A few weeks before boarding a Megabus to Philadelphia for Roots Picnic, I stood in the winding heights of The Guggenheim Museum amongst a crowd of peers. We were all dressed in the requested white attire as we looked down in complete awe at Solange Knowles as she performed her 2016 album A Seat At The Table in its entirety as a part of the Red Bull Music Academy’s string of pop-up cultural offerings across the city.
Each move, choreographed to perfection, each lyric escaping her mouth, reverberating off of the Guggenheim’s structure, and landing delicately on the crowd. We were in awe of her artistry as it was appropriately on display in a cultural institution, which, according to Solange, doesn’t really mean shit—it’s just a pretty place. Since the release of her third album, she’s seen astronomical growth in fame. “This is her moment,” someone whispers loudly.
Two weeks later, I stand in the back of the crowd at the South Stage of Roots Picnic. The sun is setting as Gilles Peterson wraps up his DJ set on the Oasis stage. Sand has somehow made its way into my sneakers, 8 hours in the Philly sun has done me no favors, and a compact crowd doesn’t seem like the best idea. I mark my space on the outskirts of the crowd as the sun departs and Solange’s Blood Moon, and all its magical properties, orbits into view.
The Houston native takes the stage in an abbreviated version of her Guggenheim arrival, band, followed by backup singers, and the crowd’s roar means Solange has arrived. Solange and everyone on the stage is dressed in red and bathed in red light as they assemble in front of a large red dot that resembles a Blood Moon, the total lunar eclipse that happens when the earth is nudged between the moon and the sun, filtering its rays. These monochromatic assemblies are what the songstress has become known for, but what is most remarkable in this instance is her willingness to optically blend in with the band, the horn players, and at most parts of the performance her backup singers, depending only on her vocals, her energy, her dance breaks, her energy, and organic star power to set her apart.
Solange opens her set with a horn-heavy rendition of Rise, the crowd follows humming along and raising their cell phones. She slips seamlessly into the sequence of her track listing just as she did at The Guggenheim weeks earlier, the crowd continues to follow.
“I just love how different she is,” someone says from behind me.
Weary is followed by the genius ballad Cranes in the Sky, I spy a handful of people turn their cameras on selfie mode to capture themselves mouthing along. Me, watching them, watching themselves on a screen, while at a festival to watch a performance…we’re all part of the problem. Mad gets skipped in line and the band goes into the vibey Don’t You Wait while we all try to match her falsettos from the crowd.
Then it happens.
The instrumentals for Some Things Never Seem To Fucking Work ring out into the Philly sky. This time she is more powerful, freer than I have ever seen her perform it, (we don’t need a disclaimer to say this is my 4th time watching Solange live, do we?) She two steps right into Lovers in the Parking Lot, both off of her 2012 release of True. I send out a feverish text:
“OMG she is performing True and nobody knows any of these songs?!?!”
“I wish she would just perform A Seat At The Table,” someone from the quadrate behind me says. I take the comment as my mark to up the tempo on my two step and sing along a little louder whIle scanning the back of the crowd for someone who may know the lyrics. I come up empty. Almost as if she’d hear the peanut gallery’s commentary, Solange switches back into Mad followed by F.U.B.U., which suddenly closer resembles an ode to her longtime fans than to ownership of unapologetic blackness.
In a beautiful display of a well-polished set-list, Solange pauses briefly to remind the crowd just who the fuck she is and how long she has been doing this. She thanks her crowd for rocking with her for 17 years, though her growing and “Acting a damn fool in public” before breaking out into the theme song for “The Proud Family,” leading the entire crowd in a singalong, while the instrumentals to the third single off of her 2009 release of Sol-Angel, T.O.N.Y. play lightly in the background. The band is on track during what was clearly an impromptu show of fan affection.
All is right again, and the red lights transition to blue, building a purple hue in the night. The outskirts of the fans begin to trail off to get a good spot for the closing show of the night, walking in reverse to catch the last bits of Solange’s performance as she weaves in and out of her discography dancing freely under the magic of her own Blood Moon before wrapping the night up with Don’t Touch My Hair.
It has been a full gestation period since the release of A Seat At The Table has birthed Solange into a new level of fame, one that keeps her humanly grounded in her artistry, but allows her room to boast of longevity to newcomers when the time is right, and that time was the Roots Picnic stage. Solange plays by her own rules, brings her own moon to ripen her crop, and means it, unapologetically, when she says “this shit is for us.”
Solange plays by her own rules, brings her own moon to ripen her crop, and means it, unapologetically, when she says “this shit is for us.”
Jun 10 @ We Love Green Festival – Paris, France
Jun 23 @ Piknik I Parken- -Oslo, Norway
Jun 28 @ Gdynia-Kosakowo Airfield – Gdynia, Poland
Jun 29 @ Darupvej 19 – Roskilde, Denmark
Jul 02 @ Mercedes-Benz Superdome – New Orleans, LA
Jul 11 @ Auditorium Stravinski – Montreux, Switzerland
Jul 14 @ Union Park- – Chicago, IL
Jul 16 @ Union Park – Chicago, IL
Jul 22 @ Exposition Park – Los Angeles, CA
Jul 23 @ Exposition Park – Los Angeles, CA
Jul 27 @ Burl’s Creek Event Grounds – Oro Medonte, Canada
Jul 28 @ Randall’s Island Park – New York, NY
Jul 29 @ Wayhome Music & Arts 2017 – Toronto, Canada
Jul 30 @ West Riverfront Park – Detroit, MI
Aug 10-11 @ Golden Gate Park – San Francisco, CA
Sep 24 @ Hollywood Bowl – Hollywood, CA
Rachel Hislop is a native New Yorker who also happens to be the Editor-in-Chief of Okayplayer and OkayAfrica.