Macklemore, Solange, Glasper highlights at 6th Annual Roots Picnic

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?uestlove | Photo by John Vettese
?uestlove | Photo by John Vettese

The 6th annual Roots Picnic brought its trademark mix of sounds and styles to the Festival Pier on a sunny Saturday this weekend. And though the results were also somewhat mixed, the show had more high points than not.

The standout set of the day came from independent rapper / viral sensation Macklemore, who took the stage at the peak of the afternoon’s 90-degree heat. The crowd was at capacity, water was at a premium, and yet it was impossible not to groove to the dude’s lively and charismatic stage show. He was funny (quipping that he and DJ Ryan Lewis “just flew in from Egypt. Or maybe Seattle…” and snatching a fur vest from the crowd for his signature song “Thrift Shop”), he was poignant (introducing “Same Love” with remarks about marriage equality) and most importantly, he was entertaining.

Earlier in the day, fantastic performances were also turned in by pop singer Solange – sister to Beyonce Knowles, who was lively, stylish, and rocked a great cover of Dirty Projectors’ “Stillness Is The Move” – and Robert Glasper – who embarked on a wild space-jazz jam to a modest crowd as attendees were just beginning to filter in.

The pier’s tent stage housed more of the hard-hitting hip-hop and DJ names on the bill. Philly’s Lushlife played a tremendous set early on. I feel like, for whatever reason, I always wind up seeing the producer / MC (offstage name: Raj Halder) on lineups where he’s playing to indifferent, aloof indie audiences, so it was a treat seeing him rock a packed room of rap fans who were vibing off his delivery, waving their hands and pumping their fists. You could tell Haldar was feeding off their enthusiasm – he fell to his knees atop a stage monitor during a closing performance of “Big Sur” and sounded like he was beginning to lose his voice. I’m sure it was worth it.

Also in the tent,  Brooklyn rapper Joey Bada$$ played a hyper set to a hyper crowd, bouncing between beats and tracks with an almost ADD rhythm. Whatever it lacked in focus, it had in energy. Raucous rapper Trinidad James rocked a riled-up crowd early in the day, while Canadian EDM artist A-Trak closed the tent by spinning a winning set to an audience that was waving cardboard cutouts of his cartooney, pixelated likeness.

Only two acts on the lineup were out-and-out disappointments. The set from blues-rock luminary Gary Clark Jr. was hookless and meandering. After a decent start, it devolved into a show of “hey, look how good I am at guitar,” and you could see its dullness reflected in the crowd’s exhausted faces. Likewise, indie electronic goddess Grimes made a solid effort at showmanship by bounding around the stage and bringing out backup dancers, but the music simply didn’t translate live – its repetitiveness and reliance on echoey effects really showed through. Indie R&B act How To Dress Well and rapper Hitboy also made forgettable appearances.

The Roots themselves capped the night with their trademark good-time, fast-motion set, bouncing seamlessly between something like a half-dozen songs in the first six minutes. It was strikingly similar to the set they play on the Parkway each year for Welcome America Festival; these guys are total pros, down to guitarist “Captain Kirk” Douglas and sousaphonist Tuba Gooding Jr. racing laps around the stage and leaping in time to the beat. But the band had a surprise or two up its many sleeves, like bringing breakout Philly rapper Meek Mill out for a cameo appearance at the end of the night and (more exciting to this reviewer) inviting Marsha Ambrosius of under-appreciated soul combo Floetry out to sing the hook on “You Got Me.”

And this year’s “classic hip-hop” headliner, Naughty By Nature, didn’t disappoint either, rocking their lively 90s radio-rap and marking the 20th birthday of “Hip Hop Hooray” with a sea of waving hands and shouting voices as a cool breeze blew in off the Delaware. Conclusion: even when it fell short, The Roots are masters of the mix – classic and emerging, rap to jazz to electronic and rock, all ages, all energized, all wondering what’s to come next year. See photos from the day after the jump.

Jennah Bell | Photo by Pete Troshak | www.flickr.com/people/petryfrompa
Jennah Bell | Photo by Pete Troshak
Sonnymoon | Photo by Pete Troshak | www.flickr.com/people/petryfrompa
Sonnymoon | Photo by Pete Troshak
Lushlife | Photo by John Vettese
Lushlife | Photo by John Vettese
Robert Glasper | Photo by John Vettese
Robert Glasper | Photo by John Vettese
Trinidad James | Photo by John Vettese
Trinidad James | Photo by John Vettese
How to Dress Well | Photo by John Vettese
How to Dress Well | Photo by John Vettese
Hitboy | Photo by John Vettese
Hitboy | Photo by John Vettese
Solange | Photo by John Vettese
Solange | Photo by John Vettese
Joey Bada$$ | Photo by John Vettese
Joey Bada$$ | Photo by John Vettese
Grimes | Photo by John Vettese
Grimes | Photo by John Vettese
Gaslamp Killer | Photo by Pete Troshak | www.flickr.com/people/petryfrompa
Gaslamp Killer | Photo by Pete Troshak
Macklemore | Photo by John Vettese
Macklemore | Photo by John Vettese
Gary Clark Jr. | Photo by John Vettese
Gary Clark Jr. | Photo by John Vettese
A-Trak crowd | Photo by John Vettese
A-Trak crowd | Photo by John Vettese
A-Trak | Photo by John Vettese
A-Trak | Photo by John Vettese
Naughty By Nature | Photo by John Vettese
Naughty By Nature | Photo by John Vettese
The Roots | Photo by John Vettese
The Roots | Photo by John Vettese
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  • wolfpartyjoe

    I got a Roots Picnic ticket partially as a penance to myself for missing Grimes at Union Transfer in September. I was upset I missed her then so wanted to catch her the second time around. I was really hoping they’d put her in the tent…slightly more intimate and more suited to her music. I thought her performance was really strong but just did not go over well on that main stage. Plus that daisy chain of monitors facing the crowd that was supposed to provide sound for the first few rows of audience members kept cutting out. One second the music was hitting really hard, then it would disappear. The whole day was made worth it by the dubstep breakdown she threw in at the end of Oblivion.

    How To Dress Well I similarly thought was a poor match for the main stage but I actually thought that went over way better than I expected. He always seems to be complaining about sound issues, and I thought a festival PA would drive him crazy, but nope. I think he won over a few people around me who may not have known about him before.

    Macklemore I don’t care for, but yeah his performance was A grade, really knew how to work the crowd and make it fun for everyone.

    Ok thats my totally unsolicited review!

    • John Vettese

      Wow — thanks for weighing in! Yeah, I noticed that about the monitors too. What was up with that? It was all booming and bass-y one minute, and then all of a sudden it was like I was listening from across a field. All day long. I peeked while shooting photos and everything seemed to be plugged in properly…don’t know why it wasn’t working for them.

      And yes, I agree Grimes probably would have worked better in the tent. How to Dress Well I love on record – it seemed like a weird selection of songs for a daytime / festival crowd though. Rippin’ Janet Jackson cover, though.