Just after winning the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for his pride-swelling, eye-opening streaming darling Summer of Soul, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson revealed that he’s always at the ready to give fans their own healing music festival experience.
While speaking with ESSENCE in the press room just moments after receiving his trophy, the legendary DJ and music curator revealed that he already works to give the people a Summer of Soul of sorts every year with the annual Roots Picnic.
Thompson earlier told the press that he was inspired by the healing all the acts who performed at the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival sought to come together to provide for that tumultuous time – fresh from a decade of Civil Unrest as our people fought for societal equality.
Noting a similarity to the tumultuous times we live in today – amid a pandemic, political and racial unrest within our borders and a war raging overseas – as one reason that audiences resonated with the music documentary so much.
When asked what acts and in which location he would offer if he could recreate that feeling for healing in today’s society, he immediately began to grin.
“You’re basically setting me up for a great alley-oop dunk right now. I can just say ‘you can go right to the Roots Picnic and see this two-day lineup,'” he laughed.
This year’s lineup, which includes Mary J. Blige, Summer Walker, Jazmine Sullivan, Rick Ross, Benny the Butcher, and Kirk Franklin, among several others, is a reflection of many genres originated in Black culture, much like the acts featured in the 1969 festival at the focus of the movie.
Thompson says he and his bandmates were inspired to start the annual gathering by their time overseas enjoying a concert event style that, while common today, was nearly unheard of stateside in the 90’s.
“When The Roots were living in London, there were a lot of lessons we picked up,” he said. “We moved there because that was a city that really embraced musicianship in a way that, at a time in 1993 that wasn’t happening in the states. In 1993, all we knew was Lollapalooza and maybe Farm Aid.”
“When we went there and did all of these festivals, we said ‘yo, we have to take these festivals back to the states. Everything we learned here these four years living in London, we have to bring back home.'”
For Thompson, the festival, much like his Oscar-winning film, is all about providing healing through being present and sharing his musical gift with the masses.
“This is our 14th year of doing the Roots Picnic. I think oftentimes artists think there has to be some heavy political agenda to be a role model or to be politically involved, but half the time, it’s just being there for people. That, to me, is what festivals are about. Festivals are healing.”