point about 10 years ago. Do we just pack it in and say it was a good run, or do these kids from the South Side figure out how the hell do we put on a world class music festival? And we decided we ‘gon try to figure out how to put on a world class music festival. I think that’s what we do. That’s what I’m proud of.

Terry Hunter (Chosen Few DJs): There’s two things that I’m proud of. One is that the event is being recognized across the world. I love the fact that we can go to other countries and people say, “We gotta come to Chosen Few.” That lets me know that we’re doing a good job. The second one is every year, January or February, everybody goes online and starts talking crazy about the Chosen Few Picnic. [They] get pissed off at us from the price to what djs we hire to what music we play. They talk so bad about us, and I love to see it because them the first ones in line every year. I love it.

Wayne Williams (Chosen Few DJs): For me, I have to say it’s the people. We have a lot of people that come in from out of town. Chicago’s been getting such a bad rap on the news and in the media with the crime. I mean, we have crime, but you would think it is the most dangerous city in the entire planet, right? When the people come from out of town, they say that the people of Chicago — which I know, and I love — are the most kindest and nicest. They’re giving them food and drinks. They help them with hotel rooms. For me, that’s amazing because I know this about our people.

Rob McKay (The Silver Room): I come from a background of stage production and tour production. I worked with the very first Lollapalooza. I’ve done stuff with [rock band] U2. But at the end of the day, when those events are over, people go [home]. At the Block Part, there’s ownership. That’s the proudest moment for the people to have ownership in it. They kind of police what’s going on. You’d be hard pressed to try to set something off during the Block Party because everybody will turn to them and say, “You gon get your ass beat. This is something for everybody. You can’t come in and do that.” So, the ownership of the community is the highlight for me.

Ron Trent (The Silver Room): It’s a beautiful thing to have been able to program and bring world-class talent to the streets of our city. That’s powerful. I don’t think you really realize how powerful that is. What it’s done is help to broaden our scope [and] set a bar for kids of excellence. I’m proud of that. But I think some of our hardest work is in front of us, too. It’s one thing to get there. It’s another thing to stay there. I’m going to keep going back to this. We really need your support, and we need people to be accountable for what they’re getting. Because, once again, free has been a problem. Free is not free. You have no idea what kind of stuff goes on behind the scenes [and] the arguments we’ve had. Eric is my brother. I love him. I’m, like, “Hey, man. How are we going to keep doing this?” So please, when you’re talking to people, and they see all this beautiful stuff going on, let them know [that] it’s a lot of hard work going on behind the scenes.