Photography By: Lucas Alvarado / Far Fetched

“Please stop the earthquake!”

That’s what punk-y soul singer Janelle Monáe kept yelling during her set at the 7th annual Roots Picnic. Her plea, which of course was said with her trademark style and grace, could have been referring to either the event’s sound guy, who was having a rough day (more on that soon), or the crowd itself, which was growing increasingly restless as more and more people entered the venue, leaving hardly any room for the rest of us to breathe. These issues prohibited the Picnic, which has garnered a reputation of being one of the more organic and homegrown music events today, from being the enjoyable event that its lineup suggested.

The biggest problem was the venue. Once again, the Picnic was held at the Festival Pier at Penns Landing, and the parking-lot space simply could not hold the event’s 6,000 attendees comfortably. Also, the way the venue was broken up—two stages, with one on each side of the square—was problematic. Only one stage was in use at a time, and no one could really move from side to side, so many people were stuck looking at an empty stage for long periods of time.

This put the performers in a tough spot from the get go. The Picnic has always featured an eclectic lineup, whether it’s been Danny Brown sharing a bill with former LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy or Ariel Pink opening up for Nas, and this year was no different, with hip-hop, rock, EDM and soul artists all getting shine. Unfortunately, for most of them, the crowd was indifferent; there were just too many distractions. Things started off on a decent note with fun and dance-filled DJ sets from Just Blaze and Biz Markie, who earned some points with the hometown crowd by spinning some records off Philadelphia Freeway. But then things fell into a lull, starting when Oakland’s G-Eazy hit the main stage. His bouncy Cali sound and glasses-adorned appearance didn’t click with a mostly East Coast crowd. Pint-sized songstress Jhené Aiko followed him and did her best to infuse some energy, but fell short.

But it wasn’t all bad. Queens’ rapper Action Bronson brought his usual energy and, once realizing the problem with the stage setup, bullied himself through the crowd to the sound booth in the center. There, he performed a number of songs while hanging off its edge, like a big white gorilla. A$AP Ferg opened his set by announcing that there would be “no more boring music” and went into his aggressive O.P.P.-inspired anthem “Dump Dump,” which had some of the crowd barking, “I fucked your bitch!” And then there was Janelle Monáe, who came out in a straight jacket and demonstrated what showmanship is really about. Along with her black-and-white-clad backup dancers, she became the life of the party, moonwalking on stage while killing her vocal solos. She won the only standing ovation of the day. Sadly, some of her high notes couldn’t be heard, as the feedback from the stage’s sound system drowned out her vocals. This was another reoccurring problem; everyone’s music sounded lo-fi and muffled when it shouldn’t have. Monae became visibly upset on stage at the venue’s sound team, and even the Roots’ ?uestlove.

By the time the sun set, much of the crowd was visibly exhausted, but a slight buzz of excitement began to form when they realized that the Picnic’s headliner, Snoop Dogg, was on next. The Roots, the beloved hometown team, came out first and performed a number of songs off their newest album, ...And Then You Shoot Your Cousin, as well as some of their hits, including a lively rendition of “Don’t Say Nuthin’.” They then introduced Snoop, who came out to “Gz And Hustlas” and would continue to rock classics off Doggstyle, including “Tha Shiznit,” “Gin and Juice” and, alongside longtime homies Kurupt and Daz, “Doggy Dog World.” It was obvious that Snoop had been performing on stages for a long time, as he went through his catalogue with confident ease. What’s more, he sounded exactly like how he does on wax, which is an underrated aspect of performing hip-hop live. The Roots, who backed Snoop, gave songs like “Drop It Like It’s Hot” and “Beautiful” intricate flourishes and a lively bounce. It finally seemed like the crowd was into it.

That didn’t last for long, however. When Snoop stopped to perform one of his slower tracks, the crowd suddenly began to exit the venue in droves. With some loyal fans sticking around for the return of Black Thought and The Roots, the rest of the audience wanted to call it a night. It seems a day dedicated to purely diverse music wasn't enough to hold everyone's attention.—Reed Jackson

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