Q’s With Live Nation Urban’s Brandon Pankey: Growing The Roots Picnic, Feasting On Broccoli City (And The Questlove Cheesesteak)

Brandon Pankey
– Brandon Pankey
Live Nation Urban

Brandon Pankey is Philly pride through and through, and the region is one of Live Nation’s top festival markets, with Made In America and others bringing music and much more to the city of brotherly love. 

Also on that list is The Roots Picnic, which in its 12th year June 1 is moving to Mann Center in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park for a more open vibe and what Live Nation Urban’s Brandon Pankey says will be the most family-friendly (and perhaps tastiest) yet.

“The Questlove Cheesesteak will absolutely be there,” Pankey, the division’s VP of business development and operations, says of the Impossible Foods creation introduced by the longtime Roots drummer. “I’m not a vegetarian or vegan, but I promise you it is in my top two favorite cheesesteaks, as someone from Philly. This cheesesteak is amazing.”

The University of Philadelphia graduate got his start as assistant to Roots manager and now-Live Nation Urban President Shawn Gee in 2006, where he became account manager and oversaw tours and finances for artists including Drake, Lil Wayne, Jill Scott and others. 

As vice president of business development and operations, Pankey has done it all on the live side, from managing budgets, working on routing to hiring road crew. 

Pankey also is an adjunct professor at Drexel University, a co-founder of the TOURSTAR app, artist manager for Brianna Cash and is executive director for the nonprofit Destined to Achieve Successful Heights (DASH) program where he will be developing the music business curriculum for the Philadelphia public school district. 

Pollstar: It seems the festival space is a priority for Live Nation Urban.
Brandon Pankey: I wouldn’t say festivals, but more so events and platforms, and those range from the Rap Caviar series, the live iteration of the Spotify playlist, to the festival we developed for Kirk Franklin in gospel. The term “festival” is overused, I see a lot of these big super-events but we really try to cater to our audience. One we’ve developed I would argue is probably the first artist-curated festival in the urban space, in hip-hop, with The Roots Picnic.

The artist-curated thing doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon, does it?
That’s the trend, and I don’t see that decreasing. There’s such a tremendous value in having your own festival where you can curate the lineup and help create the vibe and energy you want. With The Roots Picnic, what makes it so special is it was the guys – Questlove, Black Thought, Shawn Gee and Richard Nichols who was the co-manager of the Roots before he unfortunately passed, that really developed the Roots Picnic and the aesthetic and what it is today and why it’s so great and why we’re able to move to a fantastic new venue this year. 

Let’s hear more about this year’s Roots Picnic and the new location.
We’ve moved into the Mann Center at Fairmount Park. Mann Center itself is more of an amphitheatre space but we’re taking over the whole park area surrounding the Mann. It’s a massive space that’s going to hold about 15,000 people. It’s fantastic for the city. Fairmount Park is historical here in Philadelphia and this is a great opportunity to say thank you to all the fans of the Roots who have been here for the past 11 years. For its 12th year we’re making the Roots Picnic an actual picnic where you can come out with your family and lay out on the grass and enjoy tremendous music as well as great podcasts this year. 

This year is a bit bigger than past years, too, right? 

Lil Uzi Vert
Courtesy Live Nation
– Lil Uzi Vert
at last year’s Roots Picnic.

That’s beyond safe to say. We are excited, but also with a little bit of a trepidation. We understand what comes with this massive growth year over year and have to make sure we deliver to our core audience and consumer that has been with us from its inception in 2008. With that, we’ve doubled the walkthroughs, the calls, the meetings, really making sure that every piece of this festival from the artist experience to the fan experience, is really taken care of and taken seriously. We want to make sure everyone has an amazing time and we think this venue is suited for us to continue to grow and thrive.

It’s going to be our best year yet. It’s the 20th anniversary of arguably the greatest Roots album in Things Fall Apart. It’s H.E.R., it’s 21 Savage, Raphael Saadiq is going to do a special set with Questlove, which should be really, really cool, and City Girls, Ari Lennox, Blueface – it’s really such a great merging of the emerging acts, the acts of today with some of those historical legends, and the performances are going to speak for themselves.

Another Live Nation Urban event is the Washington, D.C., event Broccoli City (April 26-27 featuring Childish Gambino, Lil Wayne, Ella Mai, Teyana Taylor and many others). How did that go?
It was incredible. We had about 27,000-28,000 people there, this was our first year at FedEx Field, in the parking lot of the Redskins stadium. It was an amazing time, it’s Washington DC’s largest urban festival, and to see over 25,000 millennials there having a great time, particularly African-American millennials, it was something to behold. Broccoli City outside of the festival has its annual Broccoli Con that takes place two days prior, with speakers such as Tuma Basa who works at YouTube, Coach K Kevin Lee part of the management team at Quality Control, Ethiopia Habtemariam, senior VP at Universal Publishing and who runs Motown, having all these great people speaking to young people prior to the actual festival was just tremendous. We’re looking forward to growing that out a bit more, and continuing to grow Broccoli City. 

Let’s hear more about some of your other endeavors.
On top of this, there’s the music business nonprofit, Destined to Achieve Successful Heights (DASH). I continue to serve as executive director, and in fact we’ve received a grant from the Grammy Music Education Coalition where I will be developing the music business curriculum that every high school in the school district of Philadelphia will be using by the 2020-21 school year. Besides that, I’m managing a new artist Brianna Cash from Philadelphia who’s signed to Interscope Records whose first single should be released in the next 60-90 days, so I’m excited about that. There’s always something going. I think the beauty of working for someone like Shawn is having that entrepreneurial spirit and giving me and others the freedom to pursue other opportunities that excite us and enthrall us and keep us on the path to success.