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Review: The Roots Picnic, with Snoop Dogg, Janelle Monae and The War on Drugs at Festival Pier

7th annual all day extravaganza, with special guest Doug E. Fresh, among many others.

Halfway through his set at the Festival Pier on Saturday night, after trading verses with Black Thought of The Roots on "Nuthin' But a G Thang," Snoop Dogg said a few words.

"I'd like to thank The Roots for inviting me to be part of this prestigious event," said the California rapper, resplendent in a red throwback Phillies cardigan that matched the knit cap worn by Roots drummer Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson. "It's the seventh year, right? Lucky 7, for me."

And lucky, too, for attendees of this year's Roots Picnic, the now traditional kick off to summer concert season. The show at the expanded and refurbished Pier - now with a sand rather than blacktop floor, so it resembles a place a picnic might actually take place - began at noon with New Zealand duo Electric Wire Hustle.

It ended nearly 11 hours later with Snoop, Black Thought, beat-boxer Rahzel the Godfather of Noize and Doug E. Fresh delightfully rhyming their way through Fresh's classic "La Di Da Di."

In between, the crowd of close to 8000 gathered in ideal weather to witness a musically diverse bill.

Featured acts early on included local rapper Chill Moody, Boston funk band Bad Rabbits and a DJ set by producer Just Blaze, with Philly rapper Freeway dropping by for a cameo.

Philadelphians The War On Drugs were standouts on a lineup that could have used one more prominent rock act. Fresh off a plane from Barcelona, the band built a gleaming, majestic wall of sound on songs from its album Lost In The Dream,  one of the strongest releases of 2014.

Food-obsessed bowling-ball shaped rapper Action Bronson followed on the reconfigured Pier's "Oasis" stage, which looks out on the Delaware River and Ben Franklin bridge.

Along with (at last), upgraded food and craft beer options, including Michael Schulson's IBG food truck, the second stage is one of the Pier's major improvements. The old enclosed DJ tent has been repurposed as an outdoor stage with superb sight lines. Bronson rapped about chowing down at Ishkabibble's on South Street,  and abruptly brought a song to a close and said, "I ain't gonna lie to you: I forgot the lyrics."

It was during Bronson's set that this bit of bro talk, which one imagines taking place in slightly different form all over the Picnic grounds, was overheard:  "Yo, I've got a friend who works for Live Nation: I told him, "Get us backstage, we'll smoke with Snoop Dogg!"

Back on the main stage, impish Atlanta funkstress Janelle Monae rocked the house. The dazzling dervish used her cyber-android fixation to examine societal attitudes towards the "other," while telescoping the history of black pop from Cab Calloway to James Brown to Michael Jackson, including effervescent covers of the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back" and "ABC."

On to The Roots and Snoop. The Tonight Show Band's two hours were half spent backing up the lanky rapper, who was characteristically charming, serving up greatest hits like "Gin & Juice" and "Drop It Like It's Hot" while providing the Picnic with a rare measure of star power.

Lovable old school rapper Biz Markie also joined the band, for two run-throughs of his 1989 hit "Just A Friend." Crowd pleasing, but the special guesting meant that this terrific Picnic had less Roots than in previous years.

The band made room for back catalog selections like "Don't Say Nuthin'," but barely touched on its intriguing new album  … And Then You Shoot Your Cousin. Parts that were heard sounded great - particularly existential inquiry "Understand" ("People ask for God, 'til the day he comes/ See God's face, turn around and run").

But while we understand that the Roots are very busy with their late night TV job and gig as house band at the Philly 4th of July Jam, it would be nice if they could also play a hometown show to give the new album a full hearing. Could you arrange that please, Questlove? Thank you.

Previously: Roots Picnic set times anounced Follow In The Mix on Twitter