Roots Picnic 2018: The Roots Get Rained Out, While Lil Uzi Vert, BadBadNotGood, Sun Ra Shine (FESTIVAL REVIEW)

After over a decade of successful Roots Picnics, the law of probability says something will go south. No sooner had Dave Chappelle introduced our hosts, the legendary Roots Crew, did the sky open up and pour down rain over the 11th Annual Roots Picnic at Festival Pier in Philadelphia canceling the majority of the headliners own set. Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter was able to sneak in the now famous freestyle rap that he debuted back in late December on Hot 97. With sheets of rain pouring down around him, Trotter tactfully ran through 10 minutes of phrasing featuring exceptional live guitar flourishes by Capt. Kirk Douglas and a sincere try at enhancing the crowd’s energy with blasts from Tuba by Damon “Tuba” Gooding Jr. For those of you feeling slighted about the canceled finale, one only needs to review the other eight hours of music before Mother Nature rained our parade.

Scenes from the 2018 Roots Picnic from Jake Krolick on Vimeo.

Earlier on Saturday, separate from their band, mental and lyrical wizards Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter both offered quite in-depth individual projects which showcased a unique slice of each musician’s mastery of craft. Between sets, a Podcast stage offered an interesting interlude complete with wireless headphones for the audience. No doubt the most anticipated podcast of the Picnic was Ahmir Thompson’s own live offering, a Questlove Supreme. The podcast featured lively banter between Thompson’s Pandora regulars, plus a local Coffee Shop proprietor and author Marc Hill. The conversation drifted through a number of topics including Starbucks, Kanye, Drake, and harder questions like, can we overcome our current situation? This was answered with a resounding, YES and a small Michael McDonald diatribe by one of Questlove’s panelists. Before it was over Questlove trailed off talking about needing a shot of espresso before the Tonight Show each night.

The Black Thought & J. Period Live Mixtape was again a fantastic chance to witness one of the greatest emcee’s of our time, share his exceptional skills. With fighter ace level delivery and a sincere willingness to share a stage with others, Black Thought offered up an afternoon delight session featured guests Jadakiss and Fabolous who shined on Fabolous’s hit “Breathe”. Black Thought dove into his debut side project EP, Streams of Thought, Vol. 1, with the cunning lyricism in “Dostoyevsky”. Between the music Black Thought shared subtle moments of respect with each artist. This was not a master and pupil mentality, but mutual respect moments shared between artists.

The Annual Roots Picnic, is defined by the connection of those brought together by the Roots and their eclectically beautiful taste. The 2018 Picnic featured a midafternoon line-up that forced the casual listener to bend their ear and expand their minds. The morning heated up with a north stage blend of Rapsody’s incredibly intensive lyrical showmanship and Gold Link’s beat meets rhyme combos that shook the masses into a sweaty dance party. Things got weird on the South Stage as the local legends Sun Ra Arkestra marched out 14 members deep, fronted by 94-year-old bandleader and saxophonist, Marshall Allen. The interplanetary pioneers, unleashed “Space is the Place” as a horn filled highlight of their show. The saxophone line pushed the boundaries of music, as singer Tara Middleton’s lighter and less experimental vocals pulled the young crowds focus from Middleton and his sequined instrumentalists.

BadBadNotGood (BBNG) picked up right after the Sun Ra Arkestra left us hanging up in the stratosphere. Pianist and Producer Matty Tavares took a spirited approach on keyboards and knobs as BBNG showed a different hand with jazz. Backed by a live band, Tavares’ showed us why artists like Danny Brown and Ghostface Killah wanted to work with the Toronto musician. BBNG’s underlying beats from live bass and drums mixed with a steady dash of Tarvares’ piano work and electronics creating memorable segments of music without being too “hooky”.

Huge crowds surrounded the Podcast stage again for the Drink Champs podcast; while the social stage saw one of its largest audiences of the day for The “Barrier Breakers” panel. This discussion panel consisted of a powerful mix of African-American women leading the music and entertainment industry. Spotify’s Amber Grimes talked about how many of their positions were not there before they each created them. That idea was echoed throughout the rest of the group that included Uber’s Chief Brand Officer and the Head of Film & TV for Shawn Carter Enterprises.

As the sun set, the sky started to grow more ominous as the Oasis stage DJ’s Grits & Biscuits spun and chopped their way into our eastern hearts. They spun a hearty helping of dirty south bounce that fired up the crowd in one of the best shake and move moments of the day. Toronto R&B duo DVSN (pronounced Division) featured hypno-crooner Daniel Daley and Producer ninteen85. Their songs like “Think About Me” and “With Me” featured extreme levels of bass that shook literal ripples across the patrons on the rail. Daley’s subtly auto-tuned vocals combined with bass blasts made for a moody and perfect performance under swirling grey skies.

Only two years ago Philly’s own Symere Woods aka Lil Uzi Vert played to a sun-drenched crowd on the Oasis stage. This time resident rapper Lil Uzi Vert packed the south stage. He fired up the masses sporting a wild cherry red leather outfit and even asking the photographers to take a picture of his coat before he tossed it back stage. Uzi Vert showed that the past two years have only amped up his youthful exuberance as he bounded back and forth across the stage. The crowd, in return, religiously cried out his lyrics in sync and at his command. He jumped into the crowd several times surfing 100 feet out to the north side where he sat high in the crowd. There poised in a solo spot, Uzi Vert went through a spirited version of2016’s The Perfect LUV Tape’s “Do What I Want”. The crowd really screamed the lines “That ain’t no Rollie, bitch, this is a Franck Muller Yeah, a Franck Muller” He reached his breaking point latter and jumped back into the crowd before quickly getting back onstage to rip through “ Money Longer.” His set did not disappoint and was nothing short of exhilarating.

This setlist surfaced on twitter – look at it if you want to dream about what might have happened during the Roots finale. The 2018 Roots Picnic once again did what it does best. It drew a unique, fashionable, intelligent, and most taste forward clientele all brought together because of the 215’s greatest sons – The Fabulous Roots Crew.

Photos by Jake Krolick


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