It’s been seven years since its inauguration and the excitement that surrounds the annual Roots Picnic has remained after all this time.
Folks from all walks of life, young and old, still come out anticipating a favorite artist or two on the bill and to enjoy a day of sun and fun. There’s always guaranteed to be a classic, a few rising newcomers, hand selected local flavor, and a mix of hot DJ/producers.
In 2013 the festival condensed itself down to a one-day event instead of the original two-day, which seems to have made it a more anticipated and accessible event. This year Festival Pier also debuted majorly renovated fairgrounds that boasted a beach vibe, designed by Groundswell Design Group, who are responsible for the look of nearby beer garden and club Morgan’s Pier. The hard asphalt was replaced with sand and the second, smaller "Oasis" Stage moved alongside the waterfront, facing the larger, main "Columbus" Stage – this was a major improvement. The day’s schedule alternated between each stage as to provide attendees with a smooth, uninterrupted, break-free transition from one act to the next. There was also more food options (Sampan owner Michael Schulson's IBG food truck) and an upgraded beer selection, but as the day went on the lines were mostly too long and aggravating (and still wildly expensive). The bathrooms have now been moved off to the far right side of the main stage and were, for the most part, pretty bearable and queues moved quickly.
Emily Wells was one of the lesser-known artists on the day’s bill that surprised early afternoon arrivals. While most people were lounging with their blankets and fold out chairs sprawled across the concert grounds, Wells’ one woman show – assisted by live instruments and a loop machine – had the resters rise to their feet.
Philadelphia is always well represented at the homegrown event. This year was highlighted by rapper Chill Moody, the vibey indie rock of The War on Drugs, who were fresh off a plane from Barcelona music festival Primavera Sound, and a special surprise appearance by Freeway during producer Just Blaze’s mid-afternoon set.
Queens hip-hop act Action Bronson was undoubtedly the highlight of the day, bringing a much-needed boost of energy and excitement to the late afternoon crowd. No stranger to Philadelphia, the chef-turned-rapper gave a nod to South St. food spot, and a Questlove favorite, Ishkabbiles and even declared, “I don't even give a f**k about the Mets. I hope the Phillies win today, man.” While he kicked off his set on the Oasis Stage, Bronson moved himself through a sea of wild fans to perform the remainder of his set from atop a vendor truck in the center of Festival Pier. For those lucky enough to see it, he even attempted to purchase a frozen dessert from a food stand and then laid on the lap of an unsuspecting fan while rapping. Truely a unique experience.
As the night began to wind down, The Roots performed their ceremonial headlining performance with the help of hip-hop legend Snoop Dogg, who also wasn’t shy about showing his love for the City of Brotherly by wearing a red Phillies cardigan. A surprise appearance by Doug E. Fresh for " La-di-da-di" was an absolute treat. Beatboxers Biz Markie and Rahzel also made an appearance at the end of the night. Markie had performed earlier on the Oasis stage.
Unlike local festival Made in America, put on by Budweiser, the Roots Picnic is devoid of major sponsors – Questlove-founded record label Okayplayer and Live Nation are the only logos you’ll find on their ad materials. The event isn’t trying to shove a brand or products down your throat between music sessions, which is worth noting since so many of today’s festivals are reliant on big brand names to fund and propel live showcases. The day was focused purely on the music and didn’t leave any room for unnecessary corporate distractions.