By Stanley Collins and Kevin Leacock
This past weekend The Roots celebrated the 10th installment into their annual Roots Picnic. The Picnic is a one-day music festival held in The Roots' hometown, Philadelphia, along the Schuylkill River, that bills itself as a fusion of classic Hip-Hop, indie, pop, trap, R&B, and more. In the world of music festivals, the Picnic is [probably] the biggest bang for your buck ($75 if you get your ticket early enough). Headlined by Pharrell, the Picnic boasted a lineup that included acts from 21 Savage to James Vincent McMorrow; Noname to Mobb Deep.
Friend of the blog, Kevin, and I have been attending the Picnic for the past three years, so we decided to put on wax our experience, wrestling with the Picnic's B-level status, Solange's moving set, and more. Here's our conversation:
Stanley: This is our 3rd year going to the Roots Picnic. Generally, what are your thoughts on this year's Picnic? Things they did better/worse this year, the lineup, etc.
Kevin: Heading into the Picnic, I felt like that 3rd year Wide Receiver going into training camp. I came in to the picnic in good shape, ready to stand all day, I knew what to expect when it came to the crowds, best time to eat, how to work my way up closer to see an artist - the game just slowed down for me and I knew where to pick my spots. Okay enough of the sports analogies lol. Generally, this 10th Annual Roots Picnic lived up to my expectations. First of all, I love the blackness of this festival. Maybe not on the level of an Afropunk in terms of blackness and hipster-ness, but it reaches a perfect median in my opinion.
When it comes to what they did better, the lineup is clearly one. In years past, we would normally have downtime in between acts because there really weren’t a lot of artists we truly wanted to see every hour. This year had consistent heat when it came to the musical acts. Also, the variety in activities outside of music made this year feel like a bigger deal. The panel discussion, selling clothes, Madden/2K tournaments, made me feel like they wanted to maximize every inch of Festival Pier. But that brings me to what I think they dropped the ball on. Even though I won our bet of $1 lol, I think having The Roots and Pharrell perform on the smaller stage made for a less than ideal situation. They never performed there in years past. The sight of lines & the aesthetic made me feel like it was all a mistake. So let's hope the feedback is so negative that they take their rightful place on the big stage.
I felt like that 3rd year Wide Receiver going into training camp. I came in to the picnic in good shape, ready to stand all day, I knew what to expect when it came to the crowds, best time to eat, how to work my way up closer to see an artist - the game just slowed down for me...
The reason why I say it only lived up to my expectations and not exceeded them is because I feel like The Roots have their pulse on the music scene and I was expecting a little more when it came to the main event. For some people SVW, Nore and Pusha T (I love Pusha by the way) get it done. For me, the 10th anniversary should have had truly “big star” surprises. Which brings me to my question…
Kevin: What are your takes on the festival?
Stanley: That's a great metaphor! lol. Experience definitely helps. We made some mistakes in the past (waiting in line for nearly an hour and a half for cheesesteaks), but I think we've learned from those mistakes.
Musically, this year was by far my favorite. Now, initially when the lineup came out earlier this year, I was a little bumed. I just thought there was more they could've done, especially with this being the 10th year. But, those doubts were quickly erased - the Picnic was great!
At the same time, the Picnic was a logistic nightmare! So, real quick, I lost the $1 bet. Briefly - The Roots usually perform the headlining set at the main stage in the center of Festival Pier. However, this year they moved to the stage under a pavilion. The bet was that they would still be performing where they had previously. That didn't happen. I lost the bet.
But, the space is just too small for them now. The lines from the food and bathrooms carried over into the standing area for the main act – terribly inconvenient.
Kevin: Do you like the lane the Picnic has carved out, or is it time to expand (leave Festival Pier) and get larger, more contemporary acts to headline? They bring in the stars to headline, no doubt, but they are technically “past their prime” stars.
Stanley: So, first, I like that The Roots Picnic is a B-level festival. Given who they are as a group, and their audience, they do a good job curating the Picnic. The Roots either get an artist before they REALLY blow up, or after they've cemented their legacy. You know they're going to get the trap-y, hot, turn up artists – 21 Savage this year, Migos last year, Rae Sremmurd the year before – your classic hip-hop, some indie R&B act, and an up-and-coming artist from Philly. I think they've created a nice niche as this, old school hip-hop, indie R&B-underground, music head festival. I think they could get more contemporary acts, but, in some ways, I'm not sure if they want those acts, at least for the headliner. The problem is that niche has a pretty low ceiling - but that's fine with me.
I like that The Roots Picnic is a B-level festival. Given who they are as a group, and their audience, they do a good job curating the Picnic.
Kevin: And honestly, I tend to agree with you in that I like that it is a B-level festival. It fits the identity of The Roots as a popular underground super group, and it fits the identity of the city. Philly has always had that close-knit, gritty feel as a city, and this festival fits that bill in my mind, especially in comparison to other festivals around the country. I do wonder how long this festival will go on and if the baton will soon be passed on to other curators but still be labeled as “The Roots Picnic.” The next couple of years will tell us which direction the Picnic will be head in, in my opinion.
Favorite Moments From The Roots Picnic:
Kevin: Clearly Solange and her set. Straight ripped it.
Thundercat’s red hair. He went into his Lil Uzi bag and pulled it off. His set was also AMAZING per usual.
Black Thought. He is an all time GOAT and doesn't get the respect he deserves. Straight bars and a master of words. Hip-Hop is relatively new and we haven't truly seen Hip-Hop artists age like other genres of music. And if they age like Thought, I'm interested to see where guys like Kendrick go in his later years.
Stanley: Solange's set. Specifically when she did FUBU. So, I think most of us - black people - have had this experience where we go to a concert, or we’re in a public space, and non-black and or white person, will say "nigga" or "nigger" because it's in a song, or whatever, and it's just like... damn, really? It's frustrating to say the least. To have that sentiment expressed in that same space where it would usually happen (a concert) is vindicating.
Surprisingly, the Live Mixtape with Scott Storch, Mobb Deep, J. Period, Fat Joe and Black Thought was my second favorite part about the festival. I wasn't too excited for it coming into the Picnic, but those guys killed it. Black Thought is a wordsmith like no other! Bars, bars, bars.
Least Favorite Moment From The Roots Picnic:
Kevin: Leaving Thundercat’s set to head to the other stage and seeing the bodies sprawled out on the ground and just people all over the place. They have outgrown this space and need to expand as soon as possible.
Stanley: Yeah, same for me. The Picnic usually fills out around 5/6 o’clock, and by that time you can barely move. It’s too packed. The no reentry thing low key blows too, but that’s a yearly least favorite for me.
Act(s) you left wanting to check out more?
Kevin: Easy answer is Michael Kiwaunka. His set was short, but he blazed it. Kimbra is my honorable mention.
Stanley: Michael Kiwanuka and James Vincent McMorrow.