Try to remember your last picnic. You had everything you needed except for one thing: a soundtrack of some of the best soulful house music to ever be pressed on wax, with thousands of people grinning ear-to-ear while dancing around you. That kind of picnic exists, and it's called House in the Park.
Ramon Rawsoul and Kai Alce started the annual daytime dance fest in the middle of Atlanta's Grant Park in 2005. Like many of Atlanta's residents, both of the festival founders are actually southern transplants; Ramon Rawsoul is a Georgian by way of Chicago and Kai Alcéis one of the many pages in the book of Detroit house history. Alcé is far from new to the scene, but over the last year he's started to pique a lot interest all over the world with his timeless, organic production releasing records on his own label NDATL and Kolour LTD. Ramon has also become a fixture in Atlanta playing parties like The Gathering and holding down club nights all around the city.
Although today's event reels in up to 10,000 dancers, prancers, and house heads alike, the early days were a more intimate affair of just a few hundred people. "I started House in the Park to offer the dance scene in Atlanta an opportunity to see each other and their fellowship during the daytime. I was known for a late night party called The Gathering, and I really wanted to see those people during the day," Rawsoul says of the event's beginnings. The picnic outgrew its original space and made a new home at Grant Park to accommodate the growing community.
What started as a few DJs, two turntables, and a soundsystem has grown into one of the most beloved underground house events in the country. "The vibe is about everybody, young and old. I have seen three generations under one tent," remarks Alcé when asked about House in the Park's diverse yet tightly-knit community. "You can come to House in the Park with no food, no water, and no family; you will leave full, thirst quenched, and with a new family," Rawsoul adds. "In ten years House in the Park has been the scene of blind dates, engagements, family reunions, class reunions, and chance encounters." As its reputation has grown year after year, the event now attracts dancers who fly in as far as China and Malaysia to attend.
Tracy Fortson, a devoted House in the Park attendee, has traveled from New York to Atlanta every year since 2005. "It's truly a mecca for soulful house lovers. It's a musical, spiritual pilgrimage for me— a reunion of my house music family in Atlanta. I've convinced people from New York, New Jersey, DC, and other cities to also travel there as a destination holiday weekend," Tracy says of her experience. "Just the sight of thousands of people gathered all over the Park—black, brown, white, Asian, straight, gay, grandmas, little kids, all dancing, eating, socializing, laughing, and singing together is amazing."
House music was created for the weirdoes and brought people from all walks of life to interact, harmoniously, on the dance-floor. In the 70s and 80s there was a strong sense of community on the dance-floor in nightclubs, and Alcé and Rawsoul recall that with House in the Park. "It's about a feeling of happiness from those that attend, and it really rejuvenates people's soul and well-being. A reminder that everything's OK."
There's even a bit of a silent rivalry between the DJs at House in the Park with each artist trying to take the party to the next level, one-upping whoever was on last. The event has never focused on bringing in superstar talent, though there are always some heavyweight DJ's like Tony Humphries or Moodymann playing a club that weekend, instead having the residents Alcé, Rawsoul, Salah Ananse, and DJ Kemit play together year after year.
Rawsoul recalls one of his favorite moments from House in the Park, "it was probably year seven when it started to pour down rain and no one left. People were literally dancing in the rain, in the mud. It was like the cave scene in the movie The Matrix when they find out the machines are coming and they are going to war." A war between the body movers and the booming sounds of that four-on-the-floor kick.
Self-proclamied house-head Liia Smith now calls Atlanta home though in the early 90's Smith could be found holding down some of New York's best clubs, but when she talks about her years spent attending House in the Park there's a warm blanket of appreciation draped around her words, "I will never ever forget this specific moment from House in the Park number three when Kai played Kenny Bobien's 'I Shall Not Be Moved,' WOW. I swear to God I still get goose bumps. Something came over each and every single one of us, everyone was dancing in unison to the same rhythm, all of us singing the lyrics together." Smith has never missed a House in the Park since she moved to the southern city.
House in the Park is a representation of the budding house culture in Atlanta; a developing city unified by its people colliding into one another based on a shared interest or passion. It's not about what's hot, it's about what's house, and house is a feeling ya'll.