Photo: Roots Picnic Facebook
What Makes Roots Picnic Different: Inside Philadelphia's Annual Musical Celebration That Feels Like "It's Just Family"
The Recording Academy went backstage at the fest that celebrates Philadelphia's rich musical heritage, rap and R&B's talent-drenched future and the 20th anniversary of the Roots' 'Things Fall Apart'
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."
Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More
The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'
In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.
"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.
Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.
"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."
Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American.
"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."
Universal language: Why humans need music
Learn why music is truly a common language that is key to human development and evolution
There's no doubt music finds a way into nearly every moment of our daily lives, whether it's marking milestones such as a first dance at a wedding, the soundtrack to our favorite movie or singing in the shower for fun. In fact, it's hard to imagine times when we are more than an ear-length away from hearing another song.
But why does music mean so much to us? A powerful form of communication that transcends all barriers — music is our common language, but why?
A composer and educator with a lifelong fascination for music, Adam Ockelford has traced our connection with music back to infants and caregivers. Infants are unable to follow words, but they are developmentally primed to trace patterns in sound, such as through the songs a caretaker sings to them. Therefore, understanding music is intuitive for humans, even at a very young age, and it encourages healthy development.
In addition, there may be another evolutionary purpose for music. Music provides a sense of sameness between humans — if you can copy the sounds someone else makes, you must be an ally. This synergy plays a role in human survival because it evokes empathy and understanding, a lesson we still learn from music in today's culture.
"Music is central to the notion of what it is to be human, and spans cultures, continents and centuries," writes Ockelford. "My music, your music, our music can bind us together as families, as tribes and as societies in a way that nothing else can."
Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Haus Laboratories
WATCH: Lady Gaga And Ariana Grande Team Up For "Rain On Me"
Grande enters the "Stupid Love" singer's futuristic world as the two pop sensations dance together in an out-of-this-planet setting
"I can feel it on my skin (It's comin' down on me)/ Teardrops on my face (Water like misery)/ Let it wash away my sins (It's coming down on me)," the global pop stars sing together on the chorus. "I'd rather be dry, but at least I'm alive/ Rain on me, rain, rain."
The song is an empowering track about being comfortable with letting tears fall. Gaga revealed the many layers behind the song in an interview with Vulture, sharing that some of the inspiration for it came from her relationship with drinking. "This is about an analog of tears being the rain. And you know what it’s also a metaphor for, is the amount of drinking that I was doing to numb myself," she said. "I’d rather be dry. I’d rather not be drinking, but I haven’t died yet. I’m still alive. Rain on me."
She added that the song also went beyond that. "Okay, I’m going to keep on drinking. This song has many layers," she said.
Grande enters the "Stupid Love" singer's futuristic world in the video released Friday, May 22, with the two dancing together in an out-of-this-planet setting. The video ends with them in a strong embrace.
Gaga has shared how much the collaboration with Grande means to her and thanked Grande for "reminding me I’m strong." Before the video's release, she tweeted out a special message to the "Stuck with U" singer.
"One time I felt like I was crying so much it would never stop. Instead of fighting it, I thought bring it on, I can do hard things. @arianagrande I love you for your strength and friendship. Let’s show them what we’ve got," she tweeted.
Grande returned the love with more love, revealing what sharing a track with Gaga means to her.
"one time ..... i met a woman who knew pain the same way i did... who cried as much as i did, drank as much wine as i did, ate as much pasta as i did and who’s heart was bigger than her whole body. she immediately felt like a sister to me," she tweeted. "she then held my hand and invited me into the beautiful world of chromatica and together, we got to express how beautiful and healing it feels to mothafuckinnnn cry ! i hope this makes u all feel as uplifted as it does for us both. i love u @ladygaga , u stunning superwoman !"
Watch the full video above. Chromatica is set to be released on May 29.
LeBron James (left) and Steph Curry (right)
LeBron James Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage.com; Steph Curry Photo: Steve Jennings/Getty Images
2017 NBA Finals: Music lessons from LeBron James, Steph Curry
From focused practice to meditation, here's how musicians can look to NBA basketball for inspiration to take their A-game to the next level
Basketball excellence will be on the primetime stage as Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors and LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers lock horns for the third consecutive year in the 2017 NBA Finals, tipping off on June 1.
Excellence in primetime is no stranger to The Recording Academy. For nearly 60 years, The Academy has celebrated music excellence via the GRAMMY Awards, currently crowning recipients in 84 categories.
On the surface, dribbling a basketball and record production or strumming a guitar couldn't be farther apart. But those looking to transform themselves into a world-class athlete or virtuoso musician can find common ground in the science and methodology of achieving mastery. Indeed, the consummate musician is always in search of knowledge, and one can look to NBA all-stars and hall of fame coaches for a sea of inspiration and ideas.
Take Curry, the reigning NBA MVP for two consecutive seasons, who is lauded as the game's best shooter. Though talent is unquestionably part of the equation, it's serious dedication to his craft that has lifted Curry above the rim. A big believer in repetition, Curry — who reportedly once hit 77 three-pointers in a row in practice — puts up 1,000 shots in practice every week and he goes through an intense 90-minute warm-up routine before each game.
James, a four-time NBA MVP, is noted for spending endless hours working on different shots, including hook shots, layups and jumpers. As outlined in Jennifer Etnier's book, Bring Your "A" Game: A Young Athlete's Guide To Mental Toughness, James repeats shots over and over, noting nuances such as his body position, footwork and release points. In game play, James focuses as the plays unfold and reacts naturally, letting his instincts and subconscious take over as informed by the repetition in his practice.
Just like Curry and James, for musicians looking to up their A-game, the development of an effective practice regimen is seen by many professional musicians as crucial. Rather than noodling incessantly, a musician will benefit from a focused, strategic practice schedule in alignment with their personal music goals.
Within that regimen, whether drilling a new scale or working on a difficult solo passage, the right kind of repetition is key. As outlined by SonicBids, the "mindful" musician uses repetition in a slow, thoughtful and precise manner. For example, when practicing a passage, the "mindless" musician will repeat it until it sounds like all the notes are correct, while the mindful musician spends time repeating the opening phrase to ensure it's letter perfect, and then rinses and repeats. When it comes to performance, the music will flow more naturally from the mindful musician, just like a patented Curry three-pointer.
Similar to the relationship between a music student and music teacher, an NBA coach can provide leadership, insight and directorial guidance to help shape a player. But it's the superlative coach who can take a group of players and usher them from the first-round of the playoffs to the Finals.
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Pat Riley, a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, was renowned as a master motivator in presiding over NBA titles with both the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat. While Riley identified skills as of obvious importance, his coaching code placed a focus on attitude.
"The difference between people who are skillful and merely successful and the ones who win is in attitude," states Riley. "The attitude a person develops is the most important ingredient in determining the level of success. … If you can find people who really want to be a part of a great team, of something significant, to do something for others, for their teammates … then you've got yourself people who are special."
Applying Riley's thoughts to music, a successful band can be seen as a team activity, and a team with the winning attitude is one that will likely rise to the top. Writing for LinkedIn, John Sadler identified how a winning attitude informed by virtues such as respect is the crucial element to a band's success. Some of his helpful tips for instilling positive attitudes among bandmates include showing up on time, coming to rehearsals prepared, listening effectively, and discussing and outlining goals together as a group.
Also a hall of fame coach, Phil Jackson won 11 NBA titles with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers. While stars such as Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant made outstanding individual contributions, it was Jackson's unique approach to coaching that helped him manage star personalities and ultimately put his teams over the top.
A big proponent of mindfulness and mental strength, Jackson — who earned the nickname the Zen Master — used coaching tactics such as inviting players to meditate, practice in the dark and practice yoga.
"As much as we pump iron and we run to build our strength up, we need to build our mental strength up," Jackson told Oprah Winfrey. "We need to build our mental strength so we can focus, get one point at attention and so we can be in concert with one another in times of need."
Inspired by Jackson's philosophies, future hall of famer Bryant worked with mindfulness expert George Mumford throughout his career. Mumford, who also instructed Jordan, helped instill in Bryant the Zen Master-approved mechanism of meditation to cope with the intense pressure of elite athletic competition.
"I meditate every day," the now-retired Bryant told Winfrey in 2015. "I do it in the mornings and I do it for about 10 or 15 minutes. I think it's important because it sets me up for the rest of the day. … If I don't do it, I feel like I'm constantly chasing the day."
Many articles have outlined how meditation can benefit musicians. Writing for The Guardian, pianist/composer Rolf Hind explained how meditation helped him find new purpose as a musician.
"For me, the practise of meditating … has brought an enormous amount to my life and music-making," wrote Hind. "[I have] a sense of clarity and control, less neurosis about ambitions and 'career,' greater efficiency, awareness and body sense as a pianist. As a composer, I'm more in touch with the sources of my own creativity."
As the saying attributed to the great painter Pablo Picasso goes, "Good artists copy; great artists steal." In the context of music this is not meant to be taken literally, but musicians who borrow ideas and strategies from successful people — in this case, all-star basketball players and hall of fame coaches — will surely take their game to an MVP level.
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