Now in its 10th year, Roots Picnic again served up an eclectic mix of artists at Philadelphia’s Festival Pier on Saturday, June 3rd. Kicking off what has become widely recognized as the unofficial start of summer, the Philadelphia Roots Picnic featured 20+ artists on 3 stages; the weather could not have been more perfect for a “picnic” on the pier.
Unfortunately, the festival received a huge blow early on with the last minute cancellation of legendary rapper Lil Wayne for health reasons. With one of the most highly anticipated acts off the bill, the question on many people’s minds was: would the formidable Roots crew be able to compensate for his absence? The answer was a resounding yes.
The credit for “saving” the Roots Picnic goes largely to two standout performances, first from Solange and then from headliner Pharrell (backed by The Roots). The final performances of the night provided the most memorable moments from this year’s Roots Picnic. But a few other early acts definitely deserve to be mentioned.
Early on in the day, festival attendees were serenaded by Michael Kiwanuka, whose track “Cold Little Heart” should be familiar to fans of HBO’s hit Big Little Lies. The early afternoon performances also included Chicago MC Noname and Irish singer/songwriter James Vincent McMorrow.
With Wayne off the bill, The Roots had to do some last minute schedule alterations. Unfortunately, old schedules were still being passed out on the festival grounds, leaving many attendees confused and often waiting at the wrong stage for the wrong performance.
This is likely how Kimbra ended up with such a large crowd for her 6:30 pm slot. Many fans who were eagerly awaiting Jeezy’s performance (which had moved to the North Stage) were left confused and disappointed when Kimbra walked onto the stage 15 minutes after her scheduled start time. With no real hits to her name and a lack of new material since 2014, it wasn’t very surprising that the crowd was unfamiliar with her work. But tracks like the infectious “Settle Down” got the crowd moving and her charming and endearing nature certainly won people over. So excited was she to be performing on a bill with such an incredible lineup – especially with some of her idols like Solange, Pharrell and Thundercat. Speaking of, the latter of the three wrapped up a stellar set on the North Stage. His funky performance was perfect for the 70 degree-plus Philly weather. Closing his set with “Oh Sheit, It’s X!,” a song that features the apropos lyrics “I just wanna party, you should be here with me.”
Meanwhile on the Oasis Stage, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie was getting the party started with hits like “My Shit,” “Timeless” and “Drowning,” which featured the young rapper dancing on the stage with several friends, including fellow Roots Picnic performer and Philadelphian PnB Rock.
The 10th year of the festival featured a few minor changes in the setup, with the North Stage now serving as the main stage. They also added two smaller stages; one would feature a fashion/lifestyle panel and another that would play host to a gaming competition. As the fashion/lifestyle panel wrapped up for the day around 5:30 pm, there was a surprisingly large crowd in attendance, opting to listen to the panelists discuss race and gender discrimination in the industry over witnessing 21 Savage’s performance on the South Stage.
Admittedly, Savage’s high billing was a bit strange from the onset. Many fans at Saturday’s Roots Picnic seemed to be neither interested nor particularly knowledgeable of the young Atlanta rapper’s material.
All throughout the festival, attendees seemed to be opting to enjoy the picnic vibes, either milling about, napping or sunning themselves. There was even one attendee, seated in front of the North Stage reading a novel. Each year, it seems like most people come to the Roots Picnic for the atmosphere and the positive energy, as opposed to any particular artist.
That is, except for the last few acts of the day that rightly earned the attention of the entire festival. Up first was Trap god, Jeezy (fka Young Jeezy). Hits like “R.I.P,” “Soul Survivor” and “Put On” were met with the most enthusiasm. Along with Playboi Carti, Jeezy was a late addition to the festival lineup. With Lil Wayne out, Jeezy’s throwback appeal was critical and the Atlanta rapper certainly held his own.
With the huge success surrounding 2016’s A Seat at the Table, fans were expecting an inspired performance from Solange. And she absolutely delivered. Her soulful set saw the singer and her dancers bathed in a red glow. She kicked it off with “Rise” and “Weary” off of last year’s release. Followed by a beautiful rendition of “Cranes In The Sky” before heading out into the crowd for an enthusiastic and empowering performance of “FUBU.” She closed her set with “Losing You” and “Don’t Touch My Hair,” which she used as opportunity to bust out her best dance moves.
And then it was time for the man of the hour: Pharrell Williams, who was introduced by actor JB Smoove (who also announced the Oct 1st premiere of Curb Your Enthusiasm) and Amanda Seales from HBO’s Insecure. Pharrell kicked off his set with “Lose Yourself To Dance” and a cover of Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright.” He moved seamlessly (as backed by The Roots) from one hit to the next, conquering solo songs like “Come Get It Bae” alongside collaborative tracks like Robin Thicke’s controversial “Blurred Lines.” He’d also bring it all the way back to early 2000s, with N.E.R.D songs “Maybe” and “Run to the Sun” accompanied by his bandmate Shay Haley, who would be just the first among a slew of surprise guests to take the stage.
With the opening chords of “What Happened To That Boy,” newly appointed GOOD Music President Pusha T took the stage. He’d stick around to perform “Mr. Me Too” and of course arguably the biggest Clipse hit “Grindin’.” Next on the list was N.O.R.E to perform “SuperThug” and “Nothin” as well as drop unending praise on Pharrell, calling him “the best producer of all time…the Dr. Dre of our generation.” After proclaiming his love and boasting of Pharrell’s “super sperm,” N.O.R.E left the stage and fans were treated to N.E.R.D hit “Rock Star” and a medley of Pharrell produced hits like “Hot in Herre” and “Pass the Courvoisier.”
Just when it seemed like the special guest appearances had concluded, a fan wearing a Hawaiian shirt jumped on stage. That fan was none other than Tyler the Creator, and he’d stick around to dance and sing along.
The entire set was a non-stop jam session, expertly coordinated by The Roots. Black Thought rapped seamlessly over Pharrell hits. And there was a even a drum battle that pitted Pharrell against Roots founder Questlove.
And then Pharrell took a moment to take a more sentimental tune, discussing the first ever song he produced. With that, SWV took the stage (met with roaring applause) to perform that very track, “Use Your Heart” as well as “Right Here.” Before exiting, they boasted “Give it up for Pharrell Williams everybody! We had him first!” The only way to top such a beautiful moment on stage was for Pharrell to bring out young Reef, a six-year old battling cancer. Reef, a huge fan of Pharrell’s, was brought on stage to close out the night’s festivities with the always uplifting “Happy.” It was a special moment that capped off another legendary Roots Picnic experience, proving once again that Pharrell (and his music) never get old.
Photo Credit: Sharon Alagna