Photo: Nate Hertweck/The Recording Academy
Photo: Nate Hertweck/The Recording Academy
Photo: Roots Picnic Facebook
In a music world saturated with festivals, full of massive multi-day, multi-genre experiences, Philadelphia's Roots Picnic just feels different. Perhaps it's the local-heavy lineup, the laidback atmosphere, or the soulful spirit of the city, but more than anything, it's the music.
"There's no egos, everybody really just comes to have a good time, that's what's perfect about the Roots Picnic," says producer/engineer and Philadelphia Chapter board member Dilemma. "You get exposed to new music, new artists and you come to be entertained."
While the gravity of its hosts, GRAMMY-winning Philly band The Roots, and their many musical collaborations and connections may be what attracts the masses to the festival (you never know who will take the stage,) most of the day's music rings out with vibrant discovery of new sounds coming from each of the Picnic's three stages. From burgeoning local rappers on the Cricket Stage, to breakout experimental artists like Tank & The Bangas on the Mann stage, to upcoming queens like Asiahn and Ari Lennox holding court on the Fairmount Park stage, the festival boldy faces forward, embracing its historical ties to the black community.
"This is my first time at Roots Picnic. It's been a beautiful experience, nice and black and soulful," said Lennox. "I love Philly, so it's a dream—I've been hearing about it for years, so I'm glad I can finally be here and sing!"
Since 2008, Roots Picnic has brought together Philly's staggeringly talented music community to host artists from across the nation for what basically is one big party.
"To me it's like a big family reunion," said rapper and official Philadelphia music ambassador Chill Moody after performing with his new project &More. "There's people you may only see at the Roots Picnic every year, but when you see them, it's like you've been hanging with them every day. it's just love and everybody's having a good time… It's bigger than the stage, it's just the camaraderie. It's just family."
Where many festivals find themselves too corporately lucrative to stay focused on a family atmosphere, Roots Picnic has managed to keep this in perspective. This energy is perhaps best exemplified by the unique Live Mixtape, presented once again this year by J.Period and The Roots' Black Thought featuring a string of guest appearances honoring and celebrating hip-hop, including an iconic mini-set with the great Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos Def.) All afternoon, the Mann stage at Roots Picnic feels like a backyard family party, excpet the bass thumping isn't shaking a house, it's shaking the walls of the dressing rooms below.
A Philly music mainstay in her own right, Donn T spoke concisely as to why the event feels familial: the mutual support.
"[It's] artists supporting artists, as well as the public supporting us," Donn T said, adding, "It's history, It's an institution."
The Roots have been able to create an atmosphere that doesn't just show love to local artists, but different kinds of artists from all over.
"Everybody's here. The DJs are here, the artists are here, the producers are here, the fans are here, and there's great energy when other top artists come to Philadelphia," said Dilemma. "When everybody's under the same Picnic roof there's a great energy, it's always a good time. The Roots always know how to show Philadelphia and on a great scale."
But like any party, there's nothing like showing love to the hosts and this year Roots Picnic main event celebrated none other than the band's 20th anniversary of their classic fourth studio album, Things Fall Apart, with a whole performance of the album that included a surprise appearance by Common. The album, released in 1999, is in many ways The Roots' breakthrough and a major part of their journey towards becoming household names with critically acclaimed, GRAMMY-winning albums and a high-profile gig as the house band for "The Tonight Show."
"The lyrics and the songs still relate to today," said Dilemma. "Seeing how well it was put together… the production, and just seeing how young they were when they created it—it's Philadelphia's Illmatic," he says referencing rapper Nas' renowned debut. Donn T, hesitant to even begin to articulate what the album meant to hip-hop, to Philly, to her as an artist—not to mention as Questlove's sister—brought it down to something simple: "It means everything."
The Roots' influence continues to ripple through so many genres and communities, and with Roots Picnic have been able to create a festival that does too in its own way. Truly providing something for everyone with performers ranging from rap superstar 21 Savage to R&B prodigy H.E.R., the fest has grown into a major event, complete with compelling features like sing language interpreters for the hearing impaired, an arcade with ping-pong, video games and skee-ball for kids (of all ages), and a podcast stage with a silent disco party up on the hill, which features a serene view of the Philly skyline not to be missed.
But the focus at Roots Picnic remains on the music. For instance, when the crowd at the Mann Auditorium went wild for surprise guest Musiq Soulchild's performance during Raphael Saadiq's set, the look on many faces in the audience captured how that moment alone was worth the price of admission. A similarly pleased yet more determined look could be seen on the faces of the various young local artists that took the stages throughout the day who knew that performing at Roots Picnic is a true turning point.
"The Roots, with this platform, sets a certain standard for all Philadelphia creatives," said Dilemma. "Once you make it to the Roots Picnic, you're good."
Black Lives Matter Protest In London
Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
The Black Music Coalition, a newly formed group of Black music professionals and executives in the U.K., are calling for changes in the music industry there, including career development for Black staff, bias training in offices, as well as the removal of the term "Urban" in industry terminology.
The protests that have occurred across the U.S. since the death of George Floyd after a police officer knelt on his neck have also reached the U.K., continuing their own conversations around race relations. In a letter, Black executives, including from Warner Music Group, Sony Music, Universal Music Group, BMG, Live Nation UK, Spotify and MMF, stood in support with the Black community in the U.S. and noted the Black community in the U.K.'s own struggle with racial justice.
"As Black British people, we know of and have seen members of our community overpoliced, brutally treated and die at the hands of institutionally racist police forces and recount for example the deaths of Sarah Reed, Rashan Charles, Mark Duggan, Sean Rigg and many more. Simply put, the UK is not innocent," the letter said.
While music companies, radio stations and channels in the U.K. showed solidarity with the Black community on Blackout Tuesday, a day-long moratorium in solidarity with Floyd's death and other Black lives lost under the hands of police that began in the U.S., Black executives are now calling for U.K. music industry CEOs, presidents, chairmen, and industry leaders to stand in solidarity with their Black employees beyond Black Out Tuesday.
"The music industry has long profited from the rich and varied culture of Black people for many generations but overall, we feel it has failed to acknowledge the structural and systematic racism affecting the very same Black community and so effectively, enjoying the rhythm and ignoring the blues. We feel that as an industry, we cannot continue to benefit and profit, whilst continuing to ignore the issues of the community we benefit and profit so much from, issues which affect far too many of our artists in one way or another," the collective said.
To begin making changes in the U.K. music industry, the collective, who also acknowledged that COVID-19 has disproportionately affected Black and brown people, listed ways to show support with concrete change. Their call to action included the financial backing of Black organizations, charities and educational projects as well as a call for an internal task force review in order to make sure business structure included "the advancement of Black executives across your business including equal pay, mentorship and career progression." Similarly, their call for Black staff development addressed the lack of Black female President/Chairwomen in the industry.
"We expect that these long overdue steps will be implemented in a comprehensive manner to translate your empathy into a legacy of lasting change and we look forward to working with you to ensure that this happens," the letter ended.
In the U.S., major record labels have announced big changes meant to address historic and systemic racial issues. Among them, Universal Music Group, which includes Universal Music U.K. and Capitol Records U.K., announced last week it would implement several initiatives including a social justice task force. The music company also said it would implement initiatives in its global offices. Warner Music Music Group and Republic Records, under Universal Music Group and home to Drake and Ariana Grande, have vowed to drop the term "Urban."
Read the Black Music Coalition's full letter here.
Courtesy Of Corona Capital
Guadalajara, Mexico might be known as the birthplace of mariachi, but as the second-largest city in the country—after Mexico City—it is a thriving cosmopolitan destination with a modern music scene that draws influence from in and out of the country.
Enter Corona Capital, a festival that believes music should have no boundaries. Through its two events—one taking place in Mexico City, now on its 10th year, and the other in Guadalajara, which is now on its second year—Corona Capital offers a range of acts from electronica and pop to indie and rock. While that lineup formula may sound typical for a music festival, the kicker is that many of the acts who play Corona Capital rarely get a chance to perform in Mexico. But Corona Capital offers them the chance to do it—and for local audiences to enjoy the show.
"We always try to bring in acts that either have not been in Mexico ever or that haven't been here in a long time," says Ricardo Gomez Senior International Talent Buyer for Mexican promotions company OCESA, promoting Corona Capital. "We don't have any Latin acts, and we do that because we want to desegregate Corona Capital from other festivals in the market ... [we] look at trends and what's happening in the music scene internationally [to bring] the most interesting and fresh project that we think can work in the format of the festival."
Gomez says roughly 80 to 85 percent of international acts that come to the country only play Mexico City, forcing fans in smaller cities to travel to the country's capital from all over or miss out on their favorite artists.
This year the Guadalajara rendition is bringing the likes of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Chemical Brothers, Dillon Francis, Phoenix, the Goo Goo Dolls and more to its lineup on May 11 at the renowned Akron Stadium, home to Las Chivas soccer team.
Beyond being enticing to locals, the fest's international flare has brought in people from outside of Mexico, too. According to the fest, two percent of festivalgoers are international; the biggest country of origin is the U.S., with California and Texas being the homes to most of the attendants.
More than just a space to listen to music, the festival wants its attendants to discover new music. It's the reason the fest's campaign includes social media visuals that feature up-and-coming artist recommendations based on established performing artists. For example, one social video features Boy Pablo as a recommendation if you're a fan of Phoenix.
The fest is also amping up its culinary chops and adding an exclusive gourmet experience with a scenic view of the city's forest, along with its Capital Gourmet experience in which local chefs highlight their dishes.
Below, the Recording Academy speaks to Gomez about the festival's background, why Corona Capital is a fest to know, his mindset behind booking Corona's Guadalajara lineup, and more.
Corona Capital began in Mexico City. Why bring one to Guadalajara?
We thought it would be an interesting experiment to try to expand and take this to other cities that maybe don't have these types of lineups. In the past years [there has] been a boom of festivals not in Mexico City, but happening in Monterrey and Guadalajara, especially. And the festivals that are happening in these cities seem to be in line with maybe Vive Latino or in Monterrey, we have Pa'l Norte, which is really really eclectic. So you can have all different type of genres, but for [a] specific alternative rock and international music [festival], there weren't any proposals. So we decided to do Corona Guadalajara to offer that to the market and maybe this is a good experiment to try to expand to other territories as well.
How do you choose which international artists get to become a part of the lineup?
Well, like I mentioned, it's a combination of acts that haven't been in the market or haven't been here in at least a few years so we can have that performance as some sort of value. I really think that overexposing an artist in the market is not a good way to develop them. So we try to wait, at least, a couple of album cycles to bring them into a festival like Corona; some of the acts [were a part of] the lineup we had at Corona Capital in Mexico City last year; some of them had never been here and a lot of them were experiments that we were going try and to see how the audience responds.
This year we got very, very lucky because the artist that we reached out were available and were within our budget so we have a really interesting and cool combination of acts that are really working out. We're seeing that in sales and actually selling really well. We're selling prices as much as we did last year so we're happy with the results.
Yeah, with a newer artist like Boy Pablo and an established pop act like the Goo Goo Dolls, that's a pretty eclectic lineup.
Yeah, I mean we're also trying to speak out to the generation that is now in their 30s and it has that ingredient of nostalgia, which I think is very, very effective in a lineup. You can go and check out [an act] that maybe you remember being a fan of and [then] you can go there and enjoy, like you said, a fresh interesting project from the earlier time slots and spend the whole day and finish with a band like Phoenix, or the Yeah Yeah Yeahs or The Chemical Brothers, who you listened to 10 years ago.
For some of the people in Mexico, this is the only opportunity to see some of the acts on your lineup. How hard is it for someone in Mexico to see American acts in the country?
Well, I'd say like 80 or 85% of the artist that come to play in Mexico only play Mexico City. That's because it's such a huge difference in the type of market. Mexico City is 25 million people and the next biggest cities are 1.5 million. Festivals are a great opportunity to check out new bands that might not come to Guadalajara or other territories outside Mexico City. It really depends on the act's availability and willingness to develop a market because they're not going to make the same money in Guadalajara or Monterrey that they do in Mexico City, at least for headline shows.
Which of the artists on the lineup haven't been in Mexico before?
It's the first time for Tops, Boy Pablo, and it's the first time for Kimbra, first time for Christine and The Queens, and it's the first time for Goo Goo Dolls.
How big is the impact of American music in the country?
It's huge. Radio still has a very strong media format in Mexico because of the amount of time people spend in their cars. I was just looking at some numbers from radio in the country and English-speaking radio is the number one-rated radio station in Mexico.
According to Spotify, Mexico City is the streaming capital city of the world, and, as you've mentioned, sometimes it's the only city international acts visit. For people interested in exploring other parts of Mexico, can you tell us what Guadalajara has to offer music-wise, and regionally?
Yeah, Spotify is tricky because sometimes the numbers are deceiving. So maybe an artist will see that Mexico is their number one market in streaming, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they have strong loyal fans there. It has to do with the editorial playlist that they are in, and the type of streaming database in Mexico.
Also, YouTube is really strong because YouTube is free and Spotify has those numbers, but for the premium not a paid subscription. We've seen that in the past. We see that an artist has a huge a streaming number coming from Mexico City but that doesn't necesarily translate to ticket sales.
Now, for the second part of your question. Guadalajara has a very, very cool music and arts scene. There's a lot of acts, like new acts coming out of Guadalajara who are doing really interesting stuff. The food is also great in Guadalajara. You have great restaurants in the city. And it's worth making the trip and coming just to spend the weekend, take advantage that it is just a one-day festival and you can come to the festival Saturday and enjoy the city on Sunday.
For American artists, what makes going to a festival in Mexico different from other parts of the world?
Well, this trend that I'm seeing right now with festivals in the U.S. and in other countries is that some of the headliner budgets are impossible to pay. So I'm seeing that many festivals are trying to make the festival more of an experience. The problem with that is you're going to have lower ticket sales. So I think it boils down to how cheap it can be for Americans to come to Mexico, as opposed to going to Coachella or something like that. Coachella is like really pricey and you can, for the same price that you pay for a general access ticket to Coachella, travel to Mexico and pay for travel, hotels, and also be able to pay for a V.I.P. ticket.
What else would you like people to know about Corona Capital?
It's not only about coming and checking out the bands—it's also exploring a country you don't know. We really put a lot attention on the gastronomical experience and the cooling operation. We have this food area called Capital Gourmet, where we invite local restaurants to showcase their dishes so people can have an added value to their experience in not just grab a hotdog, or a burger, or pizza. But really try local ingredients, local restaurants. And there's going to be a ferris wheel and other carnival rides.
We also have a local market that you can explore with with arts and crafts from the regions around Guadalajara. We will be showcasing street art and a couple of murals during the festival, and there's going to be an [exclusive gourmet experience].
In the future we're expanding to other territories and other cities. We also want to have Corona Capital in, say, Veracruz or Tijuana. We want the festival to have a local essence so that people can still experience the city.
Photo by Bobbi Rich
At 37, Margo Price hasn't just lived a few lives already. She’s lived a few country singers' lives already, famously pawning her wedding ring to make Midwest Farmer's Daughter, the 2016 album that caught Jack White's attention and then the world’s, with not just the Newport Folk Festival to follow but "SNL" and a GRAMMY nomination for Best New Artist. For someone who survived the death of her infant son, a drunk-driving accident, jail time and homelessness, that's a vast change of fortune. Except fast-forward to 2020 where everything goes wrong no matter who you are, and Price came out of a few-years hiatus to have her excellent new album That’s How Rumors Get Started delayed anew while her husband and fellow musician/collaborator Jeremy Ivey fought a frightening bout of coronavirus right in her home just after beginning to raise their newborn daughter.
Luckily, the new album is a good fit for the holdup, a scorched-earth record that's at least half rock’n’roll on lyrics alone: "Call me a bitch, then call me baby / You don’t know me, you don’t own me," "Sobriety is a hell of a drug," "I won’t forget what it’s like to be poor," and of course, the delectably autobiographical "If it don’t break you, it might just make you rich." The tenderly worded All American Made made its points through typically acerbic country ("Don’t say you love me when you treat me this way," "Pay gap, pay gap, breaking my dollars in half") but the Sturgill Simpson-produced Rumors adds howling guitars returning the White Stripes favor on "Twinkle Twinkle" and the lung-bursting coda of "I'd Die for You," which is exactly what a multivalent songbird sings to her newborn's ailing father during a pandemic. GRAMMY.com spoke to Price over the phone about coming out of this state with sanity (and songs) intact, and her two heroes, late friend John Prine and his oddball soul-legend pal Swamp Dogg.
How is Jeremy doing?
Oh, he's healthy again and we’re really grateful for that.
That's great, I imagine this period was really scary for your family.
It’s been... not ideal for sure. I really hope that we all continue to stay healthy.
Do you feel like you're ready to plug back into music after all this craziness?
I do, I mean, it’s just been a long time coming and if I wouldn’t have gotten pregnant—and you know there would have been a lot of different factors—I would’ve had this out last summer. But I think everything happens for a reason, so we just roll with the punches.
When an album like That’s How Rumors Get Started sits on the shelf for this long, do you start to feel less connected from it? I imagine this year gave you a whole new album to write.
I'm definitely getting ready to, you know, start writing and recording again just to keep myself occupied and whatnot, but I feel like we picked it up, we started learning the songs and we put it back down. It’s still the best thing I’ve ever done, I think, thus far, and, you know, that makes me still feel connected to the songs and confident that it’s gonna hopefully go over well.
All American Made felt like you had a lot of things to say, and Rumors feels like you wanted to show those things rather than tell them. Did you feel like you were doing more dynamic singing or making a louder album?
I knew that I wanted to sonically do something that I'd never done before and use what I’d learned over the past few years being on the road. Having played rock’n’roll music and played in a soul band prior to everybody getting to know me through Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, it’s been interesting to only get put into this Americana category. So I just wanted to do something that was well-rounded. We put a lot of time into doing this album, a lot of care into my vocals, and I would say that Sturgill helped me turn it up to 11.
What was the biggest thing that you learned from working with Sturgill?
I really wanted to record every song that I had at the time, and we did put down like 16 tracks. But he was like, "You should just get something that sounds like they all go together like texturally and as a bigger picture." I think that was good advice, and I feel really good about the 10 songs; they feel like they belong together. It’s not like, oh, you’re skipping over this one track. And the way he had me approach doing my vocals was pretty key in getting the sounds that we got. I don’t like to sing with headphones on—I don’t think anybody likes to hear their own voice coming back at them—so that was an idea of his: To get more of how I sing when I’m just performing on stage, we took the headphones off and just sang in the studio with the track coming back at me at, like, a very low volume. I was just able to belt and hear myself the way that I normally would hear myself.
Like singing in the shower where you can just go at it.
It shows. A song like "I'd Die for You" is a much less muted way to close your album, like "With or Without You" or one of those big U2 ballads.
Oh, thank you, that’s great. I love that reference.
And then you have "Heartless Mind," which sounds like an idea Sturgill would definitely encourage. Was it always planned to be a fast, new wave-y song?
No, I did not picture it coming out like that and I absolutely love it. I was going into the session thinking that that one may be like, a [Pat Benatar’s] "Heartbreaker"-like guitar-driven song and then the synth got on it. It turned out better than I could have expected, with my friend Ashley Wilcoxson on backing vocals, but it's a big sonic change for what usually is behind me. I actually even let [Sturgill] put a drum machine just on the snare head for the choruses; a few years ago I might have said that’s sacrilege. And my drummer Dillon Napier is playing actual drums on it.
It's very in the spirit of Sturgill’s last album, Sound & Fury, which quite a few people compared to ZZ Top, and they are generally considered to be one of the most successful acts to put synthesizers on roots music.
Yeah his album's wild. I don’t think anybody expected it from him. I mean, I didn't expect it from him and I know the motherf**ker. A lot of times I see people working with certain producers because they're hot at the moment, or like, you know, things become really trendy and it's scary to go out there and get out of your comfort zone. But I’d rather make a few mess-ups then go crazy from just regurgitating the same ideas.
Do any of the lyrics on Rumors resonate differently for you now after the events of this year?
There’s moments that have become more powerful. I felt that same thing happened with All American Made because I wrote it while it was an election year but no one was in office, and then… you know. Time always has a way of making things feel more heavy, especially these days. But "I’d Die for You" has become the most important song to sing and feel connected to because of the tornado, and the cancellation that's happening, and people everywhere all over America unemployed and without health insurance. The racism and the division all that’s kind of spinning around. But Jeremy and I wrote that song for each other and for our children.
Certain songs on here are really cathartic to listen to now even if they were written way long ago. Something like "Twinkle Twinkle," where you’re singing "In the good old days, things weren’t really all that good," has me how all these coronavirus deniers will eventually go on to romanticize this period.
Oh, without a doubt. I was talking about that earlier with somebody, about how everything seems like it’s changed but really, all of the fear, and the hate, and the racism those things were all there, just below the surface. I don't know when we’re going to be able to live the way that we did with, you know, human contact and hugs and stuff like that .
Somehow we got to the point where hugs are in question.
But don’t even come at me with that hand and I've really perfected my handshake.
On "Stone Me" you could be singing about toxic men, or fame, or the completely divided state of society all at once, and maybe those things are inherently connected.
Yeah, it has a double meaning for me. When I first wrote it was about a personal relationship, and the things that happen when you get put up on a pedestal, and then people immediately want to knock you down, and I let it all roll off my back. But it’s very cathartic to write a song. I don’t even ever have to say who it’s about specifically, because it’s about so many people that I've known.
A lot of country artists address things like growing up poor, but they're so associated with conservatism that you get the sense they expect it’s like, just part of dues to be paid. But you sing things like "Pay Gap" that are actually about changing that.
Oh, without a doubt. I mean, that song probably cost me a lot of fans. I had so many people try to argue with me and tell me it’s a myth. As a citizen I have every right to think about the things that affect me and we're all in it together no matter what side of the fence you're on. Everybody wants the same damn thing, food on the table. To would be able to be taken care of when you're sick.
This year is really the test case for that, because you’d think everyone would be able to agree that, like, we all want to be alive, and doing some things that are not too difficult in order to lower that risk. The rebellion against that is really surreal. Have you already begun writing new songs?
My husband’s got an entire album that he’s written. I have, like, starts of songs… I don’t know, six or seven things I'm working on. And then I’ve just been writing and journaling more. It’s important to write your memoir while everything’s still fresh on your mind. Especially now with not being able to go to shows. I’m like thinking back to specific memories and things that happened and just saving it all for a rainy day.
Do you have any plans for live shows again?
I’m really wanting to do these drive-in theater shows. I think that would be super cool. It would be a great way to start back and feel like things are at a safe distance, but who knows what the future holds. I'm just dreaming about a day when I can like, bodysurf across the crowd again. That’s gonna be a long time.
What have you been listening to while you’re stuck at home?
I have been addicted to this new Swamp Dogg record, Sorry You Couldn’t Make It.
I love Swamp Dogg, I actually just ordered reissues of Gag a Maggot and Total Destruction to Your Mind last month.
Yeah, I mean, "Synthetic World"…there are just so many good songs on Total Destruction to Your Mind. Rat On! and that whole album cover. And then I realized that he was putting out this new record, and John Prine sings two duets on it which are amazing. It’s the last thing that John Prine ever recorded.
Wow, I didn’t realize it was the very last thing he ever did.
There's a song on there is called "Family Pain," and it's really cool, like a hip-hop track with a fiddle. I’ve also been listening to Run the Jewels.
I mean, speaking of catharsis…
Yeah, perfect time to put out a political rap album. And of course I’ve been diving super deep into the Bob Dylan and the Neil Young records; the fact that they came out on the same day was pretty spectacular.
If you do any more covers, I definitely vote for Swamp Dogg.
That's a great idea. And Swamp Dogg’s version of [Prine’s] "Sam Stone" is just killer. When I met John I was like, "So tell me about Swamp Dogg." You know they were buddies. It’s really cool to hear them on [2020’s] "Please Let Me Go Round Again." They just are riffing back and forth, really conversational improv. It cracks me up to listen to.
Now I’m gonna have to put that on after we hang up.
I hope you stay well and, yeah, see you next time we get out of this burning trash fire.