The 12th Annual Roots Picnic may have moved to much bigger digs at Philly’s Fairmount Park, but the music and good vibes still managed to fill the space with 25,000 elated fans… for the most part (more on that later).
Across the beautiful greenery of the main park grounds, The Mann Stage, a covered, seated venue, the first act of the day took the stage. Going by &More, Philly rapper Chill Moody and singer Donn T spun up a smooth combination of motivational messaging alongside the experience of being Black in America. Having seen Chill Moody at a previous Roots Picnic, I knew this was a pairing I had to catch, and I was surprised to see I wasn’t alone, as Donn T’s mom was front row, center at the railing to cheer her daughter on.
I was also happy to see Resistance Revival Chorus again, just having seen them perform last month in Brooklyn. Their performance got the crowd out of their seats as they sang songs against hatred in its many forms.
At the Fairmount Stage, which was unfortunately situated directly in the heat of the day, Leven Kali did his best to take out minds off of how sweaty we were with his effortless vocals floating over his R&B songs.
Tobe Nwigwe also took the Fairmount Stage, and stirred the crowd up so much, we were all forced to forget the heat as well as any troubles we had weighing heavily on our minds. Admittedly, Tobe’s set was one I was looking forward to, as his largely sold out tour and overwhelming word of mouth buzz coupled by endorsements from the likes of Erykah Badu and Dave Chappelle. Having performed his first live show merely a year ago, the Houston native commanded the stage like a veteran, and if I had to say, one of the more exciting and dynamic hip hop artists in music today with a lot to say that is definitely worth listening to.
Back under the Mann Stage shade, Tank and the Bangas kept the party going, as Tank bounded out onstage and launched several huge, green balloons into the crowd. Tank and the Bangas was a favorite pick of fest this year, rolling off the tongues of many of the crowd when they were asked whom they were there to see. If you know anything about Tank and the Bangas, know with supreme certainty that you will never be bored.
Rolling in fashionably late, Blueface, also a crowd favorite, took to the stage and wasted no time crip walking across it while the crowd screamed at every movement and rapped along with his lyrics. At one point, the “Thotiana” rapper brought two young boys onstage to dance, earning a healthy set of cheers, plus the Los Angeles rapper peeled off his shirt, and even brought out an actual mop in reference to his lyric “mop the floor, hide the wet sign, just to catch him slipping.”
Filling the gap in between Blueface and the next act, the crowd participated happily in a sing-off of Queen Naija’s songs until Queen Naija herself strutted onstage and followed up that Blueface performance with some soul stirring R&B, evident by how passionately all the women in the front row were singing along with the lyrics.
Next up, Black Thought took the stage, with music provided by J. Period and Stro Elliot. After a string of freestyles, Yasiin Bey, fka Mos Def, joined him onstage to go toe to toe with freestyles and gave a performance that I have been waiting for my entire life, to say the least. To up the ante, rapper/singer Mumu Fresh took the stage and killed her performance. Watching the other artists nearby onstage and side stage react to her lyrics and performance was thrilling, and when Pharoahe Monch joined Thought and Yasiin onstage, it was a master class in how these artist became hip-hop legends. Another notable moment was when Yasiin Bey passed his mic to Tobe Nwigwe, who was called to the stage by Black Thought to contribute his own freestyle rhymes, delivering effortlessly.
The final performance on the Mann Stage was another I had been very excited to see – Raphael Saadiq vs The Soulquarians. The Soulquarians, which included drummer Questlove, bassist Pino Palladino, James Poyser on keys and Isaiah Sharkey on guitar, provided a endless curtain of Saadiq-blessed jams that never seemed to end. From his collaboration with D’Angelo on “You Should Be Here,” to Bilal’s “Soul Sista,” to Tony! Toni! Tone!’s “Anniversary,” to his own songs from cult classic Instant Vintage, there was no stone left unturned when it came time to showcase Saadiq’s long-reaching influence and unmistakable sound.
After that performance, I headed back to the Fairmount Stage and was a bit surprised by what I saw there. Tons of blankets and shoes strewn across the grounds, the telltale signs of the aftermath of the stampede. Crowd goers reported during the 21 Savage performance, a fight broke out near the front of the stage, sending hundreds running for the nearest exit leaving their belongings behind. Unfortunately, once they exited the festival, they were not allowed to re-enter, which resulted in many missing the grand finale of the festival – The Roots 20th anniversary of their album, Things Fall Apart. With a large backdrop of the album artwork, beautifully refreshed by graphic artist FWMJ, The Roots invited a parade of special guests, including Ursula Rucker reciting a poem, Jill Scott to perform “You Got Me,” Young Gunz to perform “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop,” Common to perform “The 6th Sense along with Bilal, Beanie Sigel and Dice Raw for “Adrenaline,” Yasiin Bey to perform “Double Trouble” plus a special performance of “Umi Says.”
Despite the unfortunate scuffle, this year’s Roots Picnic was a success. The expanded grounds and natural surroundings finally provided a location to do the name of the festival justice, and the festival continues to carefully curate and find the right balance between the new, mainstream popular acts, and the seasoned OG’s to provide a little something for everyone.
Article: Lesley Keller