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The Roots Picnic 2014 @ Festival Pier with Snoop Dogg, The War on Drugs, Chill Moody, Janelle Monae and More.

June 2, 2014

SnoopRPSeanKane01Text by Chris Malo. Images by Sean Kane, Rick Kauffman and Michael Bucher.

The 7th annual Roots Picnic took over the Festival Pier this past Saturday on a glorious, sunshine filled day.

Waiting for the line-up announcements to hit the interwebs for the summer festivals has become a part of any live music listener’s springtime diet. When I saw the uber-busy and multitasking ?uestlove announced the 2014 show (and by announced I mean flipped through cue cards as he was getting his hair braided), I thought it was good look and that it covered a broad spectrum of audiences. I was also curious about the Festival Pier remodeling, hearing it got a major facelift and it was going to be my first look.

I got down there early. Real early, which is fine, especially because I wanted to see how things flowed. At the main gate there was now a beer garden, outfitted with a tiki vibe, a good amount of seating and eventually, a two-piece calypso band. In years past, as you would walk through the gate and heading to the main stage, various and mostly independent vendors lined the way. Not this year. Vendors, yes. Independent artists and businesses? Not so much. Instead, if they were allowed at all, they were tucked in the far corner.

One of the biggest and loudest complaints about the Festival Pier has always been that point blank, standing on concrete for 12 hours, often in the hot sun, is no fucking fun. Part of the remodeling included covering the floor in sand. It was deeper towards the back, but overall, made standing for long periods of time easier on the feet and back. If alcohol helped you cope with these things, shipping containers re-outfitted to sell drinks and food lined the perimeter. The other major change is that the tented second stage on the side no longer exists, replaced in the back by an open second stage. The porta-potties were under another tent and the dude of yesteryear that quarterbacked the area, telling people which ones were free and offering up sanitizer and mints on exit, was replaced by sinks with no soap.

But really. What about the music?

New Zealand’s Electric Wire Hustle opened things up right at noon with good energy on the main stage. Immediately after, Roman Gianarthur started his set on the second stage, which set the tone of how things would run the rest of the day. On time. Other years were at times hampered by having to choose between acts on the main stage, or inside the tent. With the back and forth volley between stages, things really ran smooth the entire day.

The first show stopper of the day for me was Emily Wells. Good gawd. The Amarillo, Tex. native is a nymph-like musician that is some parts violinist, a little hip-hop, twist of Bjork and a pinch of Portishead. The early crowd was appreciative as Wells looped instruments like her violin, a backward facing bass drum and other drums, to build these really layered songs, ending, appropriately, with her take on The Roots’ “You Got Me.”

Hometown artist Chill Moody rocked the rear stage with his crew and they looked sharp. With his DJ, two keyboardists, drummer and Beano by his side, Chill delivered a polished set. They looked and sounded professional, loving the energy and the crowd gave that love right back. Of course, hailing from the hometown never hurts either. (My friend was doing artist check-in and told me that Snoop needed 12 passes. Chill Moody? 22.) Looking over the people rocking out to Chill, it was a blend of young and old, white and black, male and female. Chill stays trying to make moves and his fan base is certainly diverse. He is talented and those talents were on full display.

At this point, I wandered backstage. What is fun about the picnic is that while great talent is rocking the stage, behind the scenes has a vibe of its own. It is hard to explain it without giving off an air of “I have access and you don’t,” but if you have been to a Roots Picnic, you know that damn near everybody walking around has a GUEST badge, allowing them into the backstage area. In the back, it is always a reunion. A ton of talent comes from Philly and the picnic has turned into a beginning of summer, reunion of sorts. All sorts of people who never appear on stage are grabbing food from catering or GiGi & Big R’s, playing basketball or ping pong, grabbing a drink or smoke or bullshitting. Artists wander around interacting with everyone and giving pounds and hugs. Charlie Mack, Jakk Frost was there, J. Period, Statik Selektah, J Dilla’s mom… Shit. I even ran into Ed Lover. I saw my man Dameadelphia (who produced The Roots’ first single “When the People Cheer” off … And Then You Shoot Your Cousin) rolling with Porn and a crew including some lovely ladies.

I made it out front to catch Just Blaze spinning on the rear stage and a mini State Prop reunion with Freeway and Young Gunz. Nobody is ever mad at that.

As Rudimental played the main stage, people were streaming through the gates and the day was in full swing. The weather could not have been more perfect. Years past have either uncomfortably hot and humid, or a rain shower sending people scrambling for cover (which would have been awkward because with no tent, huddling in a cul-de-sac of toilets would have been, well, you know. Shitty…), so a warm, but not humid, mostly sunny with an occasional overcast moment and save for the blowing of sand a nice breeze sort of day, was great. With that going on and the response to Rudimental on stage, things were looking good.

I was disappointed in Biz Markie’s performance. No, I was disappointed in the response to Biz Markie‘s performance. Legend. Absolutely legend. Yet no one seemed sure what to do without Molly references or EDM beats. But he crushed it. Don’t believe anyone who suggests otherwise.

Jhene Aiko was a thing of beauty. Her voice, her presence on stage as she glided back and forth in a flowing dress, backed by a band in suits, Jhene delivered. Ladies in the audiences swayed back and forth as they sang along to “The Worst.”

The day was going by quickly. By this point, I had received three beard compliments (one guy asking his girlfriend to take a pic of him and my beard…) and three people asking for rolling papers. The guys from Prince George’s County, Md. were in shock how people were openly smoking weed. I saw a few alcohol enforcement officers walking around, but didn’t see one cop all day. Nice…


A$AP Ferg took to the small stage, and proceeded to annihilate. When he opens with, “Are you guys sick of all this boring ass music?” You know it is about to be on and popping. Watching A$AP Mob perform is similar to Odd Future, in unbridled, wild out and fuck shit up mentality and energy. While the OF kids are kids, the A$AP Mob is a slightly older, East Coast raised and Down South influenced beast of it’s own. The heir to Rocky’s throne is clearly Ferg (although I prefer Twelvy) and the crowd was ravenous as Ferg demanded a mosh-pit and tore through his (albeit short) catalog. Naturally he closed with “Shabba” and naturally, everyone went nuts.

Indie-rock fans were treated to hometown favorites The War on Drugs. Watching their trajectory over the past few years has been great and exciting. For both them and for the city as a whole. Returning just in time from their tour in Europe, the guys stepped on stage and looked and sounded as fresh as if it was their first day on tour. The played a great set and while the rest of the bill leaned toward the rap/R&B side of the spectrum, The War on Drugs provided rock ‘n’ roll for those who wanted or needed to hear it.

Straight from Flushing, Queens was the one called Action Bronson. I mean, dude is a big teddy bear. You know, the kind that would/has body-slam anyone who dared jump up on stage during his set. (No one did, but it may explain why he was the only artist on the rear stage not to allow anyone behind him, side stage only for his performance.) He alternated between dropping tracks from his mixtapes, to tossing boxes of Adidas Mutumbos into the crowd. In the middle of performing his verse on “The Rockers” he jumped off stage and into the crowd. His vocals disappeared and so did he. The track kept playing, but no Bronson. I happened to look out into the crowd and who do I see scaling the lighting tower in between the rear stage and main stage? Yup. That big man. Making his way up and out onto the roof of a beer vending truck, not only surprising those in the back who were closest to the main stage but also surprising himself, he ripped through the second half of his set. It was definitely one of the highlights of the day. I mean, even if you aren’t a fan, how could you not like that? As he made his way back down he apparently tried to get a free icee water. If I couldn’t see him, how do I know? Because all of a sudden we hear, “I can’t get an icee? You didn’t see what I just did? I’m out here working for you and I can’t get an icee? Fuck you cunt!” Bronson.

Atlanta native Janelle Monae was next up on the main stage. She turned in a great performance. There were several acts on the bill that not only looked good or sounded good, but really looked and sounded good. She was definitely one of them. I don’t know how many times I have mentioned “energy” in this review, but Janelle was another one. She looked great. Rehearsed, choreographed, but not orchestrated, if that makes sense. She has a good amount of material and is super talented. The crowd loved her and she loved us right back.


AraabMuzik was the last performance on the rear stage. The backdrop of the Ben Franklin bridge set against a dusk sky only reinforced the idea that maybe someone can do something special with a dramatic vista on Philadelphia’s waterfront. The Rhode Island native made a name with his lightning quick hand speed as he works an MPC. Leaning more on the EDM side of things these days, it was exactly what the kids wanted on a pristine night at the beach.

Now, it was time for The Legendary Roots Crew. Sort of.

This was one of the most puzzling parts of the night. The Roots came out, played a few tracks and introduced the show’s headliner, Snoop Dogg. (NOT Snoop Lion as he now prefers. For one night, and one night only – unless you were at Hot97’s Summer Jam in NYC the following night, where many of the artists on this bill appeared…) The Roots didn’t even really play that long. On the one hand, I am OK with that. I have seen them countless times. I’m not saying they play too much, but being involved in the music scene in Philly for many years, you know. They play here a LOT. Not as much as before they moved to NYC, but… I just thought about all the people that may not have had that opportunity and wonder if they felt disappointed.

I felt a tap on my shoulder and A$AP Ferg’s DJ was inquiring about rolling papers. I don’t smoke but it was also what is great about the Roots Picnic. It isn’t uncommon for the performers to not hide backstage, but to be out and about. ast year I bumped into Vinnie from Naughty by Nature out in front. J. Period was over watching AraabMuzik earlier and the guys and girl from Rudimentary took in Bronson’s set.

Snoop was great. Not in the nostalgic way, but he just was fun. Dressed in a Phillies cardigan, he seemed enthused to be there and put on a performance. When someone handed him a bag of weed, he asked if it was any good, passed it to his DJ to roll up and promised the fan if it was any good he would take him backstage to take a photo and smoke some Cali bud. I’m not mentioning all the songs her performed, because you could probably guess them. It was all the ones he is known for and that you would want to hear. Tha Dogg Pound was in full effect. Daz spinning and Philadelphia’s own Kurupt were in the building. The only thing that was missing was Nate Dogg (RIP). Fans loved every minute of every song. Whenever the lights went up on the crowd, nearly all of the almost 8,000 people there had their hands up as they rapped long.

Snoop disappears and fans are treated to more Roots. Rahzel also drops in, Biz Markee reminds what guys should do when their girl tells them he’s “Just a Friend,” and our surprise guest, the Human Beat Box, Doug E. Fresh. Legends, people, these are legends on the stage. The day ended with Snoop and Black Thought doing “La-di-da-di” accompanied by Doug E. Fresh, Rahzel and backed by The Roots. No complaints.

And with that, the 7th annual Roots Picnic drew to a close. I have been to a bunch of them, and between the revamped venue, great line-up that had at least a little for everyone, perfect weather, performers who showed up (Kid Cudi?), mics that actually worked (Rakim?), I think it was the most successful Roots Picnic by far. The problem is when you do that, you only set the bar higher for yourself. I’m looking forward to next year’s already.

(I stopped by Wawa on Delaware Avenue after to grab a meatball hoagie. It had been a 13 hour day. I happened to be standing in line waiting to pay when I looked up and noticed I was standing behind Kurupt. I told him good show. He said he appreciated it. I went home, ate my hoagie and went to bed.)

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