The iconic Roots Picnic festival took place at The Mann Center in Fairmount Park from June 2 to June 4, and featured 35 different artists as well as 10 podcast hosts. Since its start in 2008, the festival has grown to be one of the most influential rap and R&B events in Philadelphia. The festival was created by the Philly collective The Roots, which has successfully constructed a space highlighting Philadelphia-natives, and Black and Brown artists in a wide variety of genres. While I was only able to attend June 3 and 4, The Roots Picnic hosted a standup event, with Dave Chappelle at the Wells Fargo Center June 2.
The event had an impressive setup with an even more impressive lineup. The biggest stage, labeled the Park Stage, hosted the more famous acts leading up to the headliners at the end of each day. The Presser Stage, located near the back of the venue next to the Skyline Lawn, was the second biggest stage featuring the smaller acts. Settled in between both stages next to the food court was the Podcast Stage. The venue was large with different booths, lounges and plenty of food vendors to choose from. At first glance it was a bit overwhelming, but by the second day it became easier to navigate the quickest routes to each performance.
The first day started off a bit rocky, with the doors scheduled to open at 1 p.m. but delayed until 1:30 p.m., pushing all acts back by at least 30 minutes. Nevertheless, Mike Phillips kicked off the festival at the main stage followed by Uncle Waffles, Adam Blackstone, Coco Jones, The Soulquarians and the Isley Brothers, Lil Uzi Vert and headliner Ms. Lauryn Hill. At the Presser Stage, performances began around 3 p.m. with Philadelphia rapper Fridayy followed by DVSN, Rare Essence, GloRilla and Syd.
While there were definitely highlights of the day, each performer delivered a unique and entertaining performance. Before being joined by the Isley Brothers, Questlove Supreme began drumming and introduced the group by saying: “On guitar, one of the greatest axemen of all time… Ernie Isley on guitar, and of course, the one and only, the legend, the smoothest… Mr. Biggs himself, Ronald Isley.” Once on stage, both groups opened with a soulful rendition of “Choosy Lover,” followed by some of their other hits like “Living For The Love Of You” and “Footsteps in the Dark.” It was hard to look away from Ernie Isley’s playing, and Ronald Isley’s personality easily showed through his captivating stage presence.
Another heavy-hitter from day one was Lil Uzi Vert. Immediately after getting on stage, Uzi wasted no time energetically performing “Do What I Want” off of their 2016 album “The Perfect LUV Tape.” As this was their third Roots Picnic appearance, it was clear that Uzi was used to giving an unforgettable performance, using the entire stage and encouraging the crowd to sing with them. Uzi continued to play crowd pleasers from multiple albums including “Money Longer” and “444+222.”
The final and most anticipated performance of the night was Ms. Lauryn Hill. After an electrifying instrumental introduction, Ms. Hill opened her set with “Everything Is Everything.” After performing other hits like “When It Hurts So Bad,” “Final Hour” and “Nothing Even Matters,” Ms. Hill stopped the show to say to the crowd “25 years of The Miseducation, but ironically… there was another 25 anniversary that we intended to celebrate, but we didn’t get to because of COVID… So what I did was I decided to bring some friends out with me,” before bringing out Wyclef Jean and Pras for a Fugees reunion. The group performed show-stopping renditions of “Ready Or Not,” “Killing Me Softly With His Song” and “Fu-Gee-La,” a perfect closer for night one.
Day two, while still slightly behind, was smoother than the first day running only 15 minutes late. Similarly to day one, the lineup was stacked with artists like Saucy Santana, City Girls, Ari Lennox, Busta Rhymes, Lucky Daye and Usher.
The first day, there were a few acts that I was slightly disappointed in. I was able to catch a little of The Office XIV at the Podcast Stage around 3:40 p.m., where the five hosts asked each other questions like “Would you rather share your group chat messages or your DM’s?” and “How do you feel about sharing your location?” While my unfamiliarity with the group might have played a factor in my enjoyment, I felt that their set was a bit awkward in a live setting. Similarly, I was not fully impressed by DJ Drama’s set at the Presser Stage. I was expecting him to play a few full songs he had worked on, but he instead played roughly 15-30 seconds of multiple projects with interjections in between. The small sections of songs made it difficult to fully immerse myself and enjoy the experience.
Despite this, the enjoyable artists more than made up for the very few mediocre acts. Both Saucy Santana and City Girls performed upbeat sets that kept the crowd engaged and dancing throughout. Lucky Daye was another high point in the day, cutting his autotune and showcasing his incredible vocal range and debuting two songs off of his next album.
At 7:30 p.m., Busta Rhymes took to the Park Stage with The Roots co-founder and lead rapper Black Thought. Easily some of the best crowd work at the festival, both Black Thought and Busta Rhymes alternately stole the show and hyped each other up. Busta Rhymes was full of energy, spraying water into the crowd and performing songs like “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See” and “Scenario.” The peak of his performance came when he did his legendary verse on Chris Brown’s “Look At Me Now.”
As the second and final headliner, Usher performed on the Park stage at around 9:30 p.m. starting with “Good Kisser” joined by Black Thought. Usher then performed other hits like “U Don’t Have to Call” and “Yeah,” as well as surprising the audience by bringing out Jazmine Sullivan and Eve to perform their rendition of “U Got It Bad.” Usher’s set was fun and lively, an ideal end to a great weekend.
The 15th annual Roots Picnic lived up to its reputation with two jam-packed days filled with so much talent that it was difficult to find something you did not enjoy. As it was my first music festival, let alone my first festival as a writer, I can happily say that it was an unforgettable experience with something for everyone.