After a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Silver Room Sound System Block Party returned for its 17th year this past weekend, bringing much-needed Black joy and well-missed happy vibes to the beloved summertime Chi.

In talking to partygoers and coordinators, the consensus was one of excitement; everyone was happy to have back a space to simply be Black and in community with other Black folks.

“It’s just beautiful, Black, melanated bodies having a good time for the sake of having a good time,” said Khari B., who hosted the Cityscape stage at this year’s block party. He’s a local artist and the founder and managing director of Discopoetry. He’s also known for throwing one of the city’s largest Afrocentric, BDSM-themed body-positive parties, called the Debauchery Ball.

“I knew this would come back because this is necessary. This vibe is necessary,” Khari B. said.

Christian Johnson, who goes by the stage name BucketHat, was at the block party on Saturday helping out at the kid’s stage, which his sister, Candice Washington, organized. He then took the stage on Sunday to perform. As an artist who is continuously releasing new music, most recently his single “Bond,” and performing at open mics at venues such as the Silver Room, he wanted to emphasize how special it is for Black artists in Chicago to have this space to share their work. 

“The energy is different when you just look out and see a bunch of Black faces. It feels like everybody is family, y’know?” he said. “Being Black and seeing all Black faces just gives you a different level of confidence when you perform. Seeing a ton of Black faces is like seeing myself, it’s like looking in a mirror.” 

This year, Silver Room owner Eric Williams moved his cherished neighborhood tradition from Hyde Park’s 53rd Street to Oakwood Beach to accommodate growing crowds. For the first time, he switched gears from the Block Party being a free event to a ticketed one; with prices ranging from $30 to $90 for adults and free for children ages 13 and younger.

Photo by Tyger Ligon for The TRiiBE ®

Some attendees noted that they felt a difference in the atmosphere of the event this year, saying it felt more like a festival than a block party. 

When asked to share what he felt was the most memorable aspect of past block parties, Johnson said, “what I enjoyed most about it was that it was on a street. It felt like a neighborhood block party; my mom used to throw neighborhood block parties all the time and the old block parties felt just like that. Everyone was together and it felt more homey.” 

He added that the large crowd size on the roomier Oakwood Beach offered fewer opportunities for the spontaneous connections that typically happen at neighborhood block parties or even when the Silver Room event was held on 53rd Street.

Others voiced their relief at the change in venue. With Covid-19 cases continuing to rise and a renewed unease and distrust of the safety of public spaces as a result of recent instances of mass shootings across the country, the prospect of attending this block party seemed too risky for some before the venue changed. 

“It’s unimaginable now post-pandemic to think about how tight that space was and I don’t think it was anywhere near as hospitable as this space is,” Silver Room assistant store manager Robert Rone said about the previous 53rd Street location versus the new Oakwood Beach location. The Block Party was held in Hyde Park from 2016 to 2019.

“I really like the atmosphere of the open space on the beach,” he added.

Rone said he couldn’t believe Williams had thrown this event for free for so many years. He’s previously attended the Block Party as a patron. This time around, as a Silver Room employee, he coordinated with the printers for t-shirts and fielded questions from attendees. He now has a newfound appreciation for the work it takes to put on the Silver Room Block Party.

Back in 2002, when Williams started the event at its first location in Wicker Park, it cost about $800 to finance it. Today, it costs tens of thousands of dollars for a single generator at an event that now needs an average of 30.

Rone said it only made sense that Williams altered the event to accommodate growing demand and crowds. He added that while he loved the “communal atmosphere on 53rd, it was super hard to be shoulder-to-shoulder.”

WHO ALL WAS THERE?

The two-day Silver Room Block Party had a total of six stages spread throughout Oakwood Beach. Additionally, there were at least three dozen vendors selling everything from clothing to jewelry. 

Food vendors included big pizza slices from Bacci, Chicago’s wings and mild sauce staple from Harold’s Chicken, jerk options from FH Jerk, pineapple bowls from Soul Kantina and vegan lobster mac and cheese from MeetStop by Ste Martaen.

One of the stages, appropriately named the Silver Room Beach Stage, was set right on the sand, utilizing the water and Chicago skyline as the perfect backdrop. This stage was the perfect setting for a memorable performance, and there were at least two of them on Saturday.

Around 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, Chicago-based rap duo Mother Nature took the Beach Stage by storm — no pun intended. They naturally drew a crowd as the soulful powerful rhymes of the female duo rang out from the lakefront. 

Later that day, on the same stage, comedian and actor Hannibal Buress performed under his rap alias Eshu Tune. His rhymes were playfully relatable as he performed a song about finally replacing his teeth with veneers, and one of his favorite hobbies, bowling. A West Side native, he also covered one of his favorite songs while growing up, “Hay” by fellow West Siders Crucial Conflict. 

On the other end at the Cityscape Stage, singer theMIND performed some of his tracks in front of an enthusiastic crowd. Known for features on songs by Jamila Woods, Noname and more, he performed his part on Saba’s track “Sirens” from 2018’s Care For Me album. theMIND also performed some of his solo work, such as 2020’s “Free Trial.” He then brought out his friend and collaborator, FemDot, to share the spotlight with him.

#BlackJoy was PLENTIFUL at Day 1 of the Silver Room Sound System Block Party on Saturday. Everything from good musical performances and food to ballroom culture and ballet were present at the Block Party, which moved from Hyde Park to the roomier Oakwood Beach for the first time this year. THIS IS BLACK CHICAGO. #SummertimeChi at its finest

Despite points of contention with the Block Party’s new format, even the most skeptical attendees were impressed by the intentionality that went into the varying types of activities offered at the beach.

This year’s block party holistically addressed themes of restorative wellness, understanding that it is impossible to go back to a pre-pandemic time and instead offering new paths towards collective joy.

Lululemon, a yoga and athletic wear brand, served as the wellness partner for the festival. On Sunday, Babes Only hosted a mental health talk and meditation, giving Black men a safe space to speak openly about their mental health and the challenges they’ve had with sharing and expressing their feelings and emotions with others. Before jumping into the discussion Brandon Carr, aka the “Hood Yoga Man,” an elementary physical education teacher and yoga instructor, guided the small crowd through a meditation. 

Carr was joined by musical artist and producer Peter CottonTale, and Michael “Muffy” Collins, founder of the Run From Prostate Cancer and the Sky Blue Music Festival. The trio spoke about overcoming trauma, the advice they’d give their younger selves, and how they’ve learned to navigate their feelings healthily. 

“As a Black man, do you feel like it’s tougher to connect with your emotional side, whether it’s in private or in public,” Carr asked. 

Carr answered first, sharing that he recognized at a young age that he was aggressive, but underneath that aggression was sensitivity. 

“I was sensitive to the things that people were saying. I didn’t know how to advocate for myself enough to stand up. So it came out as ‘“yo, who you talking to? I’m about to put hands on you,’’’ Carr said. “I realized that I’m sensitive, and I understand that at this moment, my vulnerability is so powerful because there may be another young Black man out here that feels the same way.”

Peter CottonTale echoed Carr’s thoughts and added that it’s challenging for Black men to put a name to what they’re experiencing. 

“It’s pretty hard for a “Black male to say anything or even know what he’s saying, like, to be educated on how to transcribe how you feel,” he said. 

Collins said he found solace in writing to help him to understand and navigate his feelings. “I always have to write it down first. Notebooks are very powerful for me. It helps me out,” he said. 

Sunday marked the fifth installment of Babes Only mental health talk and meditation that centers on Black men and their experiences, DJ EvieTheCool told The TRiiBE following the event. Babes Only hosted the first installment of the series for men at Boxville Marketplace in October 2021. 

“They don’t have a lot of places where they feel safe or that they feel that is just welcome to talk about their mental health. Some men may have never been in a space to talk about it and feel it might be overwhelming,” Evie said. “It brings comfort to me to know that a group of men are willing and open to talk about their meditation and how they’re feeling.”

On Sunday, we saw folks reconnecting with old friends and neighbors. We caught a glimpse of Chicago celebrities like the famed George’s Music Room owner George Daniels, local historian Shermann “Dilla” Thomas and Chosen Few DJ Wayne Williams. We also saw some dope sets from DJ Bonita Appleblunt, Soulection co-founder Andre Power and our new favs Nappi Hour.

Although Chicago saw some rain on Sunday, it didn’t dampen Day 2 of the Silver Room Block Party. Tucked away toward the back of Oakwood Beach, Afrotrak founder Mike Orie and Nappi Hour’s set was energetic, and dancers came into the crowd and guided the audience through moves as Orie flowed seamlessly through Afrobeat, Dancehall, R&B and Hip-Hop tracks. 

DJ Bonita Appleblunt not only spun on the 1’s and 2’s, but she also joined the crowd and danced alongside them. Her set at the Wicker Park stage incorporated a little bit of everything. Two memorable moments from her set included a house version of Solange’s “Way to the Show” and 702’s “Steelo.” 

The smallWORLD Collective followed Bonita Appleblunt’s set and won us over with their introduction by making it known that Black queer people created house music. The collective, which consists of DJs and hosts, engaged fully with the audience bringing people on stage to dance to Chicago house music staples like Afefe Iku’s “Mirror Dance.” 

We ended the night by taking in Joey Purp’s set at the Cityscape stage. Joey Purp and Thelonious Martin took us on a journey playing mid-2000s juke music, Hip-Hop, and reggae tracks. They also incorporated music from Ghana. During the set, Purp mentioned that he had flown in that day from Ghana and wanted to share sounds and music that inspired him on the trip with us. 

The crowd was live, but Purp’s set ended abruptly. We were told by security to evacuate the beach. We noticed flames near the booth of a food vendor. It’s unclear if anyone was hurt during the fire or what caused it. 

The Silver Room Block Party continues to be a declaration to the world, which expects the worst from Black Chicago, that regardless of common narratives of struggle and communal impoverishment, Black Chicago will always find a way to experience Black joy and thrive. Making the very act of gathering as a community healing.

“This is the Chicago that Chicago should never miss,” said Khari B “There’s nothing like Chicago’s summers, period, but this event and a few others make it like no other.” 

During the two-year hiatus from this summer staple, Khari B. shared that he had never had a doubt that this event would return. 

“This is feeding people- this is feeding this public some energy, some lift that is necessary for their mental well-being, their physical well-being, and for their spiritual well-being… This represents the best of Black Chicago.”

is a 2022 summer intern with The TRiiBE.
is a multimedia producer for The TRiiBE.
is a music correspondent with The TRiiBE.