Vanderbilt’s old, ivy-covered campus took a friendly beating over the weekend when Philly’s resident hip-hop megastars the Roots came to town. Surrounded on all sides by stately dormitories, the annual Rites of Spring music festival cranked beneath the shade of Vandy’s ancient trees, and soon hundreds of beer cans were embedded into the stampeded Alumni Lawn. It was BYOB, after all, and coolers were carted in by the hundreds, as some 10,000 concert-goers poured into the gates Friday and Saturday nights to witness the Roots, and fellow Gibson artists Wolfmother, Drive-By Truckers, Amos Lee, and Mat Kearney. Held on the Vandy campus for more than 30 years now, Rites of Spring has distinguished itself by showcasing an ever-eclectic and exciting lineup. This year was no different.

The Roots

Following two days of back-to-back live music, the Roots stormed the stage late Saturday night and into early Sunday morning as the festival’s final and most explosive act. Prepped out in a collegiate-worthy cable-knit cardigan, MC Black Thought hyped the show with breathless rhymes and boundless energy, segueing seamlessly from crowd-favorites “You Got Me,” “Love of My Life” and “Star” to their now-famous mini-set of hip-hop staples to the brooding, politically minded stuff of last year’s Grammy-nominated Game Theory.

An anomaly in itself, this forward-thinking hip-hop band has fused the knobs and gadgets of rap and R&B with the tight instrumentation of a jazz ensemble to become one of the most critically acclaimed live acts of all time?a tall order for a genre that doesn’t always translate outside the studio.

That’s not to say that the Roots haven’t had plenty of time to practice their fluid live show. The original line-up formed nearly 20 years ago, and various incarnations have since toured the world many times over, releasing some nine albums, and burning through all-star, if madcap, previous members Rahzel, Scott Storch, Ben Kenney, and Malik B. before settling into their incredible current line-up—MC Black Thought, drummer ?uestlove, bassist Hub, keyboardist Kamal Gray, percussionist F. Knuckles, and guitarist Captain Kirk Douglas.

The Roots

Saturday night the lights tightened in on the sizzling solos of larger-than-life personality and superstar drummer ?uestlove and indelibly smooth bassist Hub, both original Roots members. And then it was Captain Kirk Douglas’ turn. Red smoke bloomed around the devout Gibson player as he traversed the lip of the stage with his tricked out Les Paul. With a slow, tense bobbing of his neck, the Captain lit into his favorite guitar, and the crowd went berzerk.

Several emboldened audience members clambered skyward to crowd surf, sending a sea of unsteady people swaying left and right, a veritable ocean of bobbing heads and flailing limbs. People were kicked in the face. Others were indiscreetly trampled. Plumes of beer sprayed over the crowd. The Roots were not distracted.

Soon the outro bellowed over the crowd, and before it even faded, they cried, “One more song!” But, crew members began disassembling the Roots’ elaborate set-up. Sweaty and spent, the Roots were done for the evening, but they bounded back on stage anyway to hurl tee-shirts and other sundry memorabilia into the crowd. “I don’t know what it is, but I want it,” screamed one concert-goer, both arms raised. ?uestlove took a look at the crazed gentleman and produced a Frisbee, ushering each member of the Roots around to sign it before sending it sailing across the night sky.

Photo Credit: Leigh Guarin

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