Founded by the hip-hop group The Roots and co-founded by Live Nation Urban President Shawn Gee, the Roots Picnic is an annual music festival held in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia. Though Philly is home to many music festivals, most notably Jay-Z’s Made in America, the Roots Picnic differentiates themselves from the rest with their personal sentiments attached to the initial formation of the festival in 2008.
I was lucky enough to have the ability to attend the first ever Roots Picnic Con, a free one-day convention filled with informative sessions about topics ranging from achieving financial health to the importance of music education and creativity in Philadelphia school districts. These panels were very informative, as they gave me insight into the values of the Roots Picnic founders: lifting up and advising the Black citizens of Philadelphia. These kinds of financial and educational programs are indispensable for the citizens of Philadelphia, serving as catalysts for empowerment, social mobility and economic growth. By equipping individuals with financial literacy, access to capital, quality education and career opportunities, these programs address the systemic barriers that affect marginalized communities and provide the necessary tools for success.
In the last panel of Roots Picnic Con, panelists Shawn Gee, Ilia Ghee, Geoff Gordon, Jazelle Jones, Brandon Pankey and Tarik “Black Thought” Trotter went into detail about how much Philadelphia and its citizens matter to them. Their idea for The Roots Festival was a place where Black people can unify and enjoy themselves without fear of any sort of violence or conflict. the Roots Festival is a safe place for everyone, so much so that every year hundreds of tickets are given out for free to students in the Philadelphia area so they can see their favorite acts live. While Roots Picnic did hold the 2016 Roots Picnic festival in New York, the panelists discussed the importance of the festival continuing in Philadelphia. They also spoke about the significance of Philadelphia-born artists and their involvement with the Roots Picnic, with Trotter mentioning rapper Lil Uzi Vert and how they used to perform outside the Roots Picnic festival, only to become a headliner a few years later.
I also found the panel very educational, as the panelists went into the specifics of orchestrating a festival of this capacity, speaking about things from booking artists to choosing venues and vendors. There were a lot of people in the audience who were a part of the entertainment industry in some way or wanted to be a part of the industry, so the fact that they shared this information was very generous and shows how they are open to assisting other Black creatives so they can do the same and develop their own festival or other projects.
The first annual Roots Picnic Con showed me that the Roots Picnic is a lot more than a festival. The creators of the Roots Picnic are dedicated not only to producing a good set of performances, but also to fostering an experience that can empower those who have attended to do the same for themselves. Though they admit they still have a long way to go with the picnic, it is clear that the creators have a deep love for Philadelphia and the culture associated with the city, which blossoms each year into a wonderful experience for everyone involved.