Monday, June 8, 2009

Don't Feel Right: The Roots Picnic, Festival Pier, Philadelphia, 6.6.09

So, remember when Isabelle interviewed ?uestlove for the Weekly Dig in January and asked him about the status of a then-unannounced 2nd annual Roots Picnic in Philly? We posted the interview here on the site, too. ?uesto told Isabelle that this year was going to be a two-day affair, among other tentative plans:

ID: Are you guys going to do another Roots Picnic this summer? I went to the first one.
?: Yes, we are. And this time I promise it's gonna be an actual picnic. We're new at this festival-throwing thing, so we forgot to figure in fatigue of the audience and how to protect them from the sun.
Well, a few months later the official announcement came: the second Picnic was going to be a one day festival again (fine by me, as I day tripped from NYC) featuring a lineup that was as amazing as ?uest alluded to. Antibalas, TV on the Radio, Black Keys, Santigold and the centerpiece of the lineup, Public Enemy playing the entirety of It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, backed by not only the Roots but Antibalas as well.

Before I tell you how the performances were, I have a bone to pick. Festival Pier is a terrible, terrible venue. It's more of a concrete parking lot than a pier. The drinks are overpriced and the food is terrible. I will admit that all of this so far is par for the course when it comes to outdoor shows. Sad but true. That, I can get over. But you're gonna put thousands of people in the hot sun all day with no water fountain or cooler or anything? Last year, the weather was way worse--95 degrees and no cloud cover, as I recall. Maybe that's why they set up water coolers for everyone to stay hydrated. This year was much cooler and partly cloudy, so maybe we just didn't deserve complimentary water? Maybe I'm old fashioned or naive, but I believe that if you have a ten hour music festival you need to look after the crowd, especially when most of them paid upwards of $60 to attend. Adding insult to injury, security made me dump out my water on the way in ("For all we know, you have vodka in that bottle") and told me I could fill it up at the water fountain inside. The nonexistent water fountain. It must be the one that appears once you start hallucinating from lack of fluids. This was beyond an inconvenience; it was a risk to everyone's health, and basically felt like a huge 'fuck you' from the venue and the promoters. Of course, water was for sale at $3.50 a bottle, if you could afford it. Judging from the number of people I saw pass out (I counted five in my immediate vicinity) not everybody could swing that. People were dropping like flies all due to the negligence of those in charge. I'm not sure whose fault this was--Live Nation, Penn's Landing, the Roots, Okayplayer, or some other party all of whom I'm sure would just blame the other for the problems and call it a day--but it was severely disappointing. In my decade long career of concert going, I have never felt so abused and mistreated, which is saying quite a lot, since this is an industry that generally tries to do just that to its customers whenever possible. Perhaps worst of all, it made ?uestlove's words on this very blog feel fake.

So how was the music? It was phenomenal. The Roots always bring their A-game, and Antibalas' set was one of the most dynamic, sonically satisfying sets of my concert going career. Black Keys were a welcome break, bringing their stripped down blues licks to a crowd that seemed mostly disinterested. Their loss. Santigold, who bailed on the first Roots Picnic at the last minute, played a passable set marred by terrible sound (bass and voice turned to 11, drums buried in the mix) but hey, her backup dancers were pretty cool. Too bad she didn't show up last year, when I still cared. Busdriver played a great set, but as one of the only traditional emcee-and-a-DJ hip hop sets of the day didn't really stand up to a lot of the live instrumentation that was going on. Fun to watch for sure, though. TV on the Radio's set was hot like fire, with the Antibalas horns backing them up. It seemed like TVOTR were sort of the symbol of the day--a band encompassing rock, hip hop, soul, blues, and world music all in one place. You know, like Santigold thinks she does, only successful. The last act of the night was the Roots, who of course rocked the house (25 minute version of "You Got Me," anyone?), although I would have liked to see them play a longer, more wide-ranging set like they did at the 2008 Picnic. To be fair, the show was supposed to be over by the time they took the stage, so maybe they were pressed for time.

As expected, the highlight of the day was the Public Enemy/Roots/Antibalas set. It Takes a Nation... is one of the most dark, dense, difficult albums in the history of hip hop and watching these musicians breathe all of this life into the work was nothing short of a revelation. This performance actually exceeded my greatest expectation for it. The Second Annual Roots Picnic was a fantastic day of music, marred by conditions that had me fantasizing on a Woodstock '99 style uprising.

Please guys, next year, can we do this somewhere else?


Isabelle said...

Did ?uest hit anybody in the head with a water bottle again?

Little Giant said...

this is sweet but naive,
?uestlove really has no say or hand in the water or refreshments at a live nation venue.
Okayplayer is a web site, they don't produce shows,
Pennslanding leases the space to live nation.