The 2019 Chosen Few DJs Picnic & House Music Festival | Photo by Morgan Elise Johnson [The TRiiBE]

The Chosen Few DJs tried to hold out hope as long as they could as one Chicago music festival after another made cancellation announcements. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping through the nation, Chosen Few DJ Alan King said they maintained hope that the situation would improve enough to where they could at least postpone their Picnic & House Music Festival to a later date in the fall.

But as the COVID-19 death toll topped 50,000 nationwide on Friday, the Chosen Few DJs decided to do what’s best for the health and safety of their community.

They canceled the in-person event for 2020. Instead, for the first time in its 30-year history, the Chosen Few DJs Picnic & House Music Festival will be a virtual experience.

All DJ sets and performances will be live-streamed online for free on Saturday, July 4.

“We’re disappointed like everybody else. We love the event and we love what it means to people every summer,” King said in a phone interview on Friday afternoon. “It just wasn’t feasible. Obviously, with the pandemic, people’s health and safety was our primary concern.”

The COVID-19 pandemic is presenting a uniquely difficult challenge for the music community. 

“It’s really hitting the music community in general,” King said. “The House music community, whether artists or DJs, when you talk about no parties and clubs being shut down and festivals being shut down, it’s a serious issue.”

According to King, since many house DJs, artists and performers are unable to make money off gigs and tours, they’ve taken to online streaming platforms in an effort to entertain during the pandemic while also bringing in donations.

“A lot of those folks are asking for donations. That’s totally appropriate,” King said. “People should understand that it’s a difficult time for artists and performers.”

King said they had already put deposits down on some of the performers and logistical elements of the picnic. Fortunately, though, they hadn’t invested too much money into the event before the pandemic ramped up in the U.S., King said.

“It’s not the ideal situation, but I think we can manage through,” King said.

The Chosen Few DJs Picnic & House Music Festival is considered a Mecca for thousands of house heads across the world. In 2019, an estimated 40,000 people attended the festival, including newly elected Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and hip-hop artist Chance the Rapper. 

Attendees often describe the Chosen Few DJs Picnic & House Music Festival as a homecoming — with families dancing, singing and grilling all together.

“It’s like a family reunion,” said Latisha Sanders, a 44-year-old Howard University alum who attended the 2019 festival. “I went to a Black college so it’s like homecoming all over again.”

Because of this, King said the decision to transition from an outdoor picnic and music festival in Jackson Park to a virtual experience wasn’t an easy one.

However, it is an opportunity to reach people in new and exciting ways.

“We’re really excited about the opportunity for this virtual festival. We’re going to try to convince people to go out in their backyards, go out on the deck, fire up the barbecue grill,” King said. “We’re not just going to turn on a screen and watch this DJ and that DJ. We’re going to do the best we can virtually to recreate the experience.”

The Chosen Few DJs are offering refunds for ticket holders. But they hope that those who have already purchased the early-bird tickets for the 2020 event will hold on to them for 2021 when the in-person festival returns.

For the 2020 virtual event, the Chosen Few DJs will be accepting donations. They will contribute a portion of the donations to charity.

“I think we’re going to still have fun in July,” King said. “We’ve just got to band together and get through this difficult time and we’re going to have one heck of a celebration next year.”