The Silver Room Sound System Block Party is calling it quits after its final run this year on July 29-30 at Oakwood Beach. For its founder Eric Williams, producing the annual event is now too expensive to continue, he told The TRiiBE

What started as a modest and free block party in Wicker Park in 2002 had grown to a crowd of more than 40,000 by 2019, four years after its move to Hyde Park’s 53rd Street and Lake Park Avenue. In 2022, Williams moved the block party once again — this time to Oakwood Beach, a larger space to accommodate the growing crowd. And with that move also came more security, limited entry points and ticket prices ranging from $30 for single day passes to $50 for two-day passes.

“These events grew every year because it was a great time,” Williams said. He added that the block party was never about making money, but each year he suffered a substantial personal financial loss to produce the event. Today, the block party costs more than $1 million to produce.

“As a community, if we say we want these things, we have to support it financially,” Williams explained. “Yes, [the block party] used to be free, but it was never free for me. Everyone gets angry when these events end but what did you do to support it?”

The block party’s move to a ticketed event at Oakwood Beach sparked mixed reactions in the community. Many have since longed for a return to its free days in Hyde Park. Last year’s block party featured multiple stages, a vendors marketplace, a children’s stage, a health and wellness pavilion and performances on three different stages. 

However, attendance dropped from around 40,000 in pre-pandemic times to about 15,000 in 2022. 

“I’m sad, but I get it,” local Chicago hip-hop DJ Brian Vaxter said about the block party ending this year. “This was an idea from love and community. It began to lose its meaning after a while.”

Vaxter said he thought the block party wasn’t going to last long after moving from Wicker Park to Hyde Park. But it succeeded, and he listed the first two years in Hyde Park as the best ones for the party. He referred to the block party’s magic as “lightning in a bottle.”

“It’s hard to catch THAT vibe. It’s always been work but it was a labor of love. Seems like now it’s a lot more labor and less love, and I feel like that is a lot of our festivals now,” Vaxter added. “Money, security issues, local talent being angry for not being selected to perform… Nothing has or will be the same as the original Silver Room Block Parties, but we have memories and can hopefully recapture that feeling another day.”

After becoming frustrated with the lack of inclusion of Black artists in other neighborhood festivals, Williams launched the Silver Room Block Party in Wicker Park in 2002. At the time, his store was located at 1442 N. Milwaukee Ave., so he hosted the block party as an extension of his retail store, where the community could celebrate culture and shop. Williams invited friends — who were fellow artists and musicians— to perform, and used electricity from his store and upstairs apartment to power the event.

Photo of Eric Williams, the founder of Silver Room Sound System Block Party
Silver Room Sound System Block Party founder Eric Williams. Photo courtesy of The Silver Room.

“It was a community effort. The idea was that we could come together and create the beauty of art for ourselves,” Williams said. Back then, it cost Williams about $500 to produce the first block party, he said.

“There was no security. We didn’t have any generators. The first block party was in the alley next to the store, and I lived above my store, so I literally had extension cords coming out of my house to support the whole block party,” Williams added

Through word-of-mouth, the annual free event grew fast. When Williams moved south to Hyde Park in 2015, the block party was jam packed on 53rd Street and Lake Park Avenue. By 2019, it cost him upwards of $1 million to produce the free event and 2022’s event cost $1.5 million.

As the block party’s crowd grew each year, Williams was forced to add generators to power it, porta potties, special events permits, security, production equipment, staging and more. And because the block party took place on a public street, Williams couldn’t charge an entry. In Chicago, it is illegal to charge entry fees for a neighborhood festival.

Like similar neighborhood events and festivals, Williams asked for donations from patrons and surrounding businesses; however, that proved fruitless. With few donations and minimal funds from sponsors and vendor fees, Williams questioned how he could keep the event going. 

“I couldn’t see a model to make money and keep it accessible for the community by having low prices,” Williams said.

He even contemplated ending the festival in 2020. Increased expenses, combined with safety issues around crowd control, forced Williams to rethink the block party’s future during the pandemic. 

“It got to a point where it was unsafe. The last year we did it [in Hyde Park], it was hella people there. It was way too many people. And I’m looking at this, like, everybody’s having a good time, but God forbid if something happens where people have to start running. This is not safe,” Williams explained. “I’m looking at this from a liability issue. [Attendees] ain’t looking at it from that issue.”

Moving to Oakwood Beach helped solve the safety issue, but with it being Chicago Park District property, Williams had to pay the city to throw his event there. That’s one of the reasons he started charging an entry fee for the block party.

Williams said the decision to end the Silver Room Block Party is part of a larger issue. Black communities desire quality events such as the block party, Hyde Park Summer Fest and Chosen Few House Picnic & Festival, but supporting these events as they grow and expand requires financial support to keep them in the community and economically sustainable. 

Support by local businesses, vendors and patrons is essential to the survival of these black owned and operated events. 

“I think it will be a loss that people won’t realize until it’s gone,”said La Shanda Simon, who has been going to the block party since 2006.

For 2023, the theme for the Silver Room Block Party is “Love to the World.” Williams said he’s scaling back this year, meaning it will be smaller in size and have two stages instead of three.  

The performance lineup will include Moonchild, Tall Black Guy, Ron Trent, Lady D, Tony Humpries and more. Single-day and weekend passes are available at 

“I want to make it more intimate and remind people that we are here to gather and have fun as a community,” Williams said. “This was never meant to be a festival. It was always supposed to be a block party. It was always about love and community. So, this year’s theme, “Love to the World” is about us bringing it home.”

is a freelance contributor for The TRiiBE.