Should you get a VIP pass for The Roots Picnic next year? A discussion

OPINION: The looming question for all those with just enough disposable income to step it up a bit—is the VIP pass worth it?

Kirk Franklin 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)

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

To quote Luther Vandross, Ralph Tresvant, Janet Jackson and Bell Biv DeVoe, “the best things in life are free.” They sang about that on the 1992 soundtrack to the movie Mo’ Money. A fine film, really. A fine soundtrack, too. 

Why am I opening up a discussion about whether or not it’s worth it to pay VIP prices with a quote from a song released in 1992? I’m glad you asked. Because like most things in life, the best version of them is the one you don’t have to pay for, and that makes your decision making different. This will all come together soon; I promise. 

Like everybody who goes to music festivals, concerts or really anywhere that features a tiered ticketing system—i.e., Coachella, Bonnaroo, Broccoli City, The Roots Picnic, etc.—the question of whether or not it’s worth it to pay the sometimes substantial extra money for a VIP ticket looms large. Shoot, I consider buying first-class tickets when I’m flying. I even bought a first-class ticket on an Acela once just because I wanted to reduce the number of people whose air I was going to breathe. Ya know, with COVID and all. What you want and what you’re willing to pay for always factor into discussions when you have the money to make that decision. I haven’t been to every music festival, but I’ve been to a few and just came back from The Roots Picnic where I had more than a few conversations with people about whether or not buying VIP tickets is “worth it.” Spoiler alert: I think so, but let’s break down why.

Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson performs 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)

The Roots Picnic had three ticket levels: General admission at $225, Silver VIP tickets for $699 and Gold VIP tickets for $1,099. Each ticket was for both days. The general admission is exactly what it says: for two days, you get to come inside and enjoy some groups you love with access to port-o-potties, food trucks, liquor stands and a veritable cornucopia of vendors and installations all over Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. 

Silver VIP tickets got you all that plus a cool lanyard, wrist band and access to secured Silver VIP lounges and areas with smaller lines to access food and liquor. The areas also had limited seating but much nicer bathroom access and those joints really do make a difference. Trust me. The big thing is that there were also special viewing areas for people with Silver (and Gold) VIP passes. 

Just for the record, I had both a Silver VIP pass and a press credential. This last part is important; we’ll get to that soon. More for the record, I paid for neither: the press credential must be applied for, and theGrio got me the VIP passes since I was working and writing about my experience there. I need that to be clear.

The GOLD pass gave you everything the Silver did but with access to additional secured lounges within lounges-type spaces. For instance, by the main Toyota Stage, there was an elevated club-like lounge with hi-top tables and lots of seating and a special bar, etc. It was quite fancy. They also had access to their own additional food stands with even smaller lines, etc. 

So, was it worth it to have the Silver VIP pass? 

For me, yes. I didn’t pay for it as I said, but if I had the money, I might be inclined to buy the tickets. Here’s why: There were SO MANY PEOPLE out there that having access to both a secured area with smaller lines for food and drink was clutch every time. On Sunday, especially; the Silver VIP lounge area was basically clear the entire day, so I never stood in line longer than two or three minutes for food or drinks and most of the time, I walked straight to the front of a line and was able to get what I needed immediately. And don’t get me started on the VIP bathrooms, or more importantly NOT having to use the port-o-potties. 

Tone Stith 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)

Those lines for food and drink, despite the tremendous number of food and liquor stands, were insane. I’m sure the lines moved as quickly as they could, but if there are 100-plus people in each line, there’s only so fast you’re going to get your food or drink or ice cream or whatever. You could strategically head to the Podcast Stage area where there were typically fewer people but also food and drink stands, but that was a trek up what felt like the world’s largest hill. And if you’ve been drinking all day or even just out in the sun all day, that walk was daunting. 

Similarly, the Gold and Silver passes came with access to a front-of-stage viewing area that was mostly empty for most of both days until the true headliners showed up and even then when they did, there was room to navigate and move around and sit on blankets in the front of the stage and see the artists performing. Now, you could have gotten there early and sat as close to the stage as possible, but with the VIP passes you could have gotten there at 5 or 6 o’clock and still been able to get a space you wanted to see the bigger names. 

To that end, just the quicker access to food and drink and bathrooms that were nicer made me feel like it was worth it. 

Two minor notes, though: 1) the VIP entry was a bit of a misnomer. It literally only mattered once you got to the actual entrance, but that was after going through the first security checkpoint where they checked your bags (forcing most of us to toss our bags or what have you—I don’t think the instructions were as clear as they could have been—and then a second one where you went through metal detectors. On both days, NOBODY checked to see if I had a VIP pass. So basically anybody could have gotten in the entry VIP line, but it also didn’t speed up much. It isn’t like they let us in early. Point is, the VIP entry could use a little work. If your entire reason for getting a VIP pass was to skip the line, that didn’t happen. 

2) Oddly, one of the Gold VIP lounges doubled as the “press lounge.” Now, I’m not sure anybody could actually tell, especially since that Gold VIP lounge was one of the hardest things to find. There was no sign or anything; you almost had to accidentally discover that the lounge was there. The good thing about that lounge was that it had air conditioning (so, so clutch) and a bar that you could get to almost immediately at all times because there were never that many people in there. They also had water and lemonade sitting out constantly. Point is, that was an interesting overlap that might make you wonder, “Why do I have this again?” Ya know, assuming you paid for it outright.

My guess is a lot of people with Gold or Silver passes were sponsored by companies, etc. As expensive as they were, I can’t imagine most folks doing the math and deducing it’s worth it to pay $700 or $1,100, even for a two-day festival. But if you can get those passes covered, it is absolutely worth it. I moved around fairly freely all over Fairmount Park to do my interviews and to take in as many artists as possible. 

So quite simply, was my Silver VIP pass worth it? If you got it to spend, yes. If your company is paying for it, more than absolutely. Tell them to get you that Gold pass. If you have to shell out the money yourself? Eh…as long as you plan on going both days and come hungry and ready to drink as much as possible. If you only want to sit in the grass all day and take in a good show, general admission is your wave all day long. 

Panama Jackson

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).

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