Pop Culture Tours

The Roots' Philadelphia: A Tour of These Streets Where the 'Tonight Show' Band Done Ran

Wake up everybody, this tour will get you
by Nell McShane Wulfhart Posted Aug 29th 2014 2:48p.m.
A travel writer living in Montevideo, Uruguay (but formerly based in Philadelphia), Nell has written for "The New York Times," "The Guardian" and "Slate." Follow her on Twitter.

The “hardest working band in show business” has been on the go since Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter and Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson met in high school and formed The Roots back in 1987. Since then they’ve released 11 studio albums, collaborated with Elvis Costello, John Legend and Betty Wright, won Grammys, landed a spot as the house band on "The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon" and even slow-jammed the news with President Barack Obama.

Still, through it all they’ve maintained love for Philly. Here’s a tour of the local spots that bred The Roots, from their first show to the huge parties they throw each year. And what's a Roots tour of Philly without a sampling of their songs with references to their hometown?

The Roots slow jam the news with President Obama

Slow jam the news with Barack Obama 

YouTube/The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

Elvis Costello and The Roots, "I Want You"

Elvis Costello and The Roots, "I Want You"

YouTube/ElvisCostelloVEVO

The Roots slow jam the news with President Obama

Slow jam the news with Barack Obama 

YouTube/The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

Elvis Costello and The Roots, "I Want You"

Elvis Costello and The Roots, "I Want You"

YouTube/ElvisCostelloVEVO

The Painted Bride

Back in early 1993, The Roots performed their first show at The Painted Bride, a landmark Philly arts venue known more for experimental dance performances than nurturing budding hip-hop acts. Stop by to see the stage where The Roots launched their live act, but first check out Questlove’s reaction to the video 19 years later:

You also can catch a show by up and coming local artists while you’re there. You never know— you could be hearing the next big thing.

Philadelphia Fire Arts performs at The Painted Bride

Fun at the Painted Bride—Philadelphia Fire Arts

YouTube/Mike Icon

Poet Helen Tinsley reads at The Painted Bride

Helen Tinsley at The Painted Bride Art Center, Philadelphia

YouTube/Helen Tinsley

Philadelphia Fire Arts performs at The Painted Bride

Fun at the Painted Bride—Philadelphia Fire Arts

YouTube/Mike Icon

Poet Helen Tinsley reads at The Painted Bride

Helen Tinsley at The Painted Bride Art Center, Philadelphia

YouTube/Helen Tinsley

Getty Images for Reebok/Lisa Lake

The Roots Picnic

The Roots regularly return to Philly, and they’ve been throwing parties on Penn’s Landing for seven years and counting. The Roots Picnic is a huge outdoor musical event that takes place annually along the Delaware River on Festival Pier. The Roots handpick artists to perform and sometimes even serve as their back-up band. 2014 saw The Roots play alongside Snoop Dogg and Janelle Monáe, along with Philly-based artists like Chill Moody.

And while you're there, on the same stretch of river as Festival Pier, you’ll find the brand new Spruce Street Harbor Park and Race Street Pier. With hammocks, floating barges and waterfront pedestrian walkways, these are perfect for strolling.

Snoop Dogg and Janelle Monáe at The Roots Picnic

The Roots Picnic 2014 recap, starring Snoop Dogg, Janelle Monáe, Action Bronson and more

YouTube/Okayplayer

The Roots Picnic 2013 recap

The Roots Picnic 2013 recapped

YouTube/Okayplayer

Snoop Dogg and Janelle Monáe at The Roots Picnic

The Roots Picnic 2014 recap, starring Snoop Dogg, Janelle Monáe, Action Bronson and more

YouTube/Okayplayer

The Roots Picnic 2013 recap

The Roots Picnic 2013 recapped

YouTube/Okayplayer

CAPA

See where it all began by walking by CAPA, the Philadelphia High School for Creative & Performing Arts. Black Thought (“I’m a corner boy from South Philly”) walked to school and met Questlove (a West Philadelphia boy) here. They've described this performance-focused public school as being “like 'Fame.'” Fun fact: Boyz II Men also went to CAPA, though sadly they didn’t have the staying power of The Roots.

CAPA Philadelphia class of 2014 instrumentals

CAPA Philadelphia class of 2014 instrumentals

YouTube/Shalom de Ocampo

The CAPA jazz band performs outdoors

CAPA outdoors jazz concert 2013

YouTube/Dreaming Blanks

CAPA Philadelphia class of 2014 instrumentals

CAPA Philadelphia class of 2014 instrumentals

YouTube/Shalom de Ocampo

The CAPA jazz band performs outdoors

CAPA outdoors jazz concert 2013

YouTube/Dreaming Blanks

Getty Images/Gilbert Carrasquillo

The Mural

Hometown love for The Roots is strong, as witnessed by the massive city-sponsored mural of the band just four blocks up Broad Street from CAPA.

Jane Golden, executive director of the Mural Arts Program, said, “We picked The Roots because not only are they a quintessential Philly band, but we love the story about how they met at the High School for Creative and Performing Arts; we love how they played on street corners, how their tenacity and passion drove them forward, we love their curiosity about all forms of music and their desire to create a unique sound, we like how they are models of being both aspirational and pragmatic—merging art with business in such a creative way.”

In cooperation with Mural Arts, The Roots also created a downloadable curriculum guide for teachers called Roots 101, that’s perfect if you’re raising young Roots fans.  

Also, Questlove narrates an audio tour for Mural Arts that explores local murals reflecting the African-American experience in the city. Download the audio guide and let Questlove’s soothing voice guide you through Philly history.

The Roots Mural dedication

The Roots Mural dedication

YouTube/phillymuralarts

The Roots discuss Mural Arts

Mural Arts: A message from The Roots

YouTube/phillymuralarts

The Roots Mural dedication

The Roots Mural dedication

YouTube/phillymuralarts

The Roots discuss Mural Arts

Mural Arts: A message from The Roots

YouTube/phillymuralarts

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

The TLA

The gritty Theatre of Living Arts, known as The TLA, has hosted almost every act, big or small, that’s ever come through Philadelphia. The Roots have played shows here through the years, and shot their episode of "This or That" here, too. Check out this video for some great Philly tributes from Black Thought and Questlove and catch a show while you’re in town.

Also, The TLA is on South Street, a bustling and eclectic street packed with tattoo parlors and head shops. Questlove and Black Thought used to busk on the corner of Fifth and South Streets before they ever made an album. 

D'Angelo and Questlove at The TLA

D'Angelo and Questlove at The TLA    

YouTube/MusicLiveFromThe215

The Roots play "Don't Feel Right" at The TLA

The Roots perform "Don't Feel Right" June 6, 2008 at The TLA

YouTube/Vivrant Thang

D'Angelo and Questlove at The TLA

D'Angelo and Questlove at The TLA    

YouTube/MusicLiveFromThe215

The Roots play "Don't Feel Right" at The TLA

The Roots perform "Don't Feel Right" June 6, 2008 at The TLA

YouTube/Vivrant Thang

Tony Luke's

Philadelphians aren’t shy about sharing their opinions on where to get the best cheesesteak, but don’t you trust Questlove’s taste? Swing by Tony Luke’s, which Questlove called “My number one spot without a doubt” for this Philly classic: a long roll stuffed with thin-cut steak, melted cheese and fried onions.

Fun fact: Tony Luke himself attended CAPA.

Tony Luke throws down with Bobby Flay

Tony Luke throws down with Bobby Flay

YouTube/Tony Lukes

G. Love feat. Tony Luke Jr. perform "Chicken Frizzle"

G. Love feat. Tony Luke Jr. perform "Chicken Frizzle"

YouTube/Tony Lukes

Tony Luke throws down with Bobby Flay

Tony Luke throws down with Bobby Flay

YouTube/Tony Lukes

G. Love feat. Tony Luke Jr. perform "Chicken Frizzle"

G. Love feat. Tony Luke Jr. perform "Chicken Frizzle"

YouTube/Tony Lukes

Getty Images/​Gilbert Carrasquillo

Museum Mile

The Benjamin Franklin Parkway, also known as Museum Mile, is the setting for the annual Fourth of July Jam. Independence Day sees one of the city’s biggest events, a concert that brings tens of thousands of locals to the Parkway for a free concert curated (and headlined) by The Roots. 2014’s blowout featured Nicki Minaj, Jennifer Hudson and Aloe Blacc, among others. Fun fact: the Parkway is also the home for the Jay-Z-curated Made In America festival.

Also, at one end of the Parkway is the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Post-concert, a fireworks display is launched from behind this iconic building, which is also the place where another hometown hero (albeit a fictional one), Rocky, ran up the steps and looked out onto the city.
The Roots play at the 2012 Fourth of July Jam

The Roots play at the 2012 Fourth of July Jam

YouTube/SayHelloToAmerica

Philadelphia Museum of Art: Masterpieces

Philadelphia Museum of Art: Masterpieces

YouTube/Philadelphia Museum of Art

The Roots play at the 2012 Fourth of July Jam

The Roots play at the 2012 Fourth of July Jam

YouTube/SayHelloToAmerica

Philadelphia Museum of Art: Masterpieces

Philadelphia Museum of Art: Masterpieces

YouTube/Philadelphia Museum of Art

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