Stories of old gigs from The Roots are the stuff of legend around Philadelphia. Throw a stone and you’re bound to hit a Gen-X music lover with memories (perhaps false ones) of surprise shows at now-defunct Old City venues and happenstance Questlove sightings at Northern Liberties brunch spots. These stories might be all that is left of a bygone era in which The Roots helped shape the sonic and ideological imprint of left-of-center hip-hop culture, all the while centering it in a series of extinct local hot spots.
Well, not all that’s left. They may have abandoned a rigorous touring regimen for late night glory, but Quest and co. remain committed to creating awesome moments of cross-genre delight and enlightenment for Philadelphians of all stripes. The clearest definition of this mission statement – one which has followed them into numerous genre-bending albums and collaborations – is the annual Roots Picnic, the 7th installment of which goes down at Festival Pier this Saturday. Few festivals pack such an eclectic and kinetic punch in a small, relatively inexpensive experience. While this year’s lineup is one of its strongest yet, we here at The Key have our eye on a few artists (including some lesser-known ones) who have had especially fascinating years and promise tremendous sets on Saturday.
At the risk of sounding obvious, we’ll say that any set from The Roots is bound to set the mood for a day of gleeful head-nodding. Their reputation as a live act, honed through nearly two decades of constant touring and five years of sequence-scoring for Jimmy Fallon, is well-established. With the recent release of the excellent …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin, the band also promises to deliver some searing live renditions of their epic new material.
The first Made in America festival got a lot of mixed reviews from local concertgoers who were mired in large-scale and largely acceptable skepticism about how a festival of that scale would play out on the Parkway. Unanimous praise was saved, however, for Janelle Monáe’s classic soul-rooted, futuristically-oriented brand of music. After near-unanimous praise for her latest album, 2013’s The Electric Lady, the aptly named Electric Lady promises a solid set of fanciful festivity.
The War on Drugs
At least one prominent Roots Picnic slot is reserved for a buzzworthy indie act who, like The Roots, looks to bridge aesthetic boundaries instead of reinforcing them. Philly’s own The War on Drugs, riding on the success of this year’s acclaimed and dreamscape-y Lost in the Dream, fill big shoes left by genre benders like Vampire Weekend and TV on the Radio. But if their unique take on shoegaze-meets-Americana has a perfect home anywhere, it’s at an open air concert along their hometown’s emblematic waterfront.