The Roots’ hometown fans ask why they’re opening act, not top dogs, at Philly’s July 4 concert

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Roots’ hometown fans want their heroes to headline

PHILADELPHIA — In the City of Brotherly Love, there’s no shortage of love for The Roots, local boys-made-good who have garnered accolades, fame and a choice TV spot as the house band on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.”

So the city’s decision to book Roots performers Questlove, Black Thought and company for its annual July 4 festivities but make Buffalo, N.Y.’s Goo Goo Dolls the headline act has ruffled the feathers of fans from music bloggers to record-store browsers.

Why, they ask, would our hometown hip-hop heroes be picked to play second fiddle? Et tu, Goo Goo?

“It’s so strange because The Roots have such a connection to Philadelphia,” said Molly Eichel, deputy arts and entertainment editor at the weekly Citypaper.

City Representative Melanie Johnson, who oversees planning for the “Welcome America!” festival, said picking the headliner is a complex process that weighs factors such as broad public appeal, marketability and cost. Organizers, sponsors and city officials come up with wish lists, which they whittle down until a final decision is made.

Previous festivals have featured headliners with local ties (Patti LaBelle, Hall and Oates) and without (Sheryl Crow, Elton John). So while it’s likely not an intentional snub, it feels that way to some of The Roots’ loyal legion of Philly fans.

“The Roots are our boys and we’re proud of them, so of course we get upset when it seems like they’re being overlooked,” said local artist Peter Bonfatti as he sorted through jazz CDs at a downtown store. “It’s a hometown crowd, so we’re going to be there to see them if they play first, second, or 52nd.”

Others, however, viewed it as a compliment, in a way.

“Every year, the concert’s kind of known for having acts that are past their prime,” Philadelphia Weekly music editor Brian McManus said with a laugh. “It seems to me they couldn’t have The Roots (as headliners) because they’d actually be good.”

The Roots have garnered wide critical acclaim for their innovative blend of hip-hop, jazz, funk, soul and rock — and for their genre-bending collaborations with musicians as diverse as hipster supergroup Monsters of Folk, soul heartthrob John Legend and indie harpist Joanna Newsom.

The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, home to the Philadelphia Orchestra, has booked the band for its upcoming concert season, and the annual Roots Festival is a popular daylong concert the band hosts and plays every summer.

“They’re great ambassadors for the city,” McManus said. “And my guess is that they probably have less of a problem with all of this than the rest of us do.”

A spokesman for the band did not immediately return a call for comment Tuesday.


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