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.
Leiomy Maldonado on the set of HBO Max's "Legendary"
Photo: Barbara Nitke/HBO Max
Leiomy Maldonado eats, sleeps and drinks voguing, a highly stylized type of dance originating in New York City's LGBTQ+ Black and Latinx underground ballroom scene between the '60s and '80s.
Known as the "Wonder Woman Of Vogue," the hard-working trans dancer, model and activist is known for her work in mainstreaming voguing and ballroom culture. In addition to being the first openly trans contestant on MTV's "America's Best Dance Crew," she choreographs the ball scenes on FX's Emmy-winning drama, "POSE." She's also worked with celebrities like Beyoncé, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Janet Jackson, Willow Smith and Icona Pop.
With her latest project, serving as one of the judges on HBO Max's hit voguing competition TV series, "Legendary," Maldonado is once again pushing modern-day ball culture to the masses.
During each episode of "Legendary," individual teams, known as "houses," compete in themed "balls," which feature a variety of creative categories like fashion and dance challenges, including voguing, posing and walking—all while wearing incredible costumes and outfits. As the show progresses, houses are eliminated until one team is left "slaying." The winning house achieves "Legendary" status and takes home a $100,000 grand prize.
"The world got to see ballroom culture via 'POSE,' and the struggles of the community," Maldonado tells GRAMMY.com. "It opened doors for a show like 'Legendary,' where now you get to see the real deal. It's raw and authentic, not scripted, not made up: a real ballroom experience."
"Legendary," which is hosted by "King Of Vogue" and actor/MC Dashaun Wesley, sees Maldonado offering the houses sage advice on what it takes to win ballroom competitions each week. Celebrity judges Law Roach, who has styled stars like Zendaya, Ariana Grande and Celine Dion; actress/host Jameela Jamil; and breakthrough rapper Megan Thee Stallion round out the judges cast.
Following the breakout success of "Legendary," which just wrapped its debut season Thursday (July 9), HBO Max has renewed the series for a second season, which will film in Los Angeles and will feature all the original judges and host. (Online, the show has taken a second life: The “Legendary" TikTok dance challenge has received over 2.6 billion views, surpassing Megan Thee Stallion's own viral challenge for her track "Savage," which has over 30 million videos.)
GRAMMY.com spoke with Maldonado about music's important role in voguing and ball culture, the dire situation trans women are facing today and the 30th anniversaries of the iconic ball culture documentary, Paris Is Burning, and Madonna's epic song, "Vogue."
What drew you to voguing and the underground ballroom scene?
I fell in love with voguing back in 2003. This was a way for me to find myself through dancing; I could express all this emotion and frustration I was going through as a young teen transitioning. When I became part of the ballroom scene, that's when I really started educating myself on the importance of the culture [and] why it plays such a big role for our community. I just knew this was the place for me.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Paris Is Burning, the definitive documentary on underground LGBTQ+ ballroom culture. How has the film impacted you?
Paris Is Burning was one of the most important films that showcased our culture to the world. It touched on the immense struggles the trans women were dealing with. Listening to them speak was incredible. That movie really inspired me to do something with my talent and bring ballroom to the forefront.
2020 is also the 30th anniversary of Madonna's song, "Vogue," which brought voguing to mainstream culture.
In a good way, it was amazing for voguing to have been given a spotlight. That song put voguing on the map; we would have never had that chance otherwise. It was, of course, groundbreaking; it paved the way for voguing to be seen and accepted.
Still, I feel like it should have been more than just one situation. A lot of times, people just use something for the moment, instead of understanding the bigger picture of it. Honestly, when that song came out, it wasn't about the voguing or the community. As opposed to now, when you are seeing voguing [and] ballroom, it's about the community. I feel like that is a huge difference. It's a different type of celebration.
Leiomy Maldonado on the set of HBO Max's "Legendary" | Courtesy Photo: HBO Max
"Legendary" stands upon the shoulders of "POSE."
Yes, "POSE" highlights voguing culture, showcasing moments that happened in real ballroom history. While it is a scripted show, some of the things that have happened on "POSE" have happened in ballroom. The fact that these stories are being told [is] so important.
The world got to see ballroom culture via "POSE," and the struggles of the community. It opened doors for a show like "Legendary," where now you get to see the real deal. It's raw and authentic, not scripted, not made up: a real ballroom experience.
How has music played a role in voguing?
Music has been very important to ballroom and voguing. For every category [competition], there is a style of music that gets played, so the people can be [and] feel in that theme or character. With ballroom, it changes so much; there is a lot of variety, artistry [and] talent. Things are going to change; you are not just going to be stuck with one DJ, with one commentator on the mic. You are going to get different flavors and styles. That is so beautiful. Without music, the world would kinda suck! Music makes the world go round! Now you get to see how ballroom culture inspires the world.
As one of the show's celebrity judges, what does Megan Thee Stallion bring to the table?
Megan brings a lot of love and inspiration. She wants to make sure each team is comfortable in their skin doing what they are doing and are engaging with the audience. As a performer, she understands being onstage and what it takes to command that attention, showing that you are confident.
While "Legendary" celebrates trans culture, we are living in a world where countless trans women of color have been killed. What's it going to take to change this?
People forget that trans folks are human. I truly don't understand what the struggle is. As humans, we have feelings, we have compassion. But when it comes to trans women of color being killed, you don't really see much of that.
A lot of the frustration nowadays comes from the fact that our own people of color are not fighting for us. That's hurtful and heartbreaking, because when men and women of color are being taken from us, we are out there fighting on the frontlines with them because we are all fighting together as people of color.
But when it comes to trans people being killed, it's like, "Oh no, their lives don't matter." What's important is for allies, people in the community, etc., to be visible, loud and protecting us to the utmost, not only when it's your friend.
A few weeks ago, I put up a fake obituary on my Instagram just to alarm people, like, "Hey, this could be me." For many of the responses, it was an awakening call for them, like, "Wow, I never thought about that." People need to understand that this shouldn't only be important if it happens to someone close to you. We are all one community, and are all in this together.
View this post on Instagram
A post shared by Leiomy (@wond3rwoman1) on
There is a lot of solidarity between the LGBTQ+ community and Black Lives Matter movement. Let's talk about their intersectionality.
The Black Lives Matters movement was started by two women of color, and they are part of the (LGBTQ+) community. That alone is mind-boggling to me. We need to be vocal about the protection that we deserve and are in need of.
That needs to trickle down within the community as well. A lot of times, we deal with transphobia, misunderstanding, miscommunication from people who are gay, lesbian and bisexual. That to me is equally mind-boggling. We need to put the work in and understand how important it is for us to be together.
How do you see the music of ballroom evolving?
I would love to see the hip-hop community be more accepting of ballroom, even to have collaboration. I feel like a lot of these barriers that are being held onto should be broken down. We need to start appreciating people for their talent and what they bring to the table. Forget about gender and labels.