Being no stranger to the annual Roots Picnic held on Festival Pier in Philadelphia, I was beyond excited to hear The Roots were bringing their legendary picnic to NYC. While the blazing hot sun was missing from this fall fest, cloudy grey skies and the looming threat of rain did little to keep fans away. The promise of a once in a lifetime collaboration between The Roots. D’Angelo and John Mayer saw Day 1 of the fest sold out months ahead of time, and would prove to be one of the many highlights.
Starting the fest however, was DJ Swizzymack, setting the tone early in the day with upbeat rhythms and crowd-pleasing beats. Tish Hyman’s vocals lured the crowd over to the 6th avenue stage for some early R&B +HipHop vibes. The Brooklyn native’s voice portrayed past struggles but still helped uplift and maintain the positive atmosphere. Oakland band Smshng Hrts settled into their set next, offering funk-influenced experimental music to the masses.
Then the festival kicked into a higher gear with Philly rapper Chill Moody. His set was one of the early high points, taking everyone to new levels with his seamless delivery and head knocking beats. I made sure to jot his name down to look up for later. Emily Wells was also a one-woman tour de force, employing loop pedals, violin and octave spanning voice that mesmerized the crowd for the entirety of her set. String-based duet Chargaux started their set with an all-instrumental selection that surprisingly fit in well with the vibe of the day. Their set was upbeat and interesting despite the delicate nature of their instruments.
The Jungle Brothers rocked the stage like none other –providing classic 90’s hip-hop and a level of showmanship that was fitting for such seasoned veterans. The sea of fans stretched out in front of them happily singing along to “I’ll House You” brought such a smile to my face, as well as theirs. Neal Brennan slowed things down a bit with a stand-up comedy set. His slightly controversial set earned a ton of huge laughs from the crowd, and was punctuated by an impromptu visit from Dave Chappelle at end.
Kevin Gates offered a raunchy set that raised a few eyebrows amongst the all ages crowd, while Birmingham, UK-based Lady Leshurr rocked the mic with lightning speed delivery, quirky, yet hilarious subject matter and unbridled stage presence packed into her small frame. Considering how effortlessly she earned applause I was surprised I had never heard of her before. I made sure to jot her name down as well.
Leave it to Questlove to schedule in a DJ set at his own festival, thank goodness. Questlove’s DJ’s sets are do not miss events, and this one was no different. Despite a few technical glitches, he managed to keep the crowd rocking in trademark form. The same can be said for legends Stretch & Bobbito, offering hip-hop bangers and latin rhythms to dance to. This was my first time catching the duo, but they were my favorite DJ set of the night.
X Ambassadors always put on an electrifying show, and as the sun set on Day 1, they earned their spot on the big stage easily. I heard a few people attempting the high notes during “Unsteady,” and chuckled to myself, and marveled during Sam’s sax playing. Finally, to close out the festivities on the 6th avenue stage, Everyday People with help from DJ Moma held a huge party, while dancers onstage showed off their best moves.
For the grand finale, The Roots kicked off a 2.5 hour showcase of immense musical talent that I could have never predicted in my wildest dreams. Black Thought laced the crowd with signature rhymes that seemed to flow out of him endlessly, a surprise visit from rapper/actor Common upped the intensity as well, blowing in like a whirlwind with “The Light,” and “Go,” and finally leaving the stage with an acapella spoken word that was incredibly moving. John Mayer proved his guitar virtuoso status with an extended version of “Gravity,” and a smoldering version of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine.” In true D’Angelo fashion, he was late yet again, prompting none other that Dave Chappelle out of the wings to crack a few jokes to pass the time. His quip about Key & Peele broke me out into hysterics seconds before D’Angelo appeared, dressed in layers of black and leather, puffing a cigarette under a wide brimmed hat. Despite his lateness, the combination of The Roots, John Mayer, and Pino Palladino behind him made up for it and was the pinnacle of Saturday’s events. Coaxing us from the darkness of “Playa, Playa” into the sunshine of “Greatdayndamornin’” finally to the pews of the church that got toes tapping and feet stomping, his set seemed to end right when D’ seemed to be settling into his groove.
This was the point where I couldn’t imagine it getting any better. Then, there was Day 2.
Article: Lesley Keller