The Roots, Black Thought bring Picnic Festival to NYC

The Roots are a Philadelphia band, but often describe themselves as honorary New Yorkers due to their presence on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” and regular appearances around the city, such as Questlove’s “Bowl Train” DJ nights at Brooklyn Bowl.

The group has been putting on an annual Roots Picnic festival in its hometown for nine years, and now it’s bringing the festival to New York for the first time.

Held in Bryant Park, the two-day Picnic will be headlined by The Roots performing with D’Angelo and John Mayer on Saturday and with New York acts including Wu-Tang Clan, David Byrne and Nile Rodgers on Sunday.

amNewYork spoke with Roots co-founder Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter via email.


Why was this the right time to bring The Roots Picnic to NYC?

New York has embraced us for years — from our smaller shows in the early days of The Roots to now being at 30 Rock for Fallon every day. It’s exciting for us to bring something that’s truly a family affair to our extended family.


How do you pick the acts?

Well, we have a brain trust that consists of myself, Questlove, Roots management and close Roots collaborators. We start with an initial email and after that everyone adds to the pot. We have arguments over who should stay and who goes. It’s a fun and grueling process but refreshing when your suggestion makes the final lineup.


Are there big differences between putting this on in Philly vs. NYC?

The biggest difference is GRASS. Lol. Our goal in Philly is to eventually take the picnic to Fairmont Park. However, it hasn’t happened yet so fortunately for our NYC fans, they’ll get to experience the festival in an actual park. The other big difference is NYC is a two-day festival and Philly is one.


Do you plan to do this annually in NYC or do you see this as something you’ll take to a different city each year?

We’d love to have it in New York as often as the city will have us. We’re approaching the 10th anniversary in Philly, so it would be amazing to see that kind of longevity here. It’s a big undertaking, but if it’s possible in other cities, we’ll be there.


When you play other festivals, were there things you saw that you thought you could do better if you started one of your own?

Not necessarily better, just with our vibe. We’ve been able to bring some of the most incredible and diverse talent together on stage. It’s fun for us to create those moments and especially for the audience to experience.


In your view, what are the keys to a successful collaboration with another artist?

Respecting and having trust in the person you’re working with. Being willing to adapt and follow the creative process wherever it’s leading you.


Is there anyone you’ve always wanted to back, but haven’t had the chance to?

I’d really love to back Sade. She’s definitely a dream artist.


Of all the skits you’ve done on “The Tonight Show,” which is your favorite and why?

I’d have to say my favorite right now is “The Tarik & Adler Podcast.” That’s been a lot of fun.


What else are you working on?

Well Questlove and I are still working on the “Hamilton” mixtape. It’s coming together really well so stay on the lookout for that. I also have a few acting roles coming as well. I’m staying busy per the usual.

Picnic time

Here are some of the big names coming to the Roots Picnic

Oct. 1: The Roots, D’Angelo, John Mayer, X Ambassadors, Jeremih, Jerrod Carmichael

Oct. 2: Wu-Tang Clan, David Byrne, Trombone Shorty, Swizz Beatz, Deerhoof, EPMD

If you go: The Roots Picnic is Oct. 1 & 2 at Bryant Park at 1 p.m., 42nd Street and Sixth Avenue, $99, Oct. 1 sold out.