I Came, I Saw, And I Was Conquered By Erykah Badu And The 2015 Roots Picnic
It was Saturday afternoon, and 90 degrees at the Roots Picnic in Philly. (For the record, “90 degrees in Philly” = “126 degrees wherever the hell else you’re from“) It felt like seeing your favorite cousins and being grown at the family reunion when all of the “fun” aunts and uncles started having a few drinks. I didn’t entirely know what to expect from my first music festival experience, but I knew The Roots were involved. And that’s usually enough.
Roots Picnic is different from what I’ve learned to be true of other multi-stage music festivals in that the three main performance spaces are all within a few hundred feet of each other. This is mainly because of the layout of Festival Pier at Penn’s Landing, where the event is held every year, but this had just as many ups as it did downs. There were a few occasions when acts overlapped (Poor DJ Diamond Kutz) and things sounded crazy, but outside of that, the show ran pretty smoothly and on time.
Artists like Bishop Nehru, Hiatus Kaiyote and Rae Sremmurd played shorter sets earlier in the day, while everyone’s festival ‘fits were still fresh and we weren’t too heat-worn to realize that, surprisingly, we did know all the words to “Throw Some Mo’”. Later, DJ Mustard (née Dijon Isaiah McFarlane), A$AP Rocky with the majority of A$AP Mob (RIP Yams), and The Weeknd — who actually puts on a really good show if you’re into his music — played longer sets for audiences so niche, you could easily pick them out whenever the respective artist wasn’t performing. Kinda like the difference between people who go to the Greyhound station for the buses, and people who go their for the discount bagels in the sandwich shop. 80 degrees felt like too long lines for food and the bathroom, but, “Wait, I know this song!”
The Roots took the stage at 9pm. By that time we’d been standing, and sweating, and sitting, and sweating for anywhere between seven and nine hours; not entirely ready to go, but quickly nearing the threshold. When the flood lights dropped, however, and Black Thought’s voice infiltrated the crowd, his question “What are you passionate about?” may as well have come from a burning bush, the way energy started flowing. They opened with an extended play of “A Peace of Light” from How I Got Over, and the monitor went through a chronological display of their album covers, which of course invited the response from the audience on our favorites. The Roots and Erykah Badu, individually, are fundamental elements. Collectively, their chemistry is the type of electrifying magic that makes your skin tingle and drapes you in a cloak of proud, heavy, unapologetic Blackness.
The first song they performed together was Erykah’s “Love of My Life”, making it even more of an ode to Hip Hop by interspersing the chorus with performances of other essential Hip Hop songs. Afrika Bambaataa blessed the stage, Freeway came out to perform “Roc The Mic”, The Lox gave us “All About the Benjamin’s”, and YG brought us all together with the personal fave “My Nigga, My Nigga.” After more from Badu and The Roots, including them backing The Weeknd’s “Earned It” and Erykah dusting off an amazing “Green Eyes” performance, I wholly understood why people braved the crowds, robbery-adjacent food and beverage prices, and heat to see their faves festivals every summer. Because, for me, 75 degrees that night in Philly felt like the satisfaction of a long shower after the hottest, sweatiest, stickiest, and best day of the summer.