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Miguel, The Roots and More @ The Parkway for Welcome America.

July 7, 2015

july4_roots_parkway_chipfrenette_21Text and images by Chip Frenette.

The Welcome America celebration wrapped up with the 4th of July Jam on Saturday.

Local artist, singer songwriter Eric Steven, who performs as Twin Ghost, played an acoustic to get things started. Steven’s set featured all original tracks performed without any backing other than a sign language interpreter who stood at stage right.

The music did not pause long after Twin Ghost’s set. Zella Day, the 20-year old alternative pop singer, quickly took to the stage as the crowds filed on to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and the seating area located in front of the stage on Eakin’s Oval. Day did not seem phased by the slow arrival of concert goers in the seating area. She remarked about the large crowd that was quickly lining the security barricades bordering the seating area and flowing down the Parkway.

The weather threatened the event with rain during the day but only a brief shower occurred just before showtime. Despite the threat of rain, the crowd of several hundred thousand jammed the parkway for what Mayor Michael Nutter called”The biggest free concert in America.”

The opening ceremonies also featured a performance by the vocal acappella group Brotherly Love. The five young Philadelphians sang the Star Spangled Banner with all members wearing matching Sixers home jerseys. During the intro, the group was compared to Philadelphia’s famous Boyz II Men, whom enjoyed much success in the 1990s (and performed at this event in 1998 and 2011).

As the night progressed, pop duo MKTO, born from the Nickelodeon television show Gigantic, took to the stage. MKTO was formed after Malcolm Kelley and Tony Oller met in their roles as best friends on the show. The group introduced their hit “Thank You” with Oller saying, “This is a song about doing something people tell you that you can’t do.”

The song peaked at number two on the Australian charts in 2012 and also had success on the New Zealand and Dutch charts. They also performed their song that had arguably its best success, “Classic,” which made the top 100 on seven different charts including number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100. The pop duo also performed their latest single “Bad Girls,” which was well received by a group of young girls who danced wildly through the entire performance.

The Roots then took to the stage as the house band for the remainder of the night. The Roots’ position as the house band for the 4th of July celebration has become a Philadelphia tradition. Founding members Amir “Questlove” Thompson and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter formed The Roots when they attended the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts in 1987. The Roots started their evening off with their classic live track “Proceed,” mixed with their own version of the Action News theme song.

When The Roots finished playing their first of three sets, they were joined by country singer Jennifer Nettles.

“It is a treat to play with the Roots,” said Nettles, who is half of the band Sugarland.

She further showed her confidence in the group when she performed her new Single, “Sugar,” for the first time live. Nettles stated that she wasn’t certain how well she would do playing it, but she said she was confident that The Roots would hold it down. Nettles laughed and smiled during her whole time on stage.

Following Nettles set, The Roots went back to their own tracks. Their second set featured a heavy emphasis on bass with solos by bass guitarist Mark Kelley and a sousaphone performances by Damon “Tuba Gooding, Jr.” Bryson. The biggest highlight of the second set had to be a mash up performed by Jeremy Ellis made up of samples from Philadelphia pop artists.

What started out with The Fresh Prince of Bel Air theme, grabbing the crowd’s attention instantly, progressed on to samplings of Bel Biv Devoe, Patti LaBelle, The Spinners, Harold Melvin and Blue Notes and so many others that it was quite impossible to keep track of. The energetic performance by Jeremy Ellis was performed on a pair of Native Instruments MASCHINEs. Ellis is considered to be one of the most proficient users of the devices and the art of finger drumming. Ellis’ performance was full of so much vigor and enthusiasm that in the end he was rubbing one of the MASCHINEs against his face and eventually knocked over the table that his devices and laptop were on and holding each of the MASCHINEs like a victorious athlete, over his head and  grinning ear to ear.

The Roots were then joined on stage by singer/producer Miguel, who has become a performer in recent years after spending a majority of his career behind the scenes. In 2013, Miguel took home the Grammy for Best R&B Song for his single “Adorn,” which was also nominated for the BET Award for Video of the Year. During Miguel’s set at The 4th of July Jam, he performed several the tracks from his newly released album Wildheart, including “Coffee” and his collaboration with Lenny Kravitz (not in attendance), “Face the Sun.”

Following the set by Miguel, the crowd on the Parkway was treated to a special surprise guest, CeeLo Green of Gnarls Barkly and The Voice.

Green as a solo artist has continued his success taking home 2012 Grammy for Best Traditional R&B Performance for “Fool for You.” A more memorable track that also was a bit controversial was his 2011 Grammy Award winning, “Fuck You,” which was toned down for radio and television airplay as “Forget You.”

Green made sure to entertain the crowd on the Parkway with the help of “The World’s Greatest House Band.” They did not disappoint, performing Green’s hits “Crazy” and “Bright Lights, Bigger City.”

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