Summertime, and the marquee names are out on the road.
Summer 2010 was a lousy one for big-ticket pop music acts, but if business doesn't boom this year, it won't be for a dearth of headliners.
For starters, the women of pop are out in full force, with Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, and Britney Spears with Nicki Minaj all competing for a piece of your concertgoing budget. (Perry plays the Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia on June 24, and Britney's there on July 30.)
Everything isn't oversized as Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder gets reasonably intimate with his one-man-and-a-ukulele tour at the Tower Theater on June 25; and sweet-voiced, Bruce Hornsby-worshipping indie soul man Bon Iver plays the Upper Darby venue on Aug. 3.
There are other scaled-down options. Parisian chanteuse Keren Ann comes back to town to support her fine new album 101 at Johnny Brenda's on June 10, and Saharan guitar army Group Doueh do the Fishtown space on July 2. And Old City's Tin Angel has an impressive lineup of songwriters in June, with Laura Cantrell on the 3d, Eilen Jewell on the 18th, Elizabeth Cook on the 22d, and Alice Smith on the 25th.
But summer music isn't really about comfy and cozy, is it? It's about big, bigger and biggest, and it's a mostly outsize - and outside - selection of highlights below.
Roots Picnic. It's a Philadelphia rite of passage, a sure sign that the outdoor pop season has arrived: the multi-artist, broadly eclectic Roots Picnic, offered on the first Saturday in June at the Festival Pier on Penn's Landing.
So what's new this year, ?uesto?
"I think there's something for everybody," says Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson, the drummer for The Roots, the Philadelphia hip-hop band that will also - finally - get to headline the city's Welcome America! free concert on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on July Fourth.
At this year's fourth-annual Picnic, "there are two primary psychographs that I have in mind," Thompson said, talking on the phone before a recent Late Night With Jimmy Fallon performance. "There's the Pitchfork psychograph, and the OkayPlayer psychograph. And also, we wanted to show some Philly love, so Man Man seemed like a great choice."
That's Pitchfork as in the uber-influential Internet music magazine, whose ethos is well-represented by such well-respected rock acts as Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes, The Dismemberment Plan, and Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti; as well as Little Dragon, the Swedish-Japanese electro-soul band that Thompson describes as "one of my favorite groups." OkayPlayer is the hip-hop and soul Web community that has been curated by the Roots camp since the 1990s. That side of the coin is showcased with "Black & Yellow" rapper Wiz Khalifa (and fellow Pittsburgher Mac Miller), and Roots rhymer Black Thought, who will do a set with DJ J Period.
This year's best new-artist Grammy winner, jazz bassist Esperanza Spalding returns to the Picnic. The Roots will support New York rapper Nas in a closing set that ?uesto promises "will bring it all home."
You wouldn't want to actually have a picnic on the Festival Pier, but it wins points for easy bikeadelphic access from Center City. It will host many a show of note this season, including showstopper Brit Florence Welch of Florence & the Machine on June 20, reunited grungers Soundgarden on July 13, trashy popster Ke$ha on Aug. 17 (with Philly rapper Spankrock opening) and masked dance music phenom Deadmau5 on Sept. 23.
Willie Nelson's Country Throwdown. Willie Nelson's one of those national treasures who can easily be taken for granted, because it seems the 78-year-old genius/ song interpreter has always been around or always will be. On Friday, Nelson's annual Country Throwdown tour kicks off at the Mann Center with the Red Headed Stranger himself and an assortment of young country acts who tend to paint outside Nashville's restrictive lines, including Jamey Johnson, Randy Houser, Dani Flowers and Erin Enderlin.
The Throwdown is the start of a busy country-flavored calendar. There are two country crossover acts playing Lincoln Financial Field this summer: Kenny Chesney, who brings the Zac Brown Band and others to the Linc on June 18, and Wyomissing's own Taylor Swift, who returns to her native state on Aug. 8.
On a less gargantuan scale, there are some quite cool country acts at small venues. Worth catching is on- the-way-up fiddler and songwriter Amanda Shires at the Grape Room in Manayunk on Wednesday. Texas roadhouse rocker Joe Ely plays the Sellersville Theater on June 9, as does caustic storyteller James McMurtry on June 14. Ely's otherworldly voiced fellow Flatlander Jimmie Dale Gilmore is at World Cafe Live on June 16.
Rihanna and Cee-Lo vs. Lil Wayne and Keri Hilson. It's a Saturday night R&B, hip-hop heavyweight battle. On the Philadelphia side of the Delaware, it's our summer concert preview cover girl, the redheaded Barbadian Rihanna who, this side of Beyoncé, is the most formidable female pop/R&B artist of the moment. And her undercard packs significant punch, too, in the form of Mr. "F- You," the gregarious Cee-Lo Green. A pretty good night on the town, I'd say. But in a cruel twist, another big show of the season happens on the very same night, with gold-toothed rapper Lil Wayne, seasoned R&B hook singer Keri Hilson, and Miami gangsta Rick Ross catering to the more hard-core hip-hop masses in Camden. Scheduled July 23 at the Wells Fargo Center and Susquehanna Bank Center.
U2. Injury was added to insult for the concert industry last summer when, on top of cancellations from poor ticket sales, the U2 tour, which was the only stadium show on the season's schedule, had to be postponed because Bono threw out his back. Since then, the Dublin messiah, born Paul David Hewson, and his partner, The Edge, have been enduring the ongoing Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark Broadway debacle, but now they're finally back to rock, with the 360 Tour date scheduled for a year later, almost to the day, July 14 at Lincoln Financial Field.
Appel Farm Festival. There will be a strong bill of songwriters gathered at this year's one-day Appel Farm Festival. The lineup is headed by Eugene Hutz and his rambunctious gypsy-punk band Gogol Bordello, and includes aspiring novelist Josh Ritter and his Royal City Band, plus feminist folk-and-funk heroine Ani DiFranco, New Orleans rising star Trombone Shorty and big-voiced Jersey rocker Nicole Atkins. June 4 in Elmer, N.J.
Dave Matthews Band Caravan. Back in 2008, before the economy crashed, there was talk of Philadelphia - or Vineland, N.J. - getting a giant rock festival. That didn't happen, but this summer, Atlantic City is getting a pretty massive jam-band festival, thanks to Dave Matthews. Instead of mounting his usual enormously successful summer tour, Matthews offers four three-day multi-stage festivals under the Caravan rubric, with A.C.'s long dormant airport, Bader Field, the South Jersey venue of choice. The DMB will headline nightly with an intriguing assortment on the bill, including The Flaming Lips, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Dr. Dog, Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley and Fitz and the Tantrums all on tap over the course of the weekend. The best part? I can ride my bike to the show from my mother's house. June 24-26 at Bader Field.
Xponential Music Festival. Celestial-voiced country singer Emmylou Harris, blues woman Shemekia Copeland, Jersey rockers Ted Leo and the Smithereens, quintessential soul keyboard layer Booker T, and piano man Ben Folds are among the multitude of acts playing the WXPN-FM's adult-alternative oriented Xponential Music Festival on the Camden waterfront. There's a significant local contingent with psych-pop band Sun Airway, rapper Kuf Knotz and folkies Hezekiah Jones and Andrew Lipke. July 22-24 in Wiggins Park.
The Decemberists. Since there's a reasonable expectation that any outdoor show during the Philadelphia summer might include 100 percent humidity and a soaking thunderstorm, the comfortable indoor concert during hot and muggy season starts to seem like a good idea. Listening to Portland, Ore.'s, erudite Decemberists do the shivery "January Hymn" from their new The King Is Dead in the plush surroundings of an air-conditioned opera house seems like just the ticket. June 15 at the Academy of Music.
Black Joe Lewis & the Honey Bears. Austin, Texas', James Brown and Otis Redding-influenced Black Joe Lewis & the Honey Bears have taken their sweet time working their way around the world to Philadelphia in support of the aptly titled Scandalous, which came out in March. Lewis is a scuffed-up soul shouter, and his horn-happy band tears it up live. Aug. 6 at Theater of Living Arts.
Paul Simon. Still crazy about loops, polyrhythm and textures despite a heralded return to old-school songwriting, Simon finds himself on his brand new So Beautiful or So What with his most lyrically intimate, character-driven and joyous album since Here Comes Rhymin' Simon. Saturday at The Borgata Event Center in Atlantic City and June 4 and 5 at the Merriam Theater.