When The Roots Picnic started along Penn’s Landing northern stages of Festival Pier on June 7, 2008, it was a seasonal gathering of hip hop and R&B’s finest. That meant then-locals such as Santogold and Diplo, along with the eternal Philadelphian DJ Jazzy Jeff, with the top-tier likes of Gnarls Barkley, Deerhoof, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings and Philly’s The Roots at the top of the bill, playing long into the night.
Nearly 15 years-later, The Roots Picnic – slated for June 4 and 5 at The Mann Center – continues to be the surest sign that summer has arrived in Philadelphia.
In 2022, some things have changed. Sharon Jones is no longer here, sadly having passed away in 2016. Diplo and Santogold (now Santigold) live in Los Angeles. Gnarls Barkley is no more—but its producing half, Danger Mouse, has a new album coming up in partnership with The Roots’ Black Thought. And Questlove? Ahmir Thompson is a 2022 Academy Award-winning director for his debut documentary, 2021’s ‘Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)’. Questlove, Black Thought and the rest of The Roots can be viewed nightly as the house band and music directors of NBC’s ‘The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon’.
Despite the natural evolution of The Roots Picnic, Philly’s favorite summer tradition continues its mission to showcase local musicians alongside established acts. This year’s event welcomes Philadelphia-born-and-bred vocalist Jazmine Sullivan—fresh off her Best R&B Album Grammy win for 2021’s ‘Heaux Tales’—to the stages of The Mann, and The Roots will host and play alongside Mary J. Blige on the grand Pavilion stage. Other acts include rapper Wizkid, vocalist Summer Walker, saxophonist Kamasi Washington, gospel giants Kirk Franklin and Tye Tribbett and country great Mickey Guyton. Another edition of Black Thought’s ‘Live Mixtape’ sessions featuring Rick Ross & Benny the Butcher will join the lineup, as well as hip hop purveyor Tierra Whack, and the jazz-blues pairing of Robert Glasper and Germantown vocalist Bilal. And, just to tie things together in a neat bow from The Roots Picnic’s first iteration, DJ Jazzy Jeff will again spin in his old neighborhood off Parkside Avenue.
Back in 2019 when The Roots, its management and Live Nation moved the 12th Annual Roots Picnic from the blacktop of Penn’s Landing’s Festival Pier staging to the grassy knolls of West Philly’s Fairmount Park off Parkside Avenue, Questlove called their move to the Mann, “Greener pastures.”
“I dreamed of The Roots Picnic as something akin to the annual WDAS-sponsored family event on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway,” Roots partner Tarik Trotter, told Metro at the time. “Grass was the original plan—that was the whole idea behind calling it a “picnic.”
Trotter went on to say that the move from Festival Pier to The Mann and the grassy stretches of Fairmount Park was just one more way that The Roots — now mostly in New York City to accommodate their ‘Tonight Show’ gig — could show their continued “involvement and investment in this city.”
Here’s to another 15 years of this city’s finest summer tradition.