Pride in the Park Chicago Festival: Alesso, The Chainsmokers, Daya, Rebecca Black, Monet X Change, Moore Kismet, The House of Couleé and more
Photography by Bobby Talamine (IG @btalamine) & Tony P (IG @tonypphotos)
Writing by Fiza Javid (IG @xxfizax)
Day One, Grant Park. June 25, 2022
As the weekend approached, no one anticipated that we would wake up to post Roe America. The anger and shock was a catalyst and reminder of precisely what Pride was always meant to represent: unity, acceptance, love and an inherent fight for the freedom to choose, be it your partner or the ability to decide when to have a child. While last year’s festival was a celebration of pride alongside surviving a plague, this year brought on another earth-shaking perspective. Festival goers of the annual Pride in the Park Festival kick-started the weekend to not only celebrate, but to also remind themselves that the celebration itself was now more necessary than ever.
It might seem like an illogical statement. That is no way partying and celebrating could solve anything, but the opposite is true. We are living in a country where there are people in positions of power who want more than anything to silence these prideful celebratory exclamations and to drown them out. Perhaps we are fighting fire with fun.
This message certainly reverberated through the two days, through the voices of artists and political leaders alike. The actual act of protest remained behind a subliminal curtain, ready to be unveiled. The real stars of Pride in the park eagerly prepared behind the actual curtain, ready to excite us all, as we waited with gratitude in our hearts.
Saturday was kicked off with DJ Avi Sic, who played dance/electronic mixes with hits like Britney Spears, house music. A light crowd arrived to get the party started early. The eagerness was up this year, and while last year there was an issue with rain, the rain is merely an afterthought as the drizzle did not dampen the movement.
It was also immediately apparent that House season was kicked into gear. With both Drake and Beyoncé releasing their new album and single, respectively, it is clear that it is being pushed for summer popularity. However, House is truly where the indi artists shine, particularly artists like Spencer Brown.
I caught Bobby jumping on to the stage to capture Spencer Brown where I caught some candid shots. Spencer was effortless and let the music do all the talking, while he held down the beats and projections of overhead shots of landscapes, geometric shapes and ocean clips.
Spencer is known for not only being signed by Avicii, but for his collab with Deadmau5 and Above & Beyond, and this LA native truly set the tone for the future of electronic music.
No one would anticipate such a lax electronic dance session would transition into an electrifying drag show.
Both days were incredibly led by DJ Dom Brown, known for being part of the team that hosted Porn and Chicken, which were Monday night ragers at Chicago’s club Mid.
Shea coulee came out with an announcement, right before Dusty Bahls came out caffeinated with four lovely dancers in silver set outfits. The crowd went absolutely bonkers when they began with the iconic Bring it On performance. The tone was truly set and was incredible throughout.
All hail queen Sasha Love came out with 4 leashed men and brought the provocative touch the show needed, and she performed a slow, distressed jam of Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love” which turned into the real choreography of the original “Crazy in Love''. Sasha’s Beyonce theme was such a joy to witness, with the real, necessary crowd favorite being her ode to “Run the World.” Sasha Love shined with six backup dancers!
“There is no other festival in this park besides Lollapalooza, and We get to hold his park down for Pride!” she said.
The headlining performer was the one and only Monet X Change, who was the season 4 winner of Ru Paul’s Drag Race, and currently in Ru Paul’s All Stars edition.
“I’m gonna werk for Chicago tonight bitch!” she said. Shea coulee and I should have been on the top!” She transitioned into a reggae mix, “I grew up on that shit I love reggae music.”
She spoke about the current issues affecting the country,
“We need to affect change and this is a March” which led to the incredible performance of her song “March.”
“We aren’t asking for charity much too late for formalities.”
This is definitely what Pride is all about.
That was when a “special guest” was called to the stage, aka the leader that should treat us like special guests. As much as there has been a lot of criticism of Lori Lightfoot throughout Chicago in the past year, with many calling her “clout chasing” throughout Twitter, this was truly a moment she did not deserve judgement. She IS the leader to speak for the risk of the Supreme Court attack on LGBTQ+ issues.
Lori Lightfoot came out screaming “Fuck Clarence Thomas! We will fight! Today we have pride but tomorrow we fight! We are a welcoming city who has justice for all, but we are never going backwards! We need to vote, voting matters! Voting is what got us to 2016, and we need to fight to make sure our rights are secured, and our democracy.”
It was the essence of that speech that was followed by Saucy Santana’s drag performance that embodied the energy of the festival. It did not feel like another day, another year in Chicago music. The crowd was still light at this point, but the excitement and activism was still palpable. As much as I want to really exemplify the artists, it is vital that I say that the audience shined equally, and the Dom Brown Members definitely made sure to recognize that. Members of the crowd were then chosen to come on stage for a little twerk session.
Tommy hawk gets the crowd all excited right as day one was prepared to be knocked out of the park by The Chainsmokers and Joel Corry.
Alex and Drew made sure to have their voices heard, declaring “their bodies, their choice!“ and “equality now” which definitely was more validating. It was genuinely great to see powerful artists recognize their voices as voting Americans, fighting for the rights of all Americans, while simultaneously entertaining us. While it might seem like both perspectives should stay separate, and that it further blurs the lines between our leaders and our entertainers, these artists do have a platform to speak and influence as the country continues to make tumultuous turns. It is also nice to hear these words and then feel the tension dissipate with the music.
The Chainsmokers played new music, which will absolutely be the highlight of their year. They talked about how by a sudden shift of luck, their 2019 Lollapalooza performance went from being a 2PM show to a 7PM, which is a major difference in terms of crowd reaction as far as Lolla goes. They attributed their song “Roses” to the Chicago crowd as they were greeted with warm energy. More songs included “Don’t Let Me Down” and “Closer” which were undeniably beautiful.
Joel Corry ended the night with a powerful electronic club punch to all the faces of the audience, and as I had to head out of the festival, I did not miss a beat. I could hear his music all the way into Lake Shore Drive.
Ultimately, the love, the kindness, the gratitude, the all around feeling of unity that does not always show up in everyday life, was what made day one truly memorable. These are unprecedented times, and these are the moments that need to be grasped. Pride exemplified that and more. From the individuals who put the festival together, to the attendees, from all sexualities, genders and backgrounds, are living proof that we are not as divided as they want us to be, and depending on the corners in which we look, we may just find that unity at a local festival that deserves a hell of a lot more love. I don’t doubt that Pride in the Park will continue to grow every year until it hits Lolla levels or more.
Day Two, Grant Park. June 26, 2022
While day one allowed everyone to blow off some steam and come together to showcase Pride and protest on not only the news of the week (unapologetically) Day two began as a more relaxed feel, as festival goers have already had a chance to familiarize themselves with the events attractions. This could also be due to the record numbers at the Pride parade, that were not yet at the festival.
Still, people were taking in all the incredible offerings, which included a FREE hair styling booth provided by Dyson, which would probably cost at least $100 if it was a trip to the salon. There was not an excuse to have a bad hair day here. I decided to give the booth a swing and it was totally worth it. I tames my mane, and ran head forward to the main stage, which I was truly not ready for what was to come.
This name. Moore Kismet. Remember that.
“I am a 17 year old and unapologetically non-binary!”
They were an absolutely powerful force on stage! Their colorful jumpsuit and beaded colorful hair turned your eyes into the nucleus of the stage, and the energy was truly out of this world. Moore was truly the star of the party, and the only artist capable of getting the crowd into headlining energy at the beginning of the day. The energy they brought, and managed to get the few early comers to truly not regret their decisions of being early arrivals and missing the parade. Moore is going to be unstoppable, just you wait. I’m getting Avicii success level vibes here.
Next was Ms. Rebecca Black, and if you were a millenial in 2009, you certainly remember who she is. I had no clue what to expect. I just remember the fact that she not only was declared as having the “worst song in the world” at a mere 13 years old, but also the highest watched video in YouTube history at the time, as the site was in its infancy. I’ll be honest, I had some jokes in my mind about knowing Rebecca black was next, as the video itself changed the course of her career forever. That video was so strange to ears that it was once the center of a lyrical conspiracy claiming it was about the Kennedy assassination.
“Wait….is that REBECCA BLACK?” I heard someone say.
“Everyday is a good fucking day to be gay, am I RIGHT?”
Rebecca black came out as an absolute show stopper. Wearing a skin tight black top with an image of bare breasts, her confidence was absolutely dominating. She danced, she gave the audience fierce eye contact and was truly lost in the moment of her performance,
I never knew she was so dominant and commanding in her persona, and such a natural dancer.
“I want to ask you all a question, how many of you have ever been told you were the bad guy? That you fucked someone up? Don’t lie to me Chicago, don’t LIE.”
Which broke into her next song, “Don’t Lie.” She also sang a cover of La Roux’s “Bulletproof.” Very fitting choice! Rebecca truly is unstoppable, the way she took ownership of the ridicule and transformed into a Hyper-Pop diva that deserves the attention in a more positive light. She’s a Rihanna level pop star at heart, and she danced and beamed with an iconic smile that may be the only aspect of her that reminds us that she is the same individual from that viral video. Her smile is absolutely recognizable, but “Friday” did nothing to showcase who she truly was as a performer. THIS Rebecca black, she should be up there with Lady Gaga.
“Who wants to be my girlfriend?” She said, and also introduced her drummer who is a Chicago native.
We then watched her go into the sidelines as an audio track played through a news story restating what happened with the “Friday” song. I could see her panting in the sidelines, and I kept thinking, “Is she going to do it?”
Well she definitely did, and she remixed it. She ran out into the stage to the Hyper-Pop mix and threw some kicks and dance moves at the audience as she sang through the song, with the new version of the video playing behind her, showing her with a long braided pony-tail, a skin tight black latex suit and brief twerks. Okay, this was the moment she became a queen. The audience adored it and sang along with her, because lets be real, everyone learned the words.
It was the perfect level of excitement to bring on the drag show.
The legendary “House of Coulee” was ready to shine, as the crowd screamed the names of and donned fans for Shea Couleé, Kenzi Couleé, Mimi Marks, Luci Ami, Bambi-Banks Couleé, and Khloe Couleé. Move aside Kardashians!
Shea came out with a full band, colorful hair, green and blue, chained up jumpsuit with the sides cut off. She played her song “Cocky” with fans screaming “We love you Shea!”
“This is my first pride in 3 years, what is the tea? I’m so happy to be back, I’m so happy to be black. Here is the new new.” she said.
She was a true pop princess and not one song was lip sung by her. She sang through everything, danced and was beaming.
Mimi Marks came out in a draping white gown that unveiled a shining fitted shimmer gown, and another leotard underneath, with backup dancers. Her heartfelt performance was enough to bring anyone to tears of joy.
“10s across the board!” Dom stated from the side. Bringing all the Pose fans to their invisible seats.
Kenzi Couleé went full Gaga as she opened with Bad Romance, and to add to the talented house, she came out with a violin! She played through the songs beautifully on violin as the track played above.
I had a moment to check out Circuit Mom dancing their hearts out before Daya came on.
Daya, known for her hits alongside being the iconic Chainsmokers “Don’t Let Me Down” voice of her own song, was the perfect pre-headline the day after The Chainsmokers. She sang her hits “Hide Away” and “Don’t Let Me Down” but also unveiled a new song coming out on Wednesday July 6th entitled, “Love You When You Are Gone,” which is definitely one to look out for.
“Are you ready for the gayest song I’ve ever written?” before performing “Bad Girl.”
She took a moment, post song, to give a speech on the Roe decision and her experience of coming out:
“It’s hard to be American or proud to be an American, when they don’t seem to respect us as women, queer women, trans women. It’s hard not to feel powerless but we need to give ourselves permission to feel those feelings, but we don’t need to feel completely powerless. This community is embracing and warm. I experienced that when I came out a few years ago. It’s been the best family and community since. What we have they can’t take away from us, it’s what they don’t have, it's what we have. It’s what we will always have as long as we support each other and build one another up. I am committed to that and I hope you are too. Let’s me louder than ever and let’s me stronger than ever, and let’s get these old fucks out of the office. Abort the court.”
She ended her performance carrying a Pride flag and was near tears embracing the crowd. Daya, you are a true gem.
After her performance there was a beautiful video tribute to Richard Pfeiffer and Tim Fry, two notable historical figures in Chicago’s Gay History. Dusty called to the audience to rejoice Tim, who was in the audience and supported Richard for 40 years when he had cancer. It was a perfect note to remind the audience just how far the Pride celebration has come and to honor the history that often is left invisible.
The night closed out with Alesso, who brought in a bass heavy jam session that had the audience reverberating. The pyro was hot and the set was hotter. He kept a space theme going as it felt like a very Sci-Fi, EDM show with intense drops. From songs like “Heroes” to “Falling” with imagery of two genderless human beings kissing, it was a chef’s kiss to the end of Pride in the Park Chicago, 2022.
The audience walked out overjoyed into a dark reality as there were religious protestors greeting them, attempting to start fights. That did not matter, and they were brushed off. They can not and will not take the liberties away from these music loving, and honorable individuals. Pride in the Park needs to keep growing, and Chicago Pride is here to stay.
Until next year, with endless gratitude and love, Fiza Javid - JBTV Music Television.