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BEING THERE: Roots Picnic 2014

Photos by PETE TROSHAK

The Roots hosted their 7th annual picnic at Festival Pier on Saturday and, like the band itself, The Roots Picnic brand has aged like fine wine, with this year’s edition maybe being the best ever. The 2014 edition featured a series of incredible performances including a star-making turn by one rookie rapper and a must-see collaboration between hosts The Roots and one of the most successful and iconic singers in hip-hop’s illustrious history, Snoop Dogg. Early arrivers were treated to a fun performance by Roman Gianarthur, who delivered a Prince-like set of funk, some amazing guitar playing and a memorable cover of Radiohead’s “High And Dry.” Emily Wells delivered a fascinating one-woman-band set that mixed classical and hip-hop, creating loops of violin and drums and building songs out of them. West Philly’s own Chill Moody moved the crowd with his raps about overcoming difficulties and striving for greatness. New Jersey born DJ Just Blaze masterminded an action packed set of rap with a half-dozen guest MC’s including Freeway who spat out a blazing “Two Words,” which he originally recorded with Kanye West. UK quartet Rudimental played a bowel-rumbling set of poppy drum-and-bass. Biz Markie spun a half-hour DJ set to a packed second stage crowd featuring snippets of songs that connected the dots of hip-hop history from the Sugarhill Gang to Pharrell Williams. Philly buzz band The War On Drugs blasted out a memorable 45 minutes of their passionate indie rock with singer Adam Granduciel’s graceful and melodic guitar providing the wings for the band to soar on. Tiny and monochromatically dressed firecracker Janelle Monae strutted and moonwalked across the stage, did a medley of Jackson Five tunes and delivered a powerhouse set of her songs including her classic “Cold War.” The Rookie of The Year Award goes to New York street tough rapper Action Bronson, a tattooed mountain of a man who resembles a WWF villain circa-1987 with an extreme case of ADHD. Joined only by a DJ Bronson arrived to find a packed crowd chanting his name like a rabid Roman Coliseum crowd. During his set Bronson frequently cut off his songs after a few bars, tossed a half-dozen new pairs of expensive Dikembe Mutombo sneakers into the crowd, name-checked hip South Street eatery Ishkabibbles and clambered on top of a beer truck in the center of the crowd to deliver the second half of his set of frantic hardcore rap. The Roots were not to be outdone though; they delivered a 30-song set including a few songs from the new, powerful-yet-bleak …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin LP and their amazing cover of “Jungle Boogie.” Mid-set The Roots were joined by Snoop Dogg, who performed a career-spanning set of his greatest hits with the best band in the world as his backing band. Snoop might have lost his way the last few years with a failed attempt at being a Rastafarian and a handful of albums that failed to recapture the spark and glory of his time working with Dr. Dre, but onstage on this night Snoop created magic with the Roots. His laconic lyrical flow matched with the tight power of The Roots crew breathed new life into Snoop’s material. Highlight’s included a bouncing super funky “Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang” and a loud and defiant “Who Am I?” that had the crowd rocking and singing along. It was a once in a lifetime collaboration that years from now many more people will claim to have seen than actually attended, and maybe the best show of the year in this city and the year isn’t even halfway over. – PETE TROSHAK

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