What was billed as the "2nd Annual" Roots Picnic unfolded on the edge of the Delaware River in Philadelphia yesterday, with two stages (one in a massive air-conditioned tent) hosting over a dozen bands. The lineup had a substantial Brooklyn presence, with dance-punk singer Santigold, art-rockers TV on the Radio, hip-hop artist Kid Cudi and afrobeat preservationists Antibalas. The Roots, who are now commuting to New York regularly for their gig on Jimmy Fallon's show, kicked things off at high noon with a rollicking half-hour performance that set the tone for a day of relaxed partying, and returned later to put the cherry on top with a concluding set that started past 11 p.m.
The crowd skewed younger than most New York rock audiences, but the amount of weed being burned through seemed about equal to a day at McCarren Pool (RIP). Still, everyone seemed friendlier and far less smug than your average NYC concert crowd, leading us to unscientifically conclude that people in Philadelphia are really nice! Not so nice was the the typically obscene beer price gouging, with Miller Light costing $7 a bottle. But with plenty of other stimulants on hand, nobody seemed too burdened by sobriety, and by the afternoon the crowd in the tent was going ape for Kid Cudi, and we saw a man carried out by his friends during TV on the Radio.
The Picnic's highlight was Public Enemy, who unleashed an incendiary and remarkably well-rehearsed rendition of the seminal album "It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back." Backed by The Roots and Antibalas, Chuck D and Flavor Flav made 1988 feel like only yesterday, with a performance surging with vitality. TV on the Radio, given the unenviable task of following Public Enemy, struggled and failed to overcome a regrettably muddy sound mix, with the vocals all but inaudible and the nine musicians on stage (including horns from Antibalas) lost in white noise. Still, the passion was there, and with a fresh breeze rolling in off the river, quibbles about the sound mix were just ants at an otherwise pleasant picnic.