R&B had a moment at this year’s Roots Picnic. Acts ranging from Mary J. Blige to Jazmine Sullivan to SWV showcased the hits that have left a mark on the R&B industry over the course of the past 30 years.
This year’s Roots Picnic was an ambitious effort that shed light on seasoned acts and current stars in an assortment of genres. Hosted at Fairmount Park, the lengthy lineup for the two-day music festival mainly centered on R&B acts including Mary J. Blige, SWV, Jazmine Sullivan, and Summer Walker.
Also among the roster of R&B talent was Alex Isley, who gracefully shared a few of her most distinct singles at the outdoor pavilion at The Mann Center on Saturday. Isley showcased her golden voice as she performed “Such A Thing,” the intimate lead track from her newest album Marigold, as well as the dreamy R&B singles “Mine” and “Make Me Feel.” Throughout her moments on stage, Isley’s talented live band added to the overall feel of her intimate set.
Later in the evening, DJ D-Nice took the stage at The Mann Center. Hits from the ‘80s — including Teena Marie’s “Square Biz” and Luther Vandross’ “Never Too Much” — were crowd favorites, with the DJ running through old school hits before going into rap classics like C-Murder’s “Down For My Niggaz” and JAY-Z’s “I Just Wanna Love U,” and ending his set with “Swag Surfin’.”
Following D-Nice, fans received an energetic set from Masego. The singer and multi-instrumentalist delivered “Queen Tings,” “Lady Lady,” and “Old Age” — sans SiR — at the top of his setlist, making for a strong start. He also whipped out his saxophone quite a few times too during his performance. But the highlight of Masego’s set was when he brought out Alex Isley for “Good & Plenty.” This proved to be a moment that many fans in the crowd enjoyed as they erupted into applause when Isley appeared on stage.
By night time, restless festival goers were wrapped around the Toyota Stage anticipating Jazmine Sullivan, who gave fans an immersive experience complete with talented backup singers and a live band. She shared newer tracks like “BPW” from the deluxe edition of her Heaux Tales album, as well as favorites including “Bust Your Windows,” “Let It Burn,” “Need U Bad,” and “Pick Up Your Feelings.”
Mary J. Blige was a fitting closing act for day one and she didn’t fall short. Backed by The Roots, Blige arrived on the Toyota stage dancing as Black Thought led the band through a rap-focused intro. Then, the classics ensued, with Blige singing “What’s the 411?,” “Love Is All We Need,” “Love No Limit,” “My Life” and others.
On Sunday, The Mann Center was once again home to newer faces of R&B. Dressed in a custom feathered jacket and a matching blue jumpsuit, Durand Bernarr shared an exuberant and energy-filled set. His performance was smooth and funk-centric, with the singer keeping the crowd entertained while performing standout songs like “Stuck” or “Freefall.”
Tone Stith also provided an opportunity for those unfamiliar with him to receive a crash course in his essential listens, with the singer going through “I Don’t Wanna,” “Do I Ever” and “Something In The Water,” the latter of which singer Maeta joined him on. Following Stith was rapper Freddie Gibbs who, despite dealing with some microphone issues, delivered a few of his hard-hitting singles including fan-favorites “Scottie Beam” and “Big Boss Rabbit.”
Then came Tank And The Bangas. There’s never a dull moment with the New Orleans-based band, who took to The Mann Center stage in extravagant custom red and gold outfits. The group’s vibrant performance was captivating, especially when they performed songs like “Dope Girl Magic,” as well as standout Red Balloon tracks “No ID,” “Big,” and “Stolen Fruit.”
Over on the Toyota Stage, Tierra Whack appeared in a Comme Des Garçons-inspired red dress with white polka dots and an ultra-high red top knot. A Philadelphia native, Tierra shared a mixture of tracks, with everything from the bass-heavy single “Hungry Hippo” to the eccentric “Stand Up” being a hit with the crowd.
Later in the evening, R&B reigned supreme. First up for the late-night bill was SWV. Coko and LeLee Lyons led the crowd into a set filled with their most memorable classics: “Rain,” “I’m So Into You,” and, of course, “Weak.” Up next was Musiq Soulchild whose set was a full force, rich experience, with the singer performing “Just Friends (Sunny),” “Halfcrazy,” “sobeautiful,” and “Love.”
Keyshia Cole, another act that respectfully sits within the R&B canon, gave a concise performance. It’s no surprise that “Love” proved to be a defining moment for her, but she also had other notable renditions too, including her performances of “Heaven,” “Let It Go,” and “I Remember.”
Summer Walker arrived on the Toyota Stage an hour after Keyshia Cole wrapped. The LVRN signee served up nearly 10 songs in total, with a few of those songs being standouts from her debut album Over It: “Body,” “Playing Games,” and “Come Thru.” As for unexpected — but still welcome — songs performed, Walker also did “Throw Away” from Still Over It, as well as an emotional rendition of “Settling” from her 2019 mixtape CLEAR.
While some attendees voiced their displeasure with their Roots Picnic experience (with some even saying they would potentially never attend again), it appeared quite a few fans enjoyed theirs. Whichever camp you’re in if you attended, it’s clear Philadephia’s Fairmount Park is set to continue hosting the festival. Overall, Roots Picnic wasn’t a bust, with the event serving as an opportunity for thousands of music lovers to engage with artists in an intimate manner.
Take a look at a gallery recap of Roots Picnic below.