To celebrate the 10th anniversary of The Roots Picnic, a festival curated by the Philadelphia collective and their longtime manager, Shawn Gee, headliners Pharrell, Lil Wayne and Solange will take over the City of Brotherly Love. After launching the New York City counterpart last fall in Bryant Park, the Picnic will return to its, well, roots at the Festival Pier at Penn’s Landing in Philly on Saturday (June 3).
“I feel like the Roots Picnic brand has evolved into one of the most credible festivals, in that we started as a grassroots movement, and built up sponsorships and loyalty among performers and fans over time,” group frontman Black Thought recently told Billboard. “It speaks to the strength of the brand and the uniqueness of the brand that we’re still around 10 years later, and still strong.”
He adds, “I feel like it’s a brand that will continue to grow because it’s something that we very closely curate and it’s a painstaking process of connecting to the artists, the lineup and the order in which everyone’s going to perform, which songs they’re going to do with The Roots. We take part in every step along the way and I feel like that’s a huge difference.”
The Roots aim to piece together a unique lineup that doesn’t get lost in the shuffle of festival season. Beyond their headlining acts, names like 21 Savage, Kimbra, Khalid, PNB Rock and NoName are also in the mix. Securing Pharrell as a performer, though, was a particular source of pride, according to Roots drummer Questlove, who says the booking has been four years in the making.
“Every time Pharrell’s been available, something’s happened at the last minute and he had to ixnay it,” admits Quest. The prolific hitmaker’s spot on the bill, however, will allow the Roots to take different routes with his set. “Pharrell has such an expansive catalog. There’s like 240-plus songs to choose from. We’re dealing with a 90-minute set so we’re talking about 14 to 15 songs,” continues Quest. “I’m trying to figure out if I want to take the mixtape route or just focus on the Pharrell songs alone, or call up some of his friends to come and cameo with him.”
Tapping Lil Wayne, whose album Tha Carter V still remains nowhere to be found, was another big get for the Picnic. Beyond allowing the New Orleans rapper to rock the stage with his usual collection of hits, The Roots wanted “Mixtape Weezy.”
“I feel like Philadelphia loves Lil Wayne,” says Black Thought. “Over the years, he’s always been in the running as an artist that we should book but it was like, again, we had to do something that ties with The Roots brand. We had to come up with an original concept which I feel like we did, which is to have him come and perform as “Mixtape Weezy” and perform all of his mixtape hits that are equally as iconic and classic and loved. It will be the first place you ever see Wayne do that type of performance where we don’t have him come and do his Billboard hits — no pun intended.”
Holding it down for the women is Grammy Award winner Solange — already a Roots Picnic alum, but one who secured higher billing this time out following the success of her album A Seat at the Table. Teases Quest: “I want to see what Solange pulls off. I know she wants to do a very one-off, unique presentation, unlike her regular show.”
Despite the big names and diverse array of performers, the goal for the one-day music fest remains to create a once-in-a-lifetime experience for Picnic-goers. “We try to get people who aren’t performing at other festivals, first and foremost. And if it is an artist that does the circuit, we want to get them represented in a super-unique light,” says Black Thought. “You can go to every festival and you’ll see the same people time and time again, but you’re not gonna see them in the same capacity that they’ll be performing at the Roots picnic.”