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."
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: Denise Truscello/WireImage for The Recording Academy
The Recording Academy could not fulfill its duties as music creator ambassadors across the nation without the leadership of black women.
In a recently published piece by Essence, the magazine hightlights some of the powerhouses behind the Academy in honor of Black Music Month. From Yolanda Adams and former A&R executive Qiana Conley leading the Recording Academy chapters in Texas and Los Angeles, respectively, to trustees like Lalah Hathaway and SassyBlack being at the forefront of chapters across different states, black women are shaping the future of the home of the Biggest Night In Music, beyond the GRAMMY awards.
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Recording Academy chapters, established in cities across the country, provide a community approach to the music industry through networking opportunities, professional development events and more.
"Women are a vital part of the world and they’re a vital part of our organization," Executive Director of the Recording Academy Washington D.C. chapter Jeriel Johnson told Essence. "They are committed to their careers and support each other,” said Johnson. “You can see the bond."
As Essence notes, almost a dozen black women make up the D.C. chapter board; Tracy Hamlin, Priscilla Clarke and Elise Perry are just a few.
“Women are a vital part of the world and they’re a vital part of our organization,” Johnson said.
For Keith Abrahamsson, A&R of Brooklyn-based indie music label Mexican Summer, music and surf go hand-in-hand.
Music colliding with visuals of epic surf left an impression on him from an early age as a fan of '70s and '80s heavily scored surf films like Crystal Voyager, the Australian film that follows surfer George Greenough on his quest in search of the perfect surf spot. "I think there's always been a really crucial marriage," he says on a phone call with the Recording Academy. "Music was such a crucial driving force to those moving images."
In a new feature film, Abrahamsson, who founded Mexican Summer with Andres Santo Domingo in 2008, wants you to escape to the place where surf and music intrinsically meet: the ocean.
Inspired by the spirit of the films he grew up watching, Abrahamsson's label joined forces with New York based surf shop Pilgrim Surf + Supply, owned by Abrahamsson's friend and film director Chris Gentile, to embark on a journey with eight surfers and 16 musicians. Filmed in Mexico, the Maldives, Iceland, Brooklyn and Los Angeles, the film captures how surfers find their epic wave and interact with local culture, and how musicians, Mexican Summer artists and friends, including Allah-Las, Connan Mockasin, Andrew VanWyngarden of MGMT and Peaking Lights, score the real-time surf.
Poetically narrarated by the late avant-garde filmmaker Jonas Mekas, the film aims to "Really capture the essence of that location with the music and the way in which it was shot," Abrahamsson says. At the same time the film expands some of the genres that may be associated with surf: "We didn't really take much inspiration from that particular aesthetic of surf rock. I think we wanted to expand it a little bit."
Before the film premieres in Los Angeles at The Palace Theatre on June 15 and the original soundtrack is released on June 14, the Recording Academy spoke with Abrahamsson, about the film's concept, surf music, environmentalism and more.
How did this project come about? And why surfing?
I skated a lot coming up as a kid. I never really surfed when I was younger, but I was always turned on by the surf aesthetic, specifically the soundtracks. You know, a lot of the more classic films that were coming out in the '70s and '80s, those soundtracks had a lot of appeal to me. Then I started surfing probably about five or so years ago. So I'm a fairly new surfer, but the music had always resonated with me from those films. I worked with a lot of artists who are also surfers. Then I became friends with Chris Gentile who directed the film and also owns his own surf company called Pilgrim.
[The idea for the film] kind of just organically happened. I had taken a trip to Nicaragua with a bunch of musicians and some surfers with the idea of making a film. This trip didn't end up being part of what ended up being this self-discovery film. We took this inaugural trip to Nicaragua, it was kind of disaster. It ended up being ... one disaster after the next while we were down there. We didn't end up really using any of that footage ... We knew we wanted to still make the film, so we just decided that we had to recalibrate things a little bit. I talked to Chris, he knew about the project. We talked a little bit more about it and decided that it would be great for him to get involved in it. Then we really ... rejigged the concept. We just expanded the idea a bunch more together and it became this bigger, more ambitious project once he got involved.
You mentioned you got into surfing and you also really liked the music. Can you talk about some of the soundtracks or songs that really spoke to you?
We've actually reissued a bunch of these soundtracks on our anthology. But a lot of the usual suspects that people who are surfing would know about: Morning Of The Earth, Five Summer Stories, Pacific Vibrations, Crystal Voyager. I mean, I could go on and on.
I wanted to talk about surf rock because I feel like that's what a lot of people think of when they think of surfing and music. Did it inspire it or did it inform the film at all?
Not really, no. I would say surf rock —in the more traditional way people think of it like when they think of adventures or music that you might have heard in Endless Summer which is incredible music, and we love Bruce Brown and everything that he did—we didn't really take much inspiration from that particular aesthetic of surf rock. I think we wanted to expand it a little bit. I think one of the bands that contributes to the soundtrack, the Allah-Las, they have a little bit more of a classic sound. More instrumental. More jangly kind of stuff. But it goes much further out, I would say. There's a lot of more ambient music. There's stuff that's more adventurous, more experimental pop writing, more traditional dance-oriented stuff with Peaking Lights. So it's a mixed bag of styles that we incorporate across the film. I would say we tried to step away from the more traditional surf rock thing.
For people that aren't familiar with surf culture and its relationship to music, how big of presence is music in surfing?
It's crucial. It's the same thing with like skate videos or classic skiing movies or snowboarding videos. When I was a kid a lot of the music I got into was through skateboarding videos. A lot of the punk rock and record labels that I found out about were really via [skate] ... I mean obviously this was pre-internet, too ... that culture was pretty instrumental in introducing me to a lot of music that I may not have otherwise come across. I think the same thing for surf movies throughout the '70s and '80s. One really helps feel the other, I think. There's not that many surf films that were like Endless Summer where there was an actual narrative with dialogue and a narrator. I mean, there was music that was part of that film, but it wasn't as integral a part of it as some of the later more mid-70's and later '70s. And then when you got into the '80s music was such a crucial driving force to those moving images. I guess as a long-winded way of explaining it to you, I think there's always been a really crucial marriage of the audio-visual with those kind of action-sports films. If that's what you want to call them.
The film is about the relationship between music and the waves. I'm wondering what that relationship means to you.
That's kind of a hard one to answer. I think it's an extension of what I was just saying before more than anything. I feel like when I see surfing or see skateboarding often times I will associate some of those things with music that I've heard in a film in the past. I always ... music is pretty intrinsically tied to these things for me. It always has been since I was a kid. I don't know if that exactly answers what the relationship means to me, but they just seem very ... like they're married. They're like one. One entity almost.
Is it kind of like the soundtrack to what you're doing type of thing?
Yeah, I guess so. I think a lot of people who grew up either skating or surfing or whatever would probably say the same thing. Maybe you even, if you're out there, you might even think of part of movie that you might have grown up watching. Or a certain song or something. I feel it just becomes part of you in a way.
You went to Mexico, you went to the Maldives, and Iceland in the film . Why these places?
We wanted to really strike some pretty distinct environmental differences with each of the places. I think a lot of people think when they think of surf locations, you kind of think like beautiful beaches ... like Windex color waves breaking. That's cool, the Maldives definitely had that vibe, but I think we were really interested in having a different flavor every trip. That kind of translated across everything. I think we wanted the environment and the waves to feel specific. We wanted the music for that particular location to feel specific. The camera shots. The edits. Everything ... So there's three vignettes in the film, and I think each vignette we wanted to just really give it a very distinct film that matched that particular location. When we were in Iceland it was very by design that we went there. We used a lot of drone footage. A lot of wide-panning crazy shots of the landscape. It's a little bit more bleak because Iceland the time of year we were there, that's just what it was, it was cold. It was kind of rainy a lot of the time. I think Connan Mockasin and Andrew VanWyngarden's soundtrack really reflects that feeling. I think we wanted to mirror that across all three vignettes. Really capture the essence of that location with the music and the way in which it was shot.
I went to Puerto Rico recently and as I was landing there was a whole bunch of plastic in the water. Is there any message you wanted to send involving environmentalism and taking care of the water with the film?
We saw the same kind of conditions pretty much everywhere we went. The same thing that you're talking about in Puerto Rico. It's just incredibly upsetting. I think there are a lot of foundations out there doing great things like Save the Waves and Conservation International. We're involved with some of those people on deeper levels, but also they're involved in supporting the film. At its screening and in general we're going to be working with Save the Waves to show the film during their festivals. They're very deeply involved in the conservation of shorelines, trying to do clean up with plastic ... It's not even really a surfing issue, right? It's a human issue. So I think anyone that's involved in ... just alive should care about it, you know? Which I know is not the case across the board but ... It's of course and obviously a very important issue for all of us.
In the film, footage of surfers is shown while the musicians are recording music. Tell me more about that setup.
The intention of that, that's a classic way for people to do scoring. We would go on these trips, you know the musicians came on the trips as well. Afterwards we'd go right into the studio. What we would do, we kind of whipped together this extremely rough cut for them. There was no real sequence, it was just a bunch of rough footage that we through together that could be projected in their space while they were composing material. That's what you're seeing is just them watching the footage and writing. Really the goal was to have him be really immersed in the trip and inspired by that experience, and then take that back with him to the studio. Being able to project the footage was just a way to try to keep them in that moment a little bit.
You wanted each vignette to represent each place you went to. Did you say, "Hey, this is kind of the vibe we had in Mexico, can you bring this out?" Or did you let the artists, the musicians, do their thing?
It was very free. I think we didn't want to bog anybody down with too many parameters. We just wanted the trip to do its work and then let them write whatever felt natural after that, you know?
You've got Peaking Lights involved. Andrew from MGMT. How did all these artists get involved in the documentary?
The majority of them we work with already. Peaking Lights, we worked with them in the past. We've put records out with them before. Connan is on the label. Andrew is ... Allah-Las are on the label. Andrew is just a really close friend of ours. He's played and collaborated with a lot of people on the label. And he's a really avid surfer. It just felt really natural to have him involved. And he and Connan are super close friends, so pairing them together as a writing pair felt pretty natural.
How did Jonas Mekas get involved in the film?
So we have a publishing and print here where we do books as well. It's called Anthology Editions, and we had done a book with him earlier that year. Well, we had been working on it with him for a couple of years. So we kind of had this connection to him. It didn't really occur to us that he would be good for the piece, and then I thought to myself, [to have him involved] would ... add this kind of ... I mean, he's such a legend in his own right in avant-garde cinema ... I think we really wanted to add this extra layer of, "What the f***? This is so weird." And I think it does add that. It just adds this really surreal layer to the film that we were hoping it would. He's got this thick Lithuanian accent and ... I don't know it feels like it fit perfectly. It was always meant to be. It was kind of an eleventh hour thing to be honest.
The film is called Self Discovery For Social Survival. How did you come up with the name?
It's kind of a mouthful, isn't it? Yeah. I just call it "Self Discovery", I never say the whole thing ... It just felt appropriate giving the times that we live in. I think given the times, not like we're trying to make some grand political statement because that is not what we're about, but I think we wanted to give people something escapist. Something that they could watch and hopefully attach themselves to. And see some of these waves and feel inspired and be like, "Oh, maybe I could do that. That doesn't look totally life threatening and crazy." That was a big part of what we wanted to do, and I think ... Yeah, giving people just a little piece of escapism in this time we live in.
What do you hope viewers get out of the documentary?
The trips themselves were taken in such small windows. The way in which surf films are made, obviously, you're at the mercy of nature to cooperate and deliver you good conditions. I think we were really lucky to walk into each of these situations with ten-day windows, basically, with each of the trips and to get usable footage. So I think what we really wanted in the end was to create something that was going to moving and that would make us feel like we accomplished what we set out to do. I think also important to note that having Jonas Mekas narrate the project was very surreal and a dream. It was one of the last projects he worked on before he passed away, so that was amazing. I think all around we just wanted it to be a very collaborative and creatively fulfilling project, and I think that we got that for sure.
Self Discovery For Social Survival is out digitally on June 18 and available for pre-order now at iTunes.