Birdhouse Festival: What Made Chicago’s Second Year So Special?

Co-written by: Megan Caruso
Featured Photo Credit: Rebecca Hollman

Dirtybird Records is a well-known music label founded and established by “tech funk “ DJ Claude VonStroke – aka The Claude Father. Dirtybird has made a name for itself through bringing together and supporting a long roster of incredible house DJs. Other than VonStroke himself, other featured artists include Justin Martin, Fisher, Billy Kenny, Hannah Wants, Shiba San, and even Chicago native Gene Farris. Dirtybird Campout, a music and camping festival dedicated to all things Dirtybird, occurs annually on the west coast. However, last year, the record label decided to host a smaller-scale event in Chicago for the first time, called Birdhouse Festival. Appropriately held in the place where house music originated, the one-day event featured a stellar lineup. The festival returned this year, in a new location, and brought the sounds of true, underground Chicago house straight to its locals.

Photo Credit: Rebecca Hollman

The Venue

Lakefront Green is a relatively new venue that’s been established this summer. Located right off of Lake Shore Drive at Fullerton Ave and across from the historic Theater on the Lake, this outdoor venue is showing some serious promise for summertime events. Birdhouse Festival followed a number of other React Presents events that were held there earlier this summer, including Night Bass City, Umphrey’s McGee, and Bonobo; Anjunadeep Open Air is being held there later this month as well. It doesn’t come as a surprise to see that this venue has been a hot spot for events this summer.

Not only is Lakefront Green right in the heart of the city, it’s positioned along the edge of the lake front, providing the most incredible views of Lake Michigan with the city’s skyline as a magnificent backdrop. The large grassy area provides plenty of space for food, merchandise, and drink vendors. With a full arcade, a well-stocked lounge, and a birdhouse painting area there was plenty of fun things to do while hanging out by the beach and jamming out to some house music. Because there were a number of activities and lots of amenities, the event never seemed too crowded. I am always wary of sold out shows in general, but this was the second sold out event that I’ve attended at Lakefront Green and I had no issue finding lots of space to hoop and dance my heart out.

The only recurring issue that I couldn’t really look past was the sound. For some reason, both events I’ve been to at this particular venue were much too quiet. You know if you can hear someone speaking normally over the music, the music has got to be turned up a few notches. Despite that, the various activities and general giddiness of the crowd made for a very laid back atmosphere. The chill beach day vibes paired perfectly with the amazing music bumping from the speakers.   

Photo Credit: Rebecca Hollman

The Music 

Last year, Claude VonStroke surprised us all when he invited local Chicago house legend Derrick Carter onstage to play b2b for the second half of his set. A few weeks ago, Claude announced another house legend that would join him for the same, Paul Johnson. Less than 24 hours before gates opened, Claude dropped another surprise and added Chicago local Inphinity to kick the day off at 2:00PM in the blazing sunshine. The more the merrier, am I right?

By the time 4:00PM rolled around, during Chambray vs. DJ Deeon, only one man was to be seen spinning on the decks. Claude, who made an appearance bopping and bouncing in the background during every set, came on the mic to announce the DJ Deeon was too sick to play and regrettably had to cancel. He sent out love for a speedy recovery and asked the crowd to keep him in their thoughts. Even though DJ Deeon would have added an extra ghetto-house flair to Chambray’s dance floor beats, he still had the crowd captivated for over an hour.

Photo Credit: Rebecca Hollman

Part of Claude’s surprise announcement of Paul Johnson was left out before the schedule was released. The original announcement said Johnson would join him during an extended Claude set, but the flier said otherwise: Claude played two different sets during the day. One b2b with Paul Johnson at 6:00PM and a second headlining set to close out the fest near 9:00PM. Two doses of Claude had Chicago in a frenzy.

Out of what must be obvious respect for a living legend, Claude’s b2b set with Paul Johnson focused heavily on the latter. During the first half, the beats would shift from Johnson’s retro, dance house to Claude’s crispy-clean bouncy beats. But about midway through, Claude stepped back to boogie down with the rest of us as Paul took over for the remainder and broke out his hottest tracks, including chart-topping number 1 Billboard hit, “Get Get Down.” This wasn’t the same “Get Get Down” that was released in ’99, though. Johnson mixed the classic to emphasize the bass in contrast to the constant high hats with a massive display of his years of experience and growth within house music. He was on top in the 90s, and it’s clear he still is. 

Photo Credit: Rebecca Hollman

After that nostalgic set and history lesson on the origins of house, Walker & Royce immediately dropped their specialized brand of dirty, thumping bass. It’s September in Chicago and the sun doesn’t stick around as long anymore, but lights-out is perhaps Walker & Royce’s preferred atmosphere for an optimal, hypnotizing experience. In the dark and in a crowd of nearly all black clothing, this set had an underground club feel out in the moonlight by the lake. 

Claude was everywhere to be found at Birdhouse. He’s known to interact with his fans, especially at his own curated events. If you got in early, you might have seen him taking a spin on the carnival ride, taking pictures with fans or even challenging them to a game of skee-ball. When he wasn’t out in the crowd, he was on stage. No matter where you caught him, he had the biggest grin on his face, and his set was no different.

Claude went out on a limb for his headlining set. Maybe it was because he played twice and jumped at the opportunity to do something a little more experimental with his second set. Where his beats are usually booty-shaking contagious, he instead had long periods of drawn-out, building hooks into dramatic, deep drops. The pace ran wild, slowing down at times and dropping right back into a speedy beat without notice. It was unique and a side of Claude that felt intimate and special, like we were witnessing some of his ideas come to fruition. All in all, Birdhouse was a lesson in the expanse of styles that house music has to offer. 

For more, check out our complete Birdhouse Festival photo gallery by Rebecca Hollman. 

Photo Credit: Rebecca Hollman

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