When executed well, there’s no better live concert experience than the festival.
Outside in the open air. Vendors littered everywhere peddling fatty foods and fancy T-shirts. Scores to thousands of people saucy, writhing to the rhythms of an eclectic array of expression by artists across the musical divide, congregating freely, united in their love and appreciation of sound. It’s an event replicated frequently yet still somehow a unique sonic utopia shared with a collective of strangers. Some acts are the reason you purchased a ticket. Others wind up fortunate byproducts sneaking their way into your iPod off the strength of their unforgettable performance. Well, for music aficionados at least.
ince 2008, The Roots Picnic in Philadelphia’s Festival Pier at Penn’s Landing has seamlessly executed that eclectic concoction of audial glory. From the broad musical mind of ?uestlove and The Roots to the two stages where the memories are erected like lyrical Legos, The Roots Picnic blends the best of most worlds: Hip-Hop and Indy Rock, New Age Folk and Jazz and, as Ariel Pink of Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti dubs, “RetroFever.”
To witness Ariel Pink perform live is like witnessing a man engrossed in a spiritual public experience. Rarely does he open his eyes. Rarely does he stand in the front of the band like the quintessential definition of a “frontman.” Sometimes he’s tinkering with knobs while he’s singing. Sometimes he’s crouched down behind the keyboard snagging a cigarette. And with all of that seemingly divided attention and jarring neglect of what usually dictates a quality performance, he commands the attention of all eyes in stage’s view by honing in on the one aspect that matter’s most: his music.
The Well Versed spoke with Ariel Pink briefly following the band’s debut Roots Picnic performance and discussed how his band was tapped to rock and the complexities of his inimitable stage presence.
The Well Versed: It seems as if The Roots Picnic is kind of like a representation of the mind of ?uestlove, right? He’s up on his college hipster, his indy rock, his Hip-Hop…
Ariel Pink: Well, I think he saw us on Fallon because we were on [The Jimmy Fallon Show].
TWV: So that’s how you guys got in touch…
AP: I think so. I think that’s where he found out about us. It’s cool though. Or maybe they brought us on Fallon. Who knows? I have no idea.
TWV: I’m not sure how that works either. In my head, they’re curating the acts [on Fallon].
Ariel Pink: Everything. Everything.
TWV: I want to say this first and foremost on record. This is my first time seeing Ariel Pink perform. I was blown away, to be perfectly honest. I was blown away by the naturalness of the performance and the music. I think there are a lot of people who are aspiring to be rock stars and put on their rock star outfit and they go out and they throw water and they manufacture this energy. But it’s apparent immediately that the most important thing to you is the music.
AP: I appreciate that you appreciate that. It’s definitely what’s first and foremost in my mind that I’m making music every time I go out there and it’s not so like I’m staging a play so much as try to feel the music that we know how to play. You’ve got to play it new every time. Everything has to be right. Even when things aren’t right, you have to make things work in a way that doesn’t make you look like an idiot. If you’re going to look like an idiot, I want to look like a f*cking ridiculous idiot.
TWV: Right. Go full idiot.
AP: Yeah, I mean I hate nothing more than seeing somebody think that, “Whoa! I’m the king of the hill. Rockstar!” When the guitars aren’t even there. When something’s going wrong, I’d rather it be my fault. I don’t know about you. But I lost my voice so today was hard for me.
TWV: There’s an interesting balance physically for the band on the stage. You almost seem like you’re so in tune and lost in the music that you’re not concerned at all about being a frontman who’s actually in the front!
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