How long can something so good go unnoticed by the masses? This is a question that can be asked about many things, but in this case, the subject at hand is a not-so-small music festival that takes place annually in Philadelphia.
The annual Roots Picnic music festival has established itself as one of the best festivals in the country, yet it remains one of the most underrated. Curated by legendary Roots drummer Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson and frontman MC Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter, the Roots Picnic has planted its flag as one of the premier stops on the American summer musical festival tour itinerary. Over the last ten years, the best and biggest names have taken the Festival Pier stage, including Erykah Badu, Nas, DMX, Public Enemy, Diplo, De La Soul, and Snoop Dogg. Still, the show doesn’t receive the deserved amount of credit and adulation from festival-goers and critics. With the festival celebrating its milestone tenth year, and after a stand-out 2016 show featuring names like Future, Migos, Blood Orange, Leon Bridges, Anderson.Paak, and a headlining performance by Usher backed by The Roots, many wanted to see if there’d be something special in store to mark the momentous occasion.
This year’s line up featured both legends in the music industry and its rising stars, truly offering something for everyone.The show also featured a smaller “Lifestyle Stage” that included video game tournaments for attendees to enjoy. A highlight was the fashion and cultural panel moderated by Kid Fury and featuring influencers Karen Civil, Scottie Beam, Tyler Blake and designer John Geiger. But the show didn’t start without a hitch as news that Lil’ Wayne, one of the featured acts, had pulled out of the show due to “unfortunate medical issues.” The news of Wayne’s sudden withdrawal from the show definitely left a sour taste for those who were amped to see the New Orleans native rock the stage.
Nonetheless, the people were treated to stand-out performances throughout the afternoon and into the night. The Roots Picnic traditionally does an amazing job showcasing Philly’s homegrown talent, and this year didn’t disappoint. Rising rapper Tunji Ige and rapper/singer PNB Rock came hard. James Michael McMorrow put the crowd in a trance-like state early in the day with his song “Cavalier.” Michael Kiwanuka broke up some of the hip hop heavy tones of the North Stage with his set, starting off with a soulful guitar solo that prompted the crowd to ask for an encore before he was finished performing. Southern rapper Playboi Carti turned the energy back up with cuts from his newest project, including the summer banger “Magnolia.”
Chicago’s own Noname playfully skipped through her performance, bringing the crowd together in close as she recited tracks from her Telefone project. Grammy-winning bassist Thundercat, had the North Stage eating off the strings of his guitar as he aggressively serenaded the fans. Roots frontman Black Thought and Roots resident DJ J Period performed their innovative “Live Mixtape,” which featured performances by rappers Mobb Deep, Fat Joe and super producer Scott Storch. The downfall of that performance was that half of the crowd was waiting impatiently at the South Stage for 21 Savage to arrive, bringing all sorts of confined anarchy and chaos to Festival Pier. Jeezy, who had taken Lil’ Wayne’s now vacant headlining spot, took the Philly crowd down to Atlanta as he performed hit after hit from his tenured career with songs like “Bottom Of The Map,” “Soul Survivor” and “Go Crazy.” Before long, night had fallen over the Philadelphia waterfront, but the party was still heating up.
As the sun set over Festival Pier with the Ben Franklin Bridge towering over the crowd in the background, a crimson light came from the South Stage as Solange Knowles emerged as the festival’s penultimate performance. The crowd seemed to wait with baited breath for the songstress to sing her first note, as her house band slowly started to stir and rile the hum of their individual instruments. As the horn section blared to life, the Houston native sauntered to the front with her background singer and dancers in tow, all seeming to embrace a level of regality as they crept to center stage. As most of the crowd knew all of the words of her highly touted A Seat At The Table album, Solange made it a point to speak to the faithful and long-standing fan group in attendance, touching several places in her discography and weaving through current hits and past moments in song. The Philly crowd all seemed to join as one to sing the hook to “T.O.N.Y.” as they did to “Cranes In The Sky,” but it was her recital of “F.U.B.U,” complete with stabbing horn notes, her nostalgia-inducing rendition of the theme song for the Disney show The Proud Family, and her climaxing performance of “Don’t Touch My Hair” that brought the house down and set the show up for what may be what many event goers would call “the greatest performance they’ll ever see.”
Pharrell Williams was the night’s headlining act, and as big of a musical icon as he has been for more than 20 years, many wondered what direction his performance would take, especially when backed by the talented musical force that is The Roots. As the band took the stage and ?uestlove took his place behind his drum set, the one they call “Skateboard P” emerged. He went on to perform for over 90 minutes of hits from his career, including renditions of songs like Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” and 702’s “I Still Love You.” After a brief intermission featuring The Roots providing select Pharrell-produced songs, like “Cot Damn,” “Ride Around Shinin” and “Young Boy,” Pharrell came back to the stage, and the surprises came with him. Pusha T shocked the crowd with his verses on “What Happened To That Boy?,” “Mr. Me Too,” and “Grindin.” Early Pharrell collaborator N.O.R.E. made a surprise appearance to perform his classics “Super Thug” and “Nothin,” but seemed to forget his own lyrics in a cringe-worthy moment. Moving on, Pharrell went on to perform several more hits from his N*E*R*D days as he was joined on stage by fellow group member Shae to perform “She Wants To Move,” “Lapdance” and “Rock Star.” The crowd was shocked when 90’s R&B trio SWV appeared to perform their classics “Use Your Heart” and “Be Right Here.” After a heartfelt rendition of his chart-topping single “Happy,” it seemed the performance ended as soon as it started, as thousands came together to give Pharrell a standing ovation.
The Roots Picnic is proof that, when it comes to music festivals, bigger isn’t always better. Fans both in Philly and across the country know when they step foot in the 215 and in Festival Pier, they’re in for one hell of a show. So let the masses wait—for now. We want to keep this treasure to ourselves just a little bit longer.