How Toronto’s The Police Picnic Influenced Questlove’s Own Festival

Questlove's previous books include Mo' Meta Blues and Soul Train. He also teaches a class about classic albums at New York Universit

Questlove’s work spearheading the annual Roots Picnic provides the best way to think about what his unique sensibilities look like writ large. Since 2008, the fest has brought eclectic lineups to Quest’s native Philadelphia, and last October 1 and 2, the one-day affair expands to a two-day concert at New York City’s Bryant Park. 

Why did you want to start your own festival in the first place?

Questlove: The genesis of it all was when I went to Japan in ’97 and picked up all sorts of concert footage. At that point in life, I literally was YouTube. Especially during the Voodoo sessions with D’Angelo, I was carrying these large Kipling bags full of nothing but videotapes and DVDs of performances you couldn’t find anywhere. One of those performances I always held dear was an event called the Police Picnic, which happened in Toronto every year between ’81 and ’83. Each member of the Police curated each night, and the lineup was really diverse, from the Specials to B.B. King to P-Funk All Stars. Now America has finally caught onto festival culture—it’s not close to Europe but at least there’s a good 20 to 30 festivals going on in the United States that are worth making a pilgrimage to—and I think it’s more special when artists curate them.