Words by Audra Tracy | Photos by Jeremy Gordon
Damn, it must feel good to be The Roots. Last month the legendary crew celebrated the 20th anniversary of their classic album, Illadelph Halflife, and it seems now they are busier than ever. In addition to their steady gig as Jimmy Fallon’s house band on The Tonight Show, The Roots also still managed to host two festivals in 2016.
While the annual Roots Picnic has become a tradition in their hometown of Philly, this year for the first time the band booked a second event, in their second home of New York City. So just down the block from their ‘office’ at NBC Studio 6-B, Black Thought, Questlove & Co. designed a festival to fulfill all their musical fantasies.
Nestled between towering skyscrapers and the New York Public Library, Bryant Park accommodated two stages for the event, which featured a stacked line-up including The Roots as well as D’Angelo, John Mayer, David Byrne, Nile Rodgers, and the Wu Tang Clan. And not only did they score a killer roster on paper, but the mere presence of The Roots in New York compelled some pretty incredible artists to just show up, too.
From surprise special guests to epic medleys and countless collaborations, there were so many incredible moments at the Roots Picnic that our heads are still spinning. Here are the highlights that were truly unforgettable…
X Ambassadors Fit The Bill
One of the only rock bands on the bill, X Ambassadors were truly honored to be invited by the headliners. They seemed just as humbled as the audience to share the same air as the icons that were on deck to perform on Saturday. “I’m just happy we’re going first”, lead singer Sam Harris joked during the band’s Saturday evening set, which featured radio hits like “Unsteady” and “Renegades”.
Common Joins The Roots
When the sun went down, the Legendary Roots Crew took their rightful place on the 5th Avenue Stage to get their headlining set in motion. But it wasn’t long before they brought out the first of many surprise special guests – Chicago’s own Common. The Roots kept the groove going as the poetic rapper/activist spit a few songs, including an impassioned freestyle that set the bar high for the night.
Dave Chappelle Crashes The Picnic
John Mayer played next, slaying his way through a short and sweet set of bluesy guitar riffs. But when his jam session was over, Mayer’s fellow headliner, D’Angelo, was missing in action, and so the one and only Dave Chappelle stepped in to stall the impatient crowd. “I’m only out here for two reasons”, Chappelle said to a sea of screaming fans. “Kevin Hart couldn’t make it, and D’Angelo is late.”
A Little Something For The Ladies
Once D’Angelo finally took the stage, Bryant Park definitely turned into ladies night. Yes, love-struck fans were pretty worked up over the R&B star’s rare performance on Saturday. But hormones truly went haywire when D’Angelo joined forces with another smooth operator to create the ultimate slow jam. That’s right – John Mayer returned to induce swoons on “Playa Playa” and “Brown Sugar”.
The Ultimate Mixtape
How do you begin to top the thrills of Day One? The Roots’ own Black Thought took care of that, curating the hottest mixtape of the weekend at the 6th Avenue Stage on Sunday. In one quick set he invited icon after icon to exchange verses with him onstage, causing fans to lose their damn minds over appearances by Kool G Rap, Smif-N-Wessun, Pharaoh Monch, Big Daddy Kane, and more.
From The Big Easy to The Big Apple
New Orleans’ own Trombone Shorty kept the momentum up on Sunday with a brass-heavy set on the 5th Avenue Stage. Shorty and his band, Orleans Avenue, were not leaving without making their mark – which was easy once they invited special guest and fellow NOLA native Mystikal on-stage. Fans happily heeded the order as they got down on a version of Mystikal’s hit, “Shake Ya Ass”.
And The Heat Goes On…
Talking Heads founder and frontman David Byrne is no nostalgia act, and to prove it, he helped kick off Saturday’s ‘Love Letter to NYC’ theme by performing unreleased songs from his upcoming play about Joan of Arc. But the man isn’t cruel, so he also indulged New Yorkers (and most certainly his backing band The Roots) with a heart-racing rendition of “Born Under Punches”, too.
New York Loves Nile
“We’re going to play a medley of all my #1 hits”, Nile Rodgers teased before tearing into his set on Sunday. Backed by The Roots, the hyper-prolific songwriter funked things up with “I’m Comin’ Up”, “Upside Down”, and “We Are Family”, and there wasn’t a frown in the crowd. “Get Lucky” and “Good Times” capped it all off, complete with yet another surprise guest – the Sugar Hill Gang.
Alicia Keys Steals The Spotlight
Picnic go-ers barely had a chance to catch their collective breath before The Roots unveiled yet another trick up their sleeves. Unscheduled and unannounced, powerhouse songstress Alicia Keys stole the spotlight next with songs like “Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart”, “You Don’t Know My Name”, and “No One”, all kept in time by our headlining heroes.
Amy Schumer Introduces Wu Tang Clan
Just when you thought the night couldn’t get any crazier, out strolls Amy Schumer. Reminding the crowd that the next group were “known to be ones not to f**k with”, she introduced Staten Island’s own Wu Tang Clan to close out the already epic festival. Featuring the throwbacks like “C.R.E.A.M” and “Protect Ya Neck”, the highly-anticipated set found The Wu and The Roots in perfect harmony.
Best weekend ever?
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