Black Widow Sits down with the Team Behind the Summer House Series at Pier 31!
There are moments when you know it’s officially #SummertimeChi The Summer House Series at Pier 31 is definitely one of them. People pack the Pier 31 cafe each and every Thursday after work to enjoy great music, positive people and the warm breeze against the beautiful Chicago Skyline. I had a chance to sit down with the team behind the Summer House Series, Promoters Ronda Flowers and Robert “Koko” Walker, DJ Nick Non-Stop and DJ Torin Edmond to talk about Chicago Summers, the vision behind the Summer House Series and how they love to host one of the premier summer events in the City.
Black Widow: Can you each give me a little background of your history in the Chicago Music Scene specifically, the Chicago House Music Scene?
Ronda Flowers (Promoter, RFK Promotions): I’ve been promoting since 1989, starting at the Edge of the Looking Glass. Primarily on the Northside of Chicago until about 2003 or 2004. I partnered with Koko 16 years ago. Prior to that, I had another promotions company called, Timeless Productions with my partner, Charles Matlock. I was also the ambassador for Moet, Courvoisier, and Tanqueray which opened a lot of doors to the clubs on the Southside. RFK Promotions does The Summer House Series at the Pier, I Live For Wednesdays at Renaissance Bronzeville, the House Club Tour and a bunch of other events. We’ve been doing a lot around the city. We’ve worked with DJs all around the city over the years. I’ve been doing this for over 30 years.
Nick Non-Stop (DJ, Owner-We Jam Academy): I’m Nick Nicholson also known as DJ Nick Non-Stop. I started around 1983 while in high school. I went to Mendel and was DJing some of the Mendel parties, The Bi-level. I produced the ORIGINAL "HouseNation" and the ORIGINAL "Jack My Body" house tracks. Both were imitated and reproduced and put out as if they were the originals in 85/86. That’s a long story!
Black Widow: Oh wow! I had no idea!
Robert “Koko” Walker (DJ, Owner-Koko’s Music Room, Promoter-RFK Promotions): I was there too when the confession came out! If you need a witness, I was there!!!
Nick Non-Stop: The culprit will remain nameless. I was young and didn’t know the legal aspects of music. I was just a DJ playing around with music and sampling. I had no idea it would still be relevant. That’s my digital footprint when it comes to the house community.
Black Widow: It seems there was a lot of that going around back then. I’ve heard about it in various documentaries.
Nick Non-Stop: it was and it was one particular person who was notorious for stealing other people’s music…but getting back to your question, I ran into Ronda and Koko when they were doing the Dating Game on Wednesdays. Dave Sabat introduced us. I was a pest. I introduced myself to Ronda and gave her my CD.
Ronda Flowers: Was I nice about it?
Nick Non-Stop: Ummm…you took my CD and put it in your bra so I think that was a good thing! She didn’t throw it away so I guess that was a good thing!
Black Widow: That’s a safe space! Laughter
Nick Non-Stop: I kept coming back and reintroducing myself. I was persistent and they eventually gave me a shot. We’ve been running ever since.
Black Widow: You also have the DJ Academy right?
Nick Non-Stop: Yes! We have the academy that focuses on kids but we also have adults as well. We will be doing a mentoring program on the west side. We are taking 20 at risk youth and putting them through an 8 week DJ apprentice program at no cost to them. We are going to teach them the art of DJing and how to set up a mobile DJ business. We start that in June.
Black Widow: I love this! People are always talking about transferring this knowledge to the next generation and this is a prime example of what Chicago DJs and artists are doing to give back.
Torin Edmond (DJ/Producer): I started DJing in the 80s. In the mid-90s, I worked with Steve Hurley and caught the bug on music production. Working with him gave me the opportunity to work behind the board and work with big artists. I did a remix for Janet Jackson for the song, “Runaway” on “Design of a Decade” album. It was me, Kelly G, Steve Maestro all in the studio. From there, I DJ’d all around the city and I used to run into Ronda all the time. I’ve known Ronda since the early 90s. Around 99/2000, I joined Deep House Page as an administrator and eventually took it over with a partner when the original owner left. We worked with all the promoters in the city and threw Deep House Page parties in Chicago, NY, and NJ. I linked back up with Ronda when they started the parties at Chant. That’s when we all really got to know each other and we’ve been working with each other ever since.
Robert “Koko” Walker: Well I’m the new kid on the block. I wasn’t there in the 80s!
All: Collective Boo’s and Sighs!!!
Robert “Koko” Walker: My mom and I had a speakeasy called the Loft Lounge and a friend of ours introduced me to Ronda. I don’t think we liked each other the first time we met. [Laughter] but we eventually met again and said let’s give this a shot. Fast forward over 15 years, we are still working together. We just focus on supplying great nightlife. I’m more behind the scenes and work with putting the production together. In addition to promotions with RFK, I also DJ and I’m a sound engineer that supplies many setups for other events happening around the city with my sound business, Koko’s Music Room.
Black Widow: What made you decide to take it outdoors and have house music at the Pier and the Beach?
Ronda Flowers: Koko and I were doing parties at the Dating game when we were asked to do a Wednesday by the new owners at the beach. They felt we were known for our Wednesday night events BUT 12 years ago before they got the beach, we were already at the beach. So this is nothing new…
Robert “Koko” Walker: before there was even a deck! We were already at the beach.
Ronda Flowers: We were at 31st then 39th, and then we got the call to come back to 31st with Nikki Hayes and Kim Williams as the new owners at Pier 31.
Robert “Koko” Walker: Yeah we started the beach first over a decade ago. I knew it was going to work because the first time we did the party we had 20 people and it was raining! I look at Ronda and said, “it can only go up from here"!
Black Widow: What were some of the challenges in having an outdoor event?
Ronda Flowers: The Weather
Robert “Koko” Walker: After the event…we are out cleaning up garbage. It’s hard because having all of that trash is the quickest way to get shut down. You know we are all grown; it shouldn’t be that difficult to pick up after yourself. Find a garbage can and put the stuff in there. You help us and you help us to protect the event.
Ronda Flowers: Yeah it’s a challenge because people want to bring their own food and alcohol too instead of patronizing the business, which is something we really push as well.
Nick Non-Stop: Yeah it’s nothing to buy a beer or some fries.
Ronda Flowers: The reality is if the business can’t afford to pay us then we are gone. No one can do events for free. The event ends if we don’t have patrons supporting the venue.
Black Widow: That subject came up at the recent Silver Room/Chosen Few Discussion, this idea of us pouring into events that give something to us. You can’t get something for nothing all of the time.
Ronda Flowers: People assume events should always stay free. The Taste of Chicago used to be free, Navy Pier used to be free, the Chosen Few used to be free and the list goes on…we aren’t used to paying unless it’s lollapalooza and others. It’s really unfortunate. Buying a drink or a meal goes a long way in keeping this event going!
Black Widow: When did you guys form this team and how did you come up with the name, “Summer House Series”?
Nick Non-Stop: Yeah I think we joined with RFK 3 or 4 years ago?
Torin Edmond: Yep…about 3 or 4 years ago. The Name Summer House Series came about after a brainstorming session. We kept going back and forth until it sounded right. We wanted it to sound official! We knew we wanted summer because it was summer time. We knew we wanted house because it was a house music event and it was a weekly series so the name just came together.
Black Widow: As a team, do you play different roles in the planning and execution of the event?
All: Collective Laughter
Nick Non-Stop: We have undocumented roles! Laughter
Robert “Koko” Walker: GREAT Question! Laughter
Nick Non-Stop: We all work together and tap into our strengths. We all promote on our various networks. Collective promoting has been the key to the success of this event along with word of mouth.
Ronda Flowers: The word of mouth goes along way because of the production. If it wasn’t a great production no one would have anything to talk about.
Torin Edmond: It’s diverse now to; it’s not just southsiders now. We have people who come from all across the city.
Black Widow: When you talk about great production, what does that entail?
Ronda Flowers: Sound, lights, talent, hospitality…
Torin Edmond: Quality, the entertainment, the planning…all of it from beginning to end… its all quality
Robert “Koko” Walker: The quality of the people too.
Black Widow: So what sets the Summer House Series apart from other outdoor events happening in the city?
Robert “Koko” Walker: Great Question!! You can’t beat outdoors in the summertime. Everyone loves to be outside and what better location than the beach?
Ronda Flowers: There are others? [Laughter]
Nick Non-Stop: Ours is consistent, it’s every Thursday after work.
Ronda Flowers: I think what makes our event special is that it is after work. You get the sunlight and the moonlight.
Nick Non-Stop: … and you are home by 10:30! Laughter…folks gotta go to work in the morning.
Ronda Flowers: I have to say the skyline at night in the background is just amazing. It gives it a different feel and vibe.
Robert “Koko” Walker: It’s Thursday after work, its adult. It’s custom to our clientele. It’s for grown folk.
Torin Edmond: I think that’s important too. Our clientele is urban, professional, grown folks. When you think about our crowd and networks, the audiences that we play for historically are people who know how to have a good time without tearing stuff up. There are no incidences. People know we are going to have quality DJs who bring quality people.
Black Widow: So how do you manage that? It’s such a popular event. How do you decide who’s playing each week with you guys?
Nick Non-Stop: We each have a week.
Robert “Koko” Walker: Yeah, if it’s your week, you get to pick your guest!
Black Widow: That’s very democratic! Laughter
Ronda Flowers: I even get a week too and I share it sometimes!
Torin Edmond: I get calls starting in January asking if they can play with me! It’s tough…
Nick Non-Stop: it’s only so many days/weeks in the summer
Robert “Koko” Walker: and don’t let it rain…you just lost your week!
Black Widow: You rarely see people who partner up where it works seamlessly. I think that also creates a certain vibe and energy from the beginning. It starts with the team.
Robert “Koko” Walker: It’s all a labor of love you know? We just love doing this event and watching people enjoy summertime at the beach.
Ronda Flowers: We have a nice team
Torin Edmond: If it wasn’t working, Ronda would fire us! [Laughter]
Nick Non-Stop: We do this because we truly love it and providing that experience for our people.
Black Widow: It’s something very positive in the city. There are places that grown people can go and not worry about an incident. We need more positive images of what happens in Chicago in the summer.
All: Nods in Agreement
Black Widow: Well thank you for sitting down to talk with me today! I’m looking forward to my summer nights at the pier!
All: Thank you!
The Summer House Series begins Thursday, May 23 at Pier 31 from 5-10pm each and every Thursday. (Weather permitting)
Until next time, See ya on a dance floor