A great hip-hop act once said, “You can plan a pretty picnic but you can’t predict the weather.” So we all learned Sunday night at the fifth annual Roots Picnic at Penn’s Landing’s Festival Pier.
An early evening thunderstorm drenched the crowd, leaving puddles and empty beer cans all over the black concrete. On stage, the artists had to deal with microphone malfunctions and power outages. Just as Rakim was getting into the hook of “I Know You Got Soul,” the speakers went silent.
Five minutes later …
“I’m back, Philly. I’m back,” he shouted. “Been a long time, shouldn’t have left you …”
Black Thought, soaked in sweat, looked out at the crowd and took the vocals on Eric B’s parts of “I Ain’t No Joke,” Paid in Full,” “Juice,” and “Don’t Sweat the Technique.”
The inclement weather also delayed the flight of the night’s final act, Kid Cudi. The Cleveland rapper never made it to the show, but The Roots wouldn’t let anyone go home unhappy. Black Thought called for some “hometown hero shit” and brought out Philly rappers Freeway, Jakk Frost and Skillz.
“No one wants to go home yet, right?,” he said. “The show goes on.”
Not only did the show go on, it actually got better. Freeway, wearing a sling and cast on his right arm, started it off with “Rock The Mic.” Then, The Roots dug deep into their platinum catalog, playing “The Seed 2.0,” “The Next Movement” and a masterful cover of the Guns N’ Roses classic, “Sweet Child ‘O Mine.”
But the highlight was an electrifying, extended version of “You Got Me.” Black Thought put the spotlight on Captain Kirk Douglass, whose guitar solo dazzled the crowd, Jimi Hendrix style. Captain Kirk gently sang Erykah Badu’s lines and then stretched his vocal chords with his trademark scat. Kid Cudi who? The crowd ate it up.
The Roots played for an extra hour after announcing Kid Cudi had cancelled. Earlier in the day, as people sought dry shelter, Diplo held it down with two sets in the tented area. The Philly-based DJ – amid clouds of marijuana smoke – turned the tent into the weekend’s biggest dance party.
What we saw:
The Roots Picnic was a two-day affair, starting Saturday afternoon
and ending Sunday night. Here are three things we saw at the festival:
Surprise, surprise … Mos Def showed up out of the blue Saturday night,
in the middle of The Roots’ set, and went toe-to-toe with Black Thought
on “Double Trouble.” The rapper/actor tore up the mic on classics “Casa
Bey” and “Umi Says.” De La Soul also played an unforgettable set, which
was highlighted by “Oohh Oohh.”
2. Vote Obama … It was hard to
ignore the overwhelming political presence there both days. Volunteers
for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign handed out bumper stickers at
the entrance/exit and tried to track down unregistered voters. The Roots
have long been loud-and-proud Obama supporters.
3. How much for
a beer? … As the rest of the city celebrated Philly Beer Week with
happy hours and specials on hand-crafted brews, the folks at Festival
Pier jacked up the prices. The big Miller Lite cans (22 oz.) were
selling for $11 a pop. Mixed drinks? We didn’t even ask.