"New York is a second home to us," Roots drummer Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson tells Billboard about the Picnic's expansion. "There's going to be pop up shops there, really good curated food, comedy, DJ parties there and acts that you wouldn't expect... We're deeply involved in everything, from the grass area to the food you're gonna eat to the music you're gonna hear in between. We're a part of all of that."
For the band, the curated feel of the festival recalls their early days playing festivals throughout Europe, with multi-day, multi-genre events that pre-dated the U.S. festival craze of the past 15 years. "The way we built the Roots Picnic parallels how we built the Roots," says Shawn Gee, longtime Roots manager and a partner at Maverick Management. "With every artist at the festival, whether through the years in Philly as well as now in New York, there's some sort of story or direct or indirect relationship with the Roots with every artist. And then what we try to do to differentiate with our headline sets is to try and create unique experiences that can only be given to you by the Roots. In New York, John Mayer, D'Angelo and the Roots as a headline set -- you won't see that anywhere, this is the only place where you can see it."
The Picnic will also be the first-ever ticketed concert event held in Bryant Park, a result of the band's close working relationship with the Bryant Park Corporation and its executive director Dan Biederman. "Bryant Park is an amazing location because it's so central to the city," says Roots MC Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter. "We're Philadelphians; we pride ourselves on being a Philadelphia brand gone universal. And we're kind of honorary New Yorkers because of the Tonight Show gig, so we thought it was a respectful way to pay homage to our second homes."
In addition to the main festival at Bryant Park, the band also plans to be involved in further events based on their partnership with the Corporation. And there will be more than just music; comedy sets from Roots pals Jerrod Carmichael and Neal Brennan will also be given main stage attention, while Questlove's passion for food and culinary innovation -- he came out with a book in April called somethingtofoodabout -- will result in a curated collection of chefs and pop-up food stalls in the Park as well.
"So this is gonna be much more than just some music and some expensive water," Questlove says. "We've always had jam sessions or musical gatherings or concerts or just small jam sessions with friends in club spaces, and now I think the opportunity is there for us to do some other ideas."
"It comes in different shapes and forms," Gee says about the performers scheduled for the event, "But it's always through the lens of the Roots, and that's what we fall back on. As the festival economy and bubble grows, it's not something that we're formulating, that we're making it up. This is all off relationships from the guys."
With the ninth annual Philly edition of the Roots Picnic wrapping up this weekend -- which featured a headlining set from Usher backed by the group -- and their regular gig on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, the Roots are packing their already busy schedule even more with the new event, not that they mind. "I've taken a note from the Questlove handbook: sleep on your way to and from work," Black Thought says, laughing, about their workload. "But we want to be impactful and contribute. So we don't really have time to rest on our laurels."
Tickets will go on sale Friday, June 10 at 10 a.m. at Ticketmaster.com. Check out the full lineup below.
Stretch & Bobbitto
Everyday People feat DJ Moma
Comedy Set from Jerrod Carmichael
Wu Tang Clan
Black Thought’s Live Mixtape featuring Styles P x Royce da 5’9 x Freddie Gibbs and DJ J Period
Lil Uzi Vert
Daniel “Bambatta” Marley
Comedy Set from Neal Brennan
DJ Jazzy Jeff
Grits & Biscuits