The Roots Picnic took over the Festival Pier at Penn’s Landing yesterday (June 1) with its annual celebration of music. Last year’s festival was an experiment, as the event was spread out over two days, the second of which was interrupted by a torrential downpour. Though everyone made the most of it, organizers took the concert back to its roots — no pun intended — for the 6th Annual Roots Picnic, returning to the single-day format. Sometimes, less is more.
The event was once again hosted by TV personality/artist Amanda Diva. Performances, which although intended to be back-to-back overlapped at times, were held on either the main stage or the tent. Early bird fans braved intense heat to enjoy performances from Sonnymoon and the Robert Glasper experience, while Atlanta rapper Trinidad James turned the tent into a mosh pit with his raucous signature single “All Gold Everything.” Sweat was produced, and it wasn’t from MDMA. Solange’s rousing performance sent music ringing up Spring Garden Street; even though she happily exists in a different medium that elder sister Beyoncé, she too has mastered the art of the live performance. Stage presence is apparently a Knowles family trait.
Back inside the tent, teenage Brooklyn MC Joey Bada$$ delivered a performance that will earn him even more respect from older hip-hop fans and artists alike. Joined by his Pro Era crew, the young rapper attacked his set before closing it with a performance of “Survival Tactics,” even rapping along to fallen friend Capital STEEZ’s verse as a tribute to him. Los Angeles-based DJ Gaslamp Killer followed up in the tent, and the bearded wonder sent the crowd into a frenzy when he picked up his mixer and emerged from behind the turntables with it, while continuing to blend everything from Jay-Z’s “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” to Bone Crusher’s “Never Scared.” A little showmanship is always appreciated.
After hosting a brief freestyle competition on the main stage, Amanda Diva welcomed rapper Macklemore and producer Ryan Lewis to the stage. Wearing a mid-90s Seattle SuperSonics Shawn Kemp jersey, the rapper joked with the crowd who eagerly waited for the duo to perform their ode to ballin’ on a budget, “Thrift Shop.” They were able to squeeze in “Cant Hold Us,” their latest smash hit before losing some of the crowd to DJ Premier’s set inside the tent. A simple mention of the legendary producer’s name sent people scrambling to catch his scratch mixed selections from his lengthy resume with random break beats. The shining moment arrived when Preemo used Gang Starr’s “Full Clip” to pay homage to his former partner Guru and Brooklyn rapper Big L, both who have passed on. While easily one of the best hip-hop producers of all-time, Premiere is also one hell of a DJ.
Back on the main stage, guitarist Gary Clark Jr.’s performance was welcomed by one drunk fan’s exclamation of “This is better than Hendrix!” That’s quite the compliment. The tent remained calm, at least until A-Trak took the stage. The Canadian-born DJ filled the tent to near capacity, sparking a dance party with a mix of Janet Jackson’s “Go Deep.” A-Trak climbed on top of the DJ table and started mixing, remaining at his perch while the crowd held up huge animated signs of his face. The vendors even took a break from selling $11 beers to party. This impressive showing gave everyone their second wind as the wait for the Roots and Naughty by Nature began.
It’s a Roots Picnic tradition to have the headliner perform last while backed by the Roots. The sun had set and the heat had subsided by the time the band took the stage to perform “The Next Movement,” which served as a segue to the main event. The biggest question of the day revolved around whether or not Naughty by Nature, who continue to tour in the midst of a feud, would be able to get along. Any doubts were immediately silenced by the opening notes of a Roots-assisted “Uptown Anthem.” Treach and Vinnie were able to set their differences aside to perform “Hip Hop Hooray,” a record that still retains its power 20 years after its release.
After a stunning beatboxing display by Roots affiliate Rahzel and amazing guitar work by Roots axeman Captain Kirk Douglas, the showed appeared to be over. But, things are never what they seem, especially when the Roots are involved. The night ended with a special appearance by Philly native and MMG rapper, Meek Mill, whose animated yelling is more powerful during live performances. Supported by the Roots, Meek’s soul-bearing “Dreams and Nightmares (Intro)” provided the perfect ending to the sixth annual Roots Picnic. Just three years ago, Meek — relatively unknown outside of the city at the time — was performing inside of the tent. The takeaway from yesterday’s show is that the Roots Picnic is just as much of a celebration of newfound success as it is longevity.