House music legend Dejae performs "Brighter Days" in front of an enthusiastic crowd at the Chosen Few Picnic July 2. Credit: Jamie Nesbitt Golden/ Block Club Chicago

JACKSON PARK — “The event that house built” marked its triumphant return after a two-year hiatus with a 30th anniversary celebration to remember.

Scores of house music lovers descended onto Jackson Park, 6401 S. Stony Island Ave., for the Chosen Few Picnic Sunday on a perfect summer day, some still holding tickets from last year’s canceled event. For many who had waited to see the DJ collective — Wayne Williams, Jesse Saunders, Tony Hatchett, Andre Hatchett, Alan King, Tony Dunn and Terry Hunter — the event did not disappoint.

Hunter even played his remix of Beyonce’s “Break My Soul,” teasing a possible collaboration with the R&B icon. The legendary DJ told Block Club he had received a call from Beyonce’s manager last week.

“She loves it, but it’s not official just yet so fingers crossed. I feel like it’s going to go through, though,” Hunter said. “Getting that call was unreal.”

The DJ also played a track from his upcoming album, “Imagine No Sound,” featuring fellow local legends Chantay Savage, Common and comedian Deon Cole, who flexed a little lyrical ability of his own, Hunter said.

For many, the picnic was a much needed respite from the world. Though the Chosen Few crew held a number of online events after deciding to postpone the event for two consecutive years due to COVID-19, some say those events couldn’t compare to the feeling of being there in person.

Otto Horton, who has attended the Chosen Few picnic for 20 years, gets his groove on at the July 2 event. Credit: Jamie Nesbitt Golden/Block Club Chicago

WBBM-AM anchor Robin Robinson — herself a Chicago institution — hosted the event, which typically draws over 40,000 attendees each year.

“It’s beautiful. It’s wonderful to be back and see so many people,” said Otto Horton, a 20-year picnic veteran who’d come with family and friends to get his house fix. Horton remembers a time when the gathering was more “family reunion” than “large-scale festival” but loves it all the same.

That reunion feel was apparent as people set up camping chairs, massive tents and portable grills to welcome old colleagues and classmates. Some traveled from as far as Atlanta for the experience of dancing in a crowd of fellow “house heads.”

Music Promotor Sherry Blank and Stylist Rosette Stavrou pose for the camera at the Chosen Few Picnic July 2. Credit: Jamie Nesbitt Golden/Block Club Chicago

Others like Rosette Stavrou, a local stylist, came to see old friends like Alan King spin their turntables in front of a loving, appreciative crowd. 

“It is a blessing. To be here and connect with people and be surrounded by love is truly amazing. It means the world that it’s finally back,” Stavrou said.

Even local politicians made an appearance; Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) weaved through the crowds as Mayor Lori Lightfoot took the stage to say a few words, and Ald. Sophia King (4th) — whose husband Alan is an original Chosen Few member — welcomed attendees back before retreating to the side of the stage to watch the rest of the show.

But it was the performance from Dejae that brought picnickers to their feet. The “Brighter Days” singer was given a heroine’s welcome as she graced the stage for her set to belt out the song that put her and Cajmere on the map 30 years ago.

“It feels so good to be back on stage after being cooped up in the house for so long. Just seeing a sea of people from all different walks of life out there partying together …the atmosphere is so good,” said Dejae, who is scheduled to appear at Stereo Nightclub, 5616 W. Diversey Ave., Friday.

“I have music out all the time but I do a lot of tech house now, a lot of spoken word. But I am working on something vocally.”

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