Roots Picnic 2016: The Good, the Great and Meh or A long Day in Philly

Photos by: Jacadra Young

This weekend marked the 9th annual Roots Picnic. A summer music festival that boast a line-up curated by the hardest working band in late night. The legendary, heartbreaking, world renowned, almighty Roots Crew from Philly. The Picnic, with its wide ranging and eclectic line-up in a way, represents the ever evolving Roots fan-base. Everyone is welcome under the tent of Roots fandom. From the block boys, backpackers, alt-chic, bohos, hippies, hipsters, frat boys and dudebros to Broad Street bullies, all can find something at the Roots Picnic, held at the Festival Pier at Penn’s Landing.

For the backpacker set, Tish Hyman, the Bronx born multi-hyphenate, gave those in attendance warm and fuzzy memories of late 90’s Lauryn Hill (sans lateness). Dudebros and frat-boys could laugh and sing along to Philly-suburb native Lil Dicky and his Trap-meets-Lonely Island set. For the block boys and Broad street bullies, DMX brought his patented energy to his over 30 minute set, whipping the baking crowd into a frenzy with bangers from his vast catalogue. While some punchlines seem dated in 2016, there is nothing like seeing the dog run through “Ruff Ryders Anthem” and “Get At Me Dog” with his partner Swizz Beats.

Chloe x Halle Bailey, recently seen in a little something called Lemonade, used their few minutes on the Oasis stage to make a statement and showed off their playing and harmonizing chops. Ibeyi , the French-Cuban twins also featured in Lemonade, showcased their haunting harmonies and musicianship with Lisa on the keys and Naomi playing drums and percussion with songs like “Oya”, “Mama Says” and “River”. Paris Monster gave a rousing set. Lead singer, drummer Josh Dion handled the backbeat with one hand and the synth with the other. A DJ set from Philly’s own Rich Medina had the crowd two stepping, grooving and singing along to their favorite rap tunes. Another DJ set from KAYTRANADA bookended the day and served as a welcome distraction for weary concert goers waiting for Usher x the Roots to close the show. Die hards gyrated to the heavy bass and light show on the Oasis stage, while most rested from the long day and awaited Ursher.

The “scion of a famous person” segment featured sets by Willow Smith and the Zoë Kravitz lead Lolawolf  with Willow winning out with help from her father and home town hero Will Smith performing his classic “Summertime”. The obligatory “trap” segment kicked off with Migos and ended triumphantly with a set from the patron saint of Purple Sprite himself, Future, though his set was marred with technical difficulties. The “random but fun” portion of the day featured jukebox sets from Swizz Beats and Everyday People Featuring DJ Moma. Swizz ran the crowd through his most famous songs with the audience joining in on their favorite hooks, bridges and adlibs. Everyday People are a traveling dance party and in a way, embody Black Joy. The freedom to laugh, dance, sing and act a complete and utter fool to the tune of your favorite songs is a rare thing and should be embraced.

For those concerned about the current state of soul and R&B, rest easy, the youngin’s got it covered. Anderson .Paak , Cali born and bred singer, rapper, producer, drummer brought every ounce of energy to his seemingly too brief set and blew the crowd away. Cuts like “The Season/Carry Me” and “Heart Don’t Stand A Chance” in hands of Anderson and his more than capable band, The Free Nationals, go from smooth crooners to house shaking rockers. At one point Willow Smith and her friends along with members of the Ibeyi crew could be seen in the pit rocking out to .Paak’s set. Blending and melding genres into something unique and all his own, Anderson’s set was a highlight in a long day. Words can’t truly capture the feeling so, open up another browser window, open your Spotify, Google Music, Tidal, Apple Music, etc. and give a listen to Malibu, Anderson’s latest project. After that, find the nearest venue within driving distance and go see this young man live.  Jidenna, an artist on Janelle Monae’s Wonderland imprint and all around Classic Man, tore down the North stage with a fun set combining coordinated dance moves, Nigerian folks tales ad a flare for dramatic. With perfectly coifed hair, impeccable three piece suit and appropriate accoutrements, Jidenna had the crowd dancing to “Long Live the Chief” and Extraordinaire”.

The Roots Picnic is unique among artist sponsored festivals in that the Roots do not actually headline their own festival. Every year The Roots feature an artist and Root-ify their catalog. In past years this saw Snoop Dogg doing “Gin n Juice” with a full backing band, and Public Enemy doing the “It Takes a Nation of Millions” album in its entirety. This year, the luck artist was Mr. Usher Raymond. While not an obvious pairing from first glance, when the Roots finished their raucous intro set and transitioned into the “Soul Review Feature Ursher”, it all made perfect musical sense. Usher is known for his slick R&B production, songwriting, singing and performing. Under the musical direction ?uestlove songs like the upbeat “Caught Up” went from club banger to James Brown inspired funk work-out, complete with split kicks, microphone stand tricks and on the one hits. This is funky, dirty, juke joint stuff and it is perfect. After “Caught Up” an Earth Wind and Fire interlude transitioned into “U Make me Wanna”. Usher brought human party starter Lil Jon for the proto-turnt anthem “Yeah” and the crowd went wild. After seeing The Roots inspired “Soul Review Featuring Ursher” live and in person, the powers that be would be foolish not to take this show on the road. The magic of the Roots is their innate ability to take something old, rework it into something new and have it make perfect sense. Having Ushers’ entire catalog Rootified highlights both of their strengths as performers. The Roots being the preservers of Black Music in all its forms and Usher ability to constantly connect with his audience on a real and personal level as a singer-songwriter. This is something to see, this is something everyone that care about live music should see.

For the Good, you can count Leon Bridges, Ibeyi, Tish Hyman and Willow Smith, also the event planners and organizers that scheduled acts such that there was little down time. Aside from technical difficulties with Future on the North stage the day went relatively smoothly for such a long and vast line-up. The Great goes to Usher x Roots, Anderson .Paak and Jidenna. Seriously, go see Andersen as soon as you possibly can. Usher x Roots needs a national tour pronto. The Meh goes to Lolawolf. While not bad per se, Zoë seemed bored throughout her set. She cooed and slank across the stage to the minimalist sounds of her band but it never seemed to hit home.

At this point in their careers the Roots are a well-oiled machine that use their unique platform to showcase up and comers and bring seemingly disparate music lovers together. In fact that has always been the case. Whether it was a girl from Dallas with a head-wrap and bunch of songs no one understood, or hardest rapper from South Philly, all were welcome and all had a place, just like the picnic. It was once said that “you can’t be all things to all people.” To that sentiment, the 9th Annual Roots Picnic says: Yes. We. Can.

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