10 observations and realizations I had while getting my whole life at The Roots Picnic in Philadelphia

OPINION: My favorite musical festival gave all that it needed to give this past weekend at Philly’s Fairmount Park.

Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson and Mary J. Blige perform as Mary J. Blige performs a special set by The Roots at Roots Picnic 2022 at Mann Center For Performing Arts on June 04, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Taylor Hill/Getty Images for Live Nation Urban)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

I love The Roots Picnic, the vaunted Philadelphia homegrown music festival founded and put on by the legendary Roots crew (Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter). Now, I’ve only been twice (including this recent trip), but the first time I went—back in 2019, right before the pandemic hit—was such a good time and felt so much like a festival curated specifically for me, and people like me, that I decided I was going to go every year I was able. Then the pandemic hit and well, as you can imagine, the last two years of the picnic have happened in the virtual space of sorts. 

But in 2022, we were back, coming all the way live from 2-1-5; reunited and it felt so good. I was there for both work and pleasure; I was there interviewing artists and really taking in and observing everything happening, but I was also there to enjoy myself and performances by artists I know and love and those I’m not as familiar with. And to just enjoy the vibe; The Roots Picnic genuinely has something for everybody who loves Black music and brings a collection of people of all type who clearly feel the same. To quote poet laureate 2 Chainz (and literally everybody else), “it’s a vibe.” 

Seeing as I was there observationating (if it’s not a word it should be), I made some observations and also realized some things. Since it’s Black Music Month and I believe sharing is caring (and that the children are our future), I figured I share some of my takeaways after spending roughly 22 hours on the grounds of Fairmount Park over two days for The Roots Picnic. Can I kick it? 

Yes, I believe I can. 

1. I absolutely love the environment created and curated at The Roots Picnic.

Have you ever been to a place where you just feel at home? That’s me at The Roots Picnic. The podcasts they bring in to do live shows are shows I listen to. For the most part, the artists they bring on are those I look forward to and the artists I don’t know are the ones I want to know more about. There are always, of course, a few artists that aren’t for me, but such is life, and that’s OK. There are other people who really want to see Chief Keef in this world and they were able to do so. Along with the artists, the beautiful Black people (along with folks of all other ethnicities and races, etc.) made me feel good. I love seeing people smiling and dancing and enjoying life and for some hours on Saturday and Sunday, that’s what was on display. An eclectic group of people all came together from all over to chill out for a few hours and eat expensive festival food and listen to some dope music. I love it.

Tank and the Bangas performs during the 2022 Roots Picnic at The Mann at Fairmount Park on June 05, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Taylor Hill/Getty Images for Live Nation Urban)

2. There is nothing like experiencing Meek Mill’s “Dreams and Nightmares” in Philly. 

Here’s a ponderance: If you’re born in Philly, do you get a lyric sheet to “Dreams and Nightmares” along with your birth certificate? Do they sing this song instead of reciting the national anthem in Philadelphia public schools? Every single time they played the song at the festival, which was PLENTY, the array of people who actively and aggressively spit the lyrics was inspirational. It’s like they’ve all been singing this song their whole lives, which is impossible since it came out in 2012, but it might as well have been out since 1912. It’s really a thing to see, and I enjoyed the performances from the crowd every single time.

Speaking of the crowd…

3. Y’all, I hate “Swag Surfin’,” and I hate the large-scale “swag surf” that happens when the song comes on. I’m so over it at this point. I cannot state this emphatically enough.

It’s a huge music festival with DJs playing between set up and break down of musical sets. This means that DJ Khaled’s “All I Do” played way too many times and FLY’s “Swag Surfin’” got played way too many times. I hate that song. I hate hearing the intro to it. I never want to hear it again. And for the record, I didn’t always feel this way, but it’s reached the point where I would just prefer that we move onto greener pastures. Please. For the love of all things holy. I can’t take it anymore. 

4. Durand Bernarr is a star. His potential as an artist and performer is limitless.

Hands down my favorite performance of the entire festival was the set put up by Durand Bernarr. He sashayed onto the stage wearing a turquoise-ish rhinestone outfit, some high heel boots and a coat-like thing made of a material whose name escapes me, and baby, it was everything. Rick James would be proud. His vocal control and onstage presence and performance were EASILY the most dynamic and entertaining things I witnessed the whole weekend. The crowd hung on the whole thing and sang along with every song they knew. When he got to “Relocate,” he might as well have lit the whole place on fire so it could explode. I was so impressed and entertained that he was one of three or four sets I sat through the whole thing. I cannot wait to see where he goes. 

5. Jordan Hawkins is also a star.

I first heard him through some playlist or another on Spotify. His song “Honey” came on and I loved it so much that I added it to various playlists of mine. I got a chance to meet him and speak with him about his artistry and journey. That conversation made me want to check out his set, and I was so happy I did. Just mark my words, buddy’s got “it.” I will be actively paying attention from here on out.

6. Folks love them some Masego, and he puts on an amazing show. 

I can’t confirm this, but I feel like Masego had the absolute longest set of the entire festival. It lasted so long that I walked away to watch another performance at another stage, came back after what felt like 45 minutes later and he was still on. And you know what, folks were STILL as excited as they were at the beginning. He really does an amazing job commanding the stage and keeping the audience engaged and involved. His songs are amazing anyway, but that man knows his crowd and knows what they want to hear and how to keep them invested. He was another of my favorite performances to see. 

7. Mary J. Blige was everything and everything was she. You see what I did there?

Mary got on stage with The Roots and closed out the first night of the festival, and man, we need to just go on ahead and put Mary in a museum as an actual national treasure. She hit her famous dance moves and sang so many of the deep cuts from What’s the 411 and My Life that I didn’t know what to do with myself. I just wanted to scream and yell and be happy—which I did. It also highlights just how wonderful it is to have an amazing band backing you. The whole thing was just *chef’s kiss,* and if you have a chance to see and hear Mary perform live, you better go do that. 

8. I was 100 percent there to see and hear Jazmine Sullivan live because Heaux Tales is one of my favorite albums of ever and seeing any part of it performed live is a win. I just wish…

Look, I hate being critical but it has to be said: The sound for some artists was pure basura. Unfortunately, Jazmine was one of those artists for whom the sound was bad. Now, Jazmine is an amazing vocalist and singer and it shined through, but if you weren’t right up on the stage but out in the crowd listening, it sounded muffled and underwater. It was the weirdest thing, and she wasn’t the only artist who had sound issues; CKay did as well. But despite that, I still loved seeing her and hearing and singing along. I’m here for Jazmine Sullivan 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. Salute. 

9. SWV continues to be the greatest group of all time, and I refuse to accept any other submissions. 

SWV performs during the 2022 Roots Picnic at The Mann at Fairmount Park on June 05, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Taylor Hill/Getty Images for Live Nation Urban)

SWV performed as part of a set with Musiq Soulchild and Keyshia Cole. Coko and Lelee had to perform minus Taj, who we were informed had COVID, but they came out and ripped the show anyway doing songs like “Weak,” “Right Here,” “Rain,” and “I’m So Into You.” Listen, don’t you ever say nothing not-positive about SWV around me and we gon’ be alright. 

10. I feel like American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters at hip-hop music festivals and shows are having the greatest glow-up ever.

Yo, the ASL cats on the main stage? Killed the game. At one point, folks were more fixated on them than the music being played. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a dude in locs sign his way through City Girls’ “Act Up,” including all of the lewd parts. It was a whole mood, and everybody needs to see that at least once in their life. I appreciate The Roots Picnic for allowing me that treasure. 

Panama Jackson theGrio.com

Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things and drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest) but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said “Unknown” (Blackest).

Make sure you check out the Dear Culture podcast every Thursday on theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, where I’ll be hosting some of the Blackest conversations known to humankind. You might not leave the convo with an afro, but you’ll definitely be looking for your Afro Sheen! Listen to Dear Culture on TheGrio’s app; download here.