Philadelphia’s Legendary Roots Crew brought hundreds of music fans together May 30 for the eighth annual Roots Picnic. The event, hosted at the Festival Pier, featured over 20 artists that spanned a wide range of genres. The inspiring performances, crowd interaction and island-like environment made many Roots Picnic veterans firmly proclaim that this year’s was the best yet.
The Picnic began at noon with acts on three different stages. The Oasis stage was the first that festival-goers saw upon entering from Spring Garden Street, and it provided a shield from the scorching sun with its long tent. The back of the Oasis stage led to a large open area completely covered in sand for the event. To the right stood the enormous Pier stage, which would host some of the Picnic’s top-billed artists. Far back to the left, the Harbor stage allowed viewers to see the Delaware River as they watched their favorite artists play.
After the doors opened, Questlove’s (drummer of The Roots) sister Donn T and Los Angeles singer Marc E. Bassy played the first sets. Singer-songwriter Moses Sumney was the first to take the Pier stage.
After Sumney, the rap duo Rae Sremmurd took the Pier stage for a high-powered performance, energizing the crowd with their recent hits “No Flex Zone,” “Throw Sum Mo,” and “No Type.” As Rae Sremmurd finished up their set on the Pier stage, the genre-transcending Australian band Hiatus Kaiyote began their dazzling set on the Harbor stage.
In the mid-afternoon, Reggae singer Chronixx and his band the Zincfence Redemption rocked the Pier stage, solidifying the island mentality that the sand, river and blue sky alluded to. At this point, many festival-goers made their way to the food and beer stands. The festival had a fairly impressive beer selection, including Lagunitas and Yards as well as standard options like Miller.
Later in the afternoon, legendary Bronx disc jockey Afrika Bambaataa hosted a crew of nine rappers, dancers and hype-men on stage to bring the crowd back to hip-hop’s roots, mixing classic ‘80s samples into his DJ set. Meanwhile, singer Raury gave a spirited performance on the Harbor stage.
After this, New York electronic rock duo Phantogram performed a set mainly consisting of songs from their 2014 Album “Voices,” including the hit “Fall in Love.” For those who wanted to dance, DJ Windows 98 (Win Butler of Arcade Fire) and DJ Mustard performed after Phantogram on the Oasis stage and Harbor stage, respectively.
As the day went on, most festival-goers congregated by the Pier stage to see the headlining acts that started with A$AP Rocky in the early evening. With the hot sun finally inching toward the horizon, Rocky addressed the audience with sentiments of love and appreciation. He announced that this was the first time he would perform music from his well-received new album “At.Long.Last.A$AP,” which was released May 26. Rocky pleased the crowd with “Excuse Me” and “Jukebox Joints,” and paid tribute to his late mentor A$AP Yams.
After a long break, the crowd erupted as Toronto rhythm and blues singer The Weeknd walked on stage. Throughout his set, a chorus of fans who knew every word complimented each song. British electronic musician and DJ Hudson Mohawke played the nearby Harbor stage after The Weeknd as anticipation built for the final performance.
The Roots assembled a truly awesome performance to end the Picnic. After they played themselves in, Black Thought addressed the crowd and welcomed Mayor Michael Nutter who enthusiastically introduced the band. The Roots played a few of their hits including “Proceed” and “Star/Pointro,” and then introduced neo-soul singer and long-time Roots collaborator Erykah Badu. One of Badu’s most popular songs, “Love of My Life” turned into a 20-minute jam in which several surprise guests including Freeway, The LOX and YG were introduced to complement Badu and the Roots.
The second to last song was a soulful rendition of Badu’s “Green Eyes,” followed by one of the Root’s and Badu’s greatest hits: “You Got Me,” to which the crowd sang along. Badu smiled and giggled as she waved and walked offstage with the Roots, projecting the joy of having just completed a beautiful and enlightening performance.