Pioneering DJ/producer Jesse Saunders’ Pure House Music Festival brings the house back home

Some of the biggest headliners on the Strip are billed as “house” DJs, yet play a combination of essentially Top 40 remixes with a 4/4 beat, or some other variations on the theme. Longtime house fans are up in arms in the Twittersphere over the direction the genre has taken, often debating: What is true house music? One of the genre’s recognized originators, Jesse Saunders, hopes to appease them—and to enlighten others—with the Pure House Music Festival on Sept. 29 at the Clark County Amphitheater.

Chicago native Saunders’ 1984 record On & On (co-written with Vince Lawrence) is widely credited as being the first actual house record manufactured and sold to the public. His hometown—also house music’s hometown—honored his contributions by naming a day after him. Saunders now calls Las Vegas his home, and has a fervent desire to cultivate the growing electronic-dance-music scene.

“My biggest problem with where house music is in Vegas, is that it’s really not house,” Saunders says. “What they’re calling ‘house’ and what’s really house are two totally different things. This market is about commercialism. It’s not about the music, unfortunately, which is why I’m trying to do this event. We need the cultural aspect. My goal for this is not so much to make money, but to break even and for everybody to have a great time and be educated.”

The concept of the Pure House Music Festival draws from the House Music Reunion Picnic that Saunders and The Chosen Few DJs crew established more than 20 years ago and which grew organically from a few hundred to tens of thousands of attendees. Saunders hopes to ignite that kind spark in Las Vegas.

“It’s such a warm and inviting experience, everybody gets along, it’s amazing,” Saunders says. “You can bring the kids out, have a good time. The whole idea of ‘pure house’ is exactly what the title states: going back to that understanding about what house music is really all about and not concentrating on the 50 million different styles. We go back to the roots, we bring in the people who were part of the foundation, and we put some people on who are from the newer school whom we feel carry on the essence of what it’s truly about.”

But the Pure House Music Festival isn’t just about the DJs, though Saunders will spin along with legends Terry Hunter, David Harness, Wayne Williams, plus local house music champion Keith Evan, and more.

“I’m making it more about the live performance, as opposed to the DJ,” Saunders says. “I showcase the people that are singing the songs because the producers and DJs are the ones that get the notoriety these days—which is really weird because when I first started it was the opposite.” No doubt most clubbers are familiar with headliner CeCe Peniston thanks to her club hit “Finally” that’s still in remix rotation today. Also scheduled to perform are D Train, Lisa Shaw, Michelle Weeks, Michael Procter, Lidell Townsell and the Groove Junkies’ Evan Landes featuring Solara.

A contest for an additional DJ slot is also under way with the finals at Insert Coin(s) on Sept. 23.

The $15 general admission pre-sale tickets are already sold out. A limited number of $20 tickets are still available online (or $30 at the door), and a portion of proceeds will be donated to music and arts education. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit

Originally published in Vegas Seven.