A summer of music

The crowd at the 6th annual Roots Picnic held at Festival Pier. (Yusuf 'YuiE' Muhammad / Philly.com)
The crowd at the 6th annual Roots Picnic held at Festival Pier. (Yusuf 'YuiE' Muhammad / Philly.com)
Posted: May 30, 2014

The summer concert season is a festival season. And in the Philadelphia area, it's one in which old and new traditions - from the Philadelphia Folk Festival, in its 53d year, to Made in America, in its third - shape the calendar.

It all starts this weekend with the eclectic-as-ever Roots Picnic, part of a baker's dozen of warm-weather fests, concert series, and high-profile shows.

The Roots Picnic (Saturday, Festival Pier at Penn's Landing). Now in its seventh year, the Roots Picnic is the de facto start of the summer concert season. This year's all-day fest features Philadelphia atmospheric rock band The War on Drugs, hyperactive funkstress Janelle Monae, rap legend Snoop Dogg, and, of course, the Roots themselves, who in addition to backing Snoop will close the show with a set that will showcase their arty, impressive new album . . .And Then You Shoot Your Cousin. Other attractions: Boston multiculti funk band Bad Rabbits, Philly rapper Chill Moody, hip-hop violinist Emily Wells, food obsessed emcee Action Bronson and a DJ set by old school rapper Biz Markie.

Radio 104.5 Summer Block Party (various dates, Festival Pier. Information: radio1045.com). The kickoff to this year's Radio 104.5 free summer series didn't go so well when a May 3 show at the Piazza at Schmidts featuring Phantogram, Chvrches, and Cherub led to neighborhood complaints of drunken teens urinating and having sex in public afterward. The upshot is that further concerts - including the Head and the Heart on June 7, Neon Trees on July 12, and Bleachers on Aug. 2 - will be held at Festival Pier.

Willie Nelson/ Alison Krauss & Union Station/ Kacey Musgraves (June 13, Mann Center for the Performing Arts). This boffo triple bill is headed up by one of music's most enduring, endearing living legends. Don't take the Red Headed Stranger, still vital at 81, for granted. Second on the bill is former fiddle prodigy Krauss, Grammy favorite and Robert Plant collaborator. And deserving all the buzz she has generated is Musgraves, the new country songwriter whose "Follow Your Arrow" and "Merry Go 'Round" display an open mind and a poison pen.

Morgan's Pier (various dates, 221 N. Columbus Blvd. Information: www.morganspier.com). This beer garden on the Delaware keeps up its estimable tradition of booking quality indie bands and DJs that are often free and never more than a $10 cover. Season highlights include techno DJ Claude Von Stroke on June 13, a punk band whose name we can't print on July 2, Philly rocker Dave Hause on July 17 and neo-psychedelicists Temples Aug. 6.

Firefly Music Festival (June 19 to 22, the Woodlands of Dover International Speedway. Information: fireflyfestival.com). In its third year, Delaware's first-rate mega-festival continues to grow. Crowds of up to 80,000 per day are expected at the idyllic setting. The fest gets started early this year on a Thursday night, with a bill that includes Courtney Barnett and Amos Lee as impetus to beat the Friday Shore traffic and start camping out early. Headliners in the three days that follow include Outkast (in the reunited rappers' only area appearance), Foo Fighters, Jack Johnson, Arctic Monkeys, Beck, Weezer, and the Lumineers.

Sun Center Starlight Summer Series (Sun Center, 63 Concord Rd., Aston. Information: brepresents.com). The Delaware County Under the Stars music series that's taken place at Longwood Gardens for the last five years moves to the Sun Center this year. The rock-solid, baby boomer-targeted 10-show lineup includes the blues one-two punch of Tedeschi Trucks Band on June 11 and Buddy Guy on June 12. The Mavericks appear on Aug. 7 and Indigo Girls Aug. 12.

Welcome America (July 4, Benjamin Franklin Parkway). It's a free fireworks Independence Day celebration with 500,000 people, and it's a live TV show - to be aired on VH1 for the second year in a row - that loses its rhythm as the audience is forced to sit through commercial breaks. It's also a pop concert, anchored by Tonight Show band and Philadelphia hip-hop collective the Roots - yes, them again. This year's stars include rapper-personality Nicki Minaj, British one-man band Ed Sheeran, and Nickelodeon luminary Ariana Grande.

Beyoncé & Jay Z (July 5, Citizens Bank Park). The most powerful marital business partnership in pop music arrives at Citizens Bank Park this summer. To fill stadiums, these two need each other. Beyoncé had already played Philadelphia twice last year by the time she got around to surprise releasing her self-titled fourth album before Christmas; Jay-Z played the Phillies stadium with Justin Timberlake last summer and doubled back on his own in January. Together, though, Beyoncé and Jay-Z are a force that not even a leaked video of an elevator fight can derail.

Blake Shelton / Jason Aldean (July 31 on the beach in Atlantic City; Aug. 1 at Citizens Bank Park.) Here's your chance to make a two-part, oversized pop country party from separate concerts on back-to-back nights in different cities. On July 31, easy-going charmer Blake Shelton, of The Voice renown, plays for free on the beach in Atlantic City, in support of his 2013 Based on a True Story... . In South Philadelphia the next night, Georgia cowboy Jason Aldean attempts to ascend to Kenny Chesney-like stadium headliner status at Citizens Bank Park. Never ashamed to pander, the singer (who raps about cornbread and biscuits on "Dirt Road Anthem") brings along fellow partiers Florida Georgia Line and Tyler Farr on his Burn It Down tour.

Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires (July 20, Ortlieb's Lounge, 847 N. Third St.). Best Southern rock album title ever? Serious consideration goes to Dereconstructed, the raucous second album by Lee Bains, guitarist and songwriter from Birmingham, Ala., whose band's 2012 debut was called There Is a Bomb in Gilead. On songs like "The Kudzu & the Concrete," Bains brings gospel-fired fervor to the rock-and-roll bandstand.

Xponential Music Festival (July 25 to 27, Wiggins Park and the Susquehanna Bank Center). The WXPN Xponential Music Festival is a three-day, two-headed beast. Performers in the Wiggins Park portion includeOld 97s, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Lake Street Dive, Marah, and James Cotton. Acts at the Susquehanna Bank Center include Ryan Adams, Jenny Lewis, - whose first solo album in six years, Voyager, comes out July 29 -Dawes, and Beck, who who mellows down easy on his glistening new Morning Phase, along with Band of Horses and Central Pennsylvania's own rising rock band The Districts.

Philadelphia Folk Festival (Aug. 14 to 17, Old Pool Farm. Information: pfs.org). The 53d annual Philadelphia Folk Festival will take place, as ever, at the Old Pool Farm in Montgomery County, with local folk icon Gene Shay as master of ceremonies. Ever more impressive, songwriter Loudon Wainwright III, blueswoman Shemekia Copeland, New Orleans' Rebirth Brass Band, and harmony singing trio the Lone Bellow are on the bill. Cosmic country tough guy Sturgill Simpson, who also plays Ardmore Music Hall July 11, is on the Thursday Camper's Only night.

Made in America (Aug. 30 and 31, Ben Franklin Parkway). In its first year as a bicoastal fest expanded to Los Angeles, the Budweiser Made in America festival gets points for delivering what should be a winning mix of star power - Kanye West, Pharrell, superstar DJ Tiesto - along with compelling midlevel acts such as Mayer Hawthorne, Spoon, De La Soul and the National. It loses points for being too much of a bro-fest, with Canadian one-woman band Grimes the only female of note among dozens of guys.

Those 13 concerts and festivals, of course, don't represent all that's going on. There are plenty of other big name shows. In the amphitheatres on either side of the river, the Mann Center's lineup features Diana Ross (June 25), the reunited New Edition (June 28), and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds (July 25), while the Susquehanna Bank Center has Ray Lamontane (June 7), Zac Brown Band (June 19-20), Bruno Mars (July 17) and Soundgarden and Nine Inch Nails (July 30). Brit heartthrobs One Direction will induce screams of ecstasy on Aug. 13-14 at Lincoln Financial Field.

There's intriguing action indoors, too. Taj Mahal and the Blind Boys of Alabama are at the Keswick Theatre in Glenside June 19. Hometown heroes Clap Yopur Hands Say Yeah do Johnny Brenda's June 27. Billy Joe Shaver honky tonks at the Sellersville Theater on July 12. Patty Griffin sings at the World Café Live on June 8, Scottish pop band Camera Obscura is there on July 19.

And for non-intimate experiences with a roof overhead, the Wells Fargo Center lineup is busy, too, with Queen and Adam Lambert (July 16) Miley Cyrus (Aug. 2), and Katy Perry (Aug. 4-5). The emphasis shifts to rock as summer moves into fall, with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (Sept. 15) and the Black Keys (Sept. 20).

Editor's Note: This story was corrected to reflect that the Old Poll Farm is in Montgomery County, not Bucks County.


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