The Chosen Few Picnic and Festival is a day filled with music and good times. Lovers of house music gather from all around to hear some of the best DJs and performers play. For many, the Chosen Few Picnic is also a reunion; a family reunion, college/high school/fraternity or sorority reunion or just a reunion of friends. Jackson Park is filled with tents for the day. Beyond the VIP tents, resides “Tent City”. These tents are spots for friends to gather to eat, catch up or even rest in between dancing, eating and socializing.
While many are still sleeping or even getting home after Chosen Few Kick-off parties, first responders (tent hosts) are up preparing, packing trucks, cars and Uhauls and getting in line. That’s right; we are up at 3am and in line by 5am. My friend and I have played tent hosts for the past 10 years and have become part of a special family I like to call, “Chosen Few 1st Responders”. We drive up to Jackson Park in the wee hours of the morning and start unloading our trucks, cars and U-Haul’s. It’s a bustle of activity at dawn. Grills, chairs, coolers filled with food, dolly’s carrying furniture and other tent essentials are unloaded and organized. Most of us are regulars who have become friends over the years. We share coffee and donuts and check out each other’s equipment and take notes for next year. Tent hosts are your die-hard Chosen Few Picnic fans. We are there from beginning to end and make sure everyone who stops by our tent has an enjoyable experience but it’s not easy! Playing tent hosts requires lots of organization and planning. I spoke to a few Chosen Few 1st responders and chatted with them about the picnic, why they host and the top essential things a tent host has to have!
CHOSEN FEW 1ST RESPONDERS!
How long have you been hosting a tent at the Chosen Few Picnic?
Joi Basely and her crew!!
Joi Basely: We’ve been hosting for 9 years
William Myles II: I’ve been hosting for 8 Years
Alraynita Coleman: I’ve been hosting for 10 years but for the last three years I’ve hosted with one of my best sister friends.
Kory Dowell: Looong time lol. 10 - 15 yrs easily.
How Many people do you host typically?
Joi: We typically host 50-60 people in our tents every year
William: Eh, approximately 25 throughout the day but round 12 at one time
Alraynita: Usually 10-30 people
Kory: 20-40 ppl typically.
Black Widow: We typically have 20-30 people in our tents.
What’s the earliest you’ve been in line at the picnic?
Alraynita: We have been the 1st in line. We are there anywhere from 3am to 5am.
Black Widow: I think I have a photo of myself first in line one year! LOL! Oh yes, 3am! Lordy…that was a year! LOL!
What’s usually on your menu?
Joi: We have a theme every year and the menu matches our theme. Last year our theme was candy land and we had snow cones and a candy bar. We also had a tribute to Prince where all of our drinks were named after Prince songs.
William: Ribs, chicken, burgers, brats, mac n cheese, potato salad, chips and dip, fruit. Not to mention, vodka, tequila, rum, etc. (plastic containers obviously... ;-))
Alraynita: For the past few years, our menu has been themed. This year our theme is Welcome to Wakanda and we will be doing a play on words.
Kory: Usually its wings, sliders sausages, some kind of veggie, beans. Those are the usual suspects and people often bring a dish.
Black Widow: Yes we have done themed menus for the past few years. We’ve done Mediterranean, Caribbean etc.… We like to carry the theme through the entire tent!
What are the top 3 essential items you have to have for a successful tent?
Joi: Fence, Refreshments (Food & Liquor), Operational tents.
William: Ice, water, and 4 wheels to help get everything out to your tent location. Trying to carry all of those necessities is outrageous.
Alraynita: Love for the culture, otherwise it won’t work, Have your setup comfortable for your guests and plenty of Libations to lighten everyone’s spirit! Get as much as you can on wheels! It’s just easier!
Kory: Ice, forgettables(plates, napkins, cups), water. So much more though.
As much work and preparation involved in the picnic, why do you continue to do it each year?
Joi: We enjoy hanging out in a carefree environment with our family and friends. The atmosphere is so loving and reminds us how Our Chicago used to be. It’s a great day and worth the time and effort.
William: Its tradition. My best friends come in town every year from Cleveland as opposed to going to Essence fest or staying home. We love the experience, meeting new people, and we see so many faces we haven't seen all year. It's like a city-wide reunion where we realize the web of connections everyone has in the city. Also, this is where my wife and I first remember meeting (there's a funny story behind "remember meeting") so it's kind of special that we now host a tent together.
Alraynita: It’s a chance to reconnect with family…OUR HOUSE FAMILY! I look forward to seeing everyone, catching up on old times, meeting new people, taking pictures, getting down on the dance floor and just being embraced by FAMILY. It’s so much love in the park that day!
Kory: My brothers (family and close friends) love hosting. After so many years, we almost have it down to a science lol. Nothing like this anywhere. Great friends, food, drink and bangin music all day!
Black Widow: So many think we are crazy for getting up early and standing in line but I have to say we have formed quite a little community. Every year, the vibe is chill and the energy is positive. The cool thing about being a 1st responder is we are usually setup and ready to enjoy the day as soon as the music starts playing. Tent City is usually a buzz with activity from the moment the gate opens. Everyone is bringing stuff in, setting up tents, getting grills going. We’ve all developed a system to make set up and clean up as easy as possible. You’ll see people walking around checking out other people’s setups and taking pictures and asking questions about where they got some of their stuff. It’s actually a great time!
Black Widow’s Tips & Essential Items for 1st responders
Prep & Pack
The key is to pack as smart as you can.
These are another amazon find! I love these for carrying décor and tableware. They are lightweight but hold a ton of stuff and have easy carrying handles. I usually carry them or put them in my utility cart to transport. They are washable and fold flat which make for easy storage.
I bought this on amazon last year and they were a lifesaver! If you are packing food these are the best. I was able to fit 4 large pans and 2 small pans in my bag last year in one and 10 chaffing dishes and sternos in the other. For $13 it’s worth the price. Meats and such are usually packed in ice in a cooler but everything else packed up in here just perfectly and they fold flat when not in use.
At minimum you need two large coolers. If it’s a group of you acting as tent hosts it shouldn’t be a problem. We have two large coolers, one for beverages and one for food. All food is marinated and prepped beforehand and put in Ziploc bags in the cooler. I suggest ice packs instead of ice because they last longer but you should have ice for beverages as well.
Items that fold
Grills, Tables or any larger items can be bulky when packing the car. If you can find items that fold or collapse use those as they are easier to transport and take of less space!
Travel & Load
Packing and traveling with your festival equipment is priority #1! I have a few staples that keep me organized and that make for easy transport.
Utility Cart/Dolly’s or Push Carts
This is my #1 must-have for the picnic. These are sturdy and can hold quite a bit. I usually put our catering bags, décor and picnic tables & chairs in this cart. It makes for effortless travel. Dolly’s and Push Carts are great for transporting larger items such as grills, large charcoal bags, and the folding tables. These are also space savers. They fold up and usually fit under a table out of sight or you can use them as a marker to secure your space! (Especially since you can’t use tape anymore at the picnic!)
Each year as the gate opens; it never fails to see people’s stuff falling off of carts. Bungee cords secure everything easy transport. Get a nice amount too!!! You can never have too many. Trust me…you don’t want to pack everything up and see it topple over while you are trying to secure a space at the park.
You can’t host a tent without one but I highly suggest an instant tent. Too often I see people fiddling with poles and such trying to figure out how to put up their tents but with an instant tent, it’s takes literally minutes to pop it up. They are perfectly packaged in bags that make for easy transport (some carrying bags are even on wheels, depending on how big your tent is)
We are called the “Windy city for a reason”. Even on a beautiful day, the picnic is still off of the lakefront and sometimes a good lakefront breeze will send your tent flying. Secure your tent with weights or Stakes for added security!
I love these tables for a number of reasons; they are easy to transport, easy to clean and are perfect for outdoor entertaining. We use our tables for food prep and food service. Fold them up and transport them using a dolly or a push cart secured with bungee cords and it’s a breeze!
Black Widow’s Rules for being a guest at a Tent
There are definite rules when a guest at someone’s tent.
Bring ICE and water!!! It’s a long day and ICE and water are the #1 thing tent hosts run out of early!
Ask your hosts if they need you to bring anything. So many times we forget the smallest items trying to make sure we grab all of the big stuff. (Condiments, matches, lighters, paper towels etc.)
Bring a drink to share! After all, your hosts have been cooking all day!!!
Come to the tent with a positive attitude and spirit. Your hosts have literally been up since the break of dawn to make sure you are comfortable during the picnic. Be pleasant!
Speak to everyone in the tent, even if you don’t know them. This is the Chosen Few Picnic where everyone is family. We speak and acknowledge one another. It’s just basic manners!
Are you a "Chosen Few First Responder"? If so, what tips and tricks do you have for fellow tent hosts? I’m looking forward to this year’s Chosen Few Festival and cannot wait to host my friends at our tent. This year, I’ll be looking for fellow “first responders” and covering my early bird attendees! If you see me out there say hello! Invite me to the tent and let’s have a drink. I’ll do the same!
Until next time,
See ya on a dance floor
Coming up Next in our Festival Prep Series: PLANNING THE PERFECT MENU!