Review & Photos | Roots Picnic | Philadelphia

Images and Words by: Jake Krolick

Roots Picnic :: 5.31.14 :: River Stage at Penn’s Landing :: Philadelphia, PA

The seventh annual Roots Picnic put another notch on their growing list of successes. This yearly celebration of Hip-hop, culture and Philadelphia has managed to stay fairly corporation-free, letting the funky vibe of Philly steer the picnic into a best of what hip-hop and street culture represents. As far as venue make-overs go, the fresh dusting of sand was just a little lipstick on the pig that is Festival Pier. The food and beer lines were so incredibly long it was unfathomable to think about waiting to eat and drink. However the bands flowed seamlessly into one another and without much maneuvering you could hear, if not see every little bit of the music.

Music boomed all around the venue featuring hip-hop samples from the past 25 years. Thanks to Questlove’s eclectic ear we were treated to a pretty laid back vibe for the lucky 7th Picnic. Philly native Chill Moody brought simple flow and verse that fed into the Bad Rabbits’ soul grooves that warmed the crowd. Just Blaze brought up another Philadelphia native, surprise guest Freeway, who rocked the microphone for most of their set. Together, they created small eruptions of old school ass shake as the crowd soared to capacity at a little under 8,000.

The UK’s pseudo-variety show/dance band Rudimental struggled to boost the energy of the crowd before Biz Markie demonstrated his turntable skills. Jhene Aiko was as sweet as pie blowing onto the stage in a flowing white dress, her school yard lyrics about sex and drugs were in stark contrast to her innocent appearance. She had some choice words in a later tweet for haters in the crowd. A$AP Ferg opened his set with the doozy of a rap “Dump Dump,” which had most of the rail shouting, “I f**ked your bitch!” Ferg announced that in Philly he was the dope master before his younger cohort tossed himself ragdoll style into the crowd for a bit of surfing. Both rappers found themselves climbing speakers, the DJ table and the crowd to emphasize their point in more rambunctious ways.

Not everything went smoothly for The War on Drugs. After flying in from Barcelona they hit a wall of sound problems before giving the crowd a glimpse at what mastery Adam Granduciel and company can bring to an outdoor set. It appeared as if this was the first time most of the crowd had heard The War On Drugs even though they were formed in Philadelphia and have been playing the city for the better part of the past decade. Sure most of the intricacies and lyrics were lost on the crowd, but as their set clicked in during a splendid rendition of “Under the Pressure,” I saw a bunch of new fans taking notice. Granduciel even added some extra emphasis on the lyrics “when it all breaks down and we’re runaways standing in the wake of my pain.” One can only dream of the possibilities for this band this summer and beyond as they build on all their recent success.

Thank god for Action Bronson, who was finally able to inject a shot of energy back into the lazy day. The Queens hip-hop act didn’t take himself too seriously and let the fun flow. He started by giving shout-outs to South St. eatery Ishkabbiles during an entertaining rap over “Tequila” that ended with him declaring, “I don’t even give a fuck about the Mets. I hope the Phillies win today!” Bronson was crafty and he jumped into the crowd and made his way to the soundboard mid-set. With a sea lion-like heave, he tossed himself atop one of the vending stands and performed the remainder of his set in the center of both stages. Flanked by the Penthouse Club billboard and the Northern Liberties skyline, Bronson blasted through a bunch of songs and even purchased a water ice before ending the day’s best set.

Janelle Monáe was wheeled out onto the stage in a Straitjacket. Before her set was over, her posse of black and white clothed musicians helped her deliver an elaborate trip through sound that touched on James Brown, Cab Calloway and some exceptional Jackson 5 covers including “ABC” and “I Want You Back.” Despite sound issues Monáe was one fantastic show person -dancing, singing and moonwalking through her set.

The event felt light on The Roots compared to previous years. Most were just happy to have the hometown heroes back on a local stage. They took us back to 2004 for “Don’t Say Nuthin'”, but hardly uncorked their latest album, …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin. The little music the band did play from that album like “Understand” was fiery and left many wanting more. With little to no fanfare, hip-hop legend Snoop Dogg entered stage right, showing his love for Philly by sporting a bit of Phillies garb. Snoop opened with “Gz And Hustlas” and ripped effortlessly through “Gin and Juice” and knocked out most of the classic Doggystyle album. Doug E. Fresh made a surprise appearance for “La Di Da Di,” as well as some beat boxing from Biz Markie. Next year, it would be great to see The Roots play with earlier bands and help the energy levels grow consistently. Perhaps it’s time to move this event to a new larger location.

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