The Roots at Welcome America on July 4, 2015

UPDATE 5:20 p.m.

The Roots will not headline the Wawa Welcome America festival, Billy Penn has learned.

“I have no proof of this, but I can 100% percent guarantee the current administration has no headliner planned as of yet that will live up to Mixmaster Mike’s Independence Day legacy,” a source close to the band told Billy Penn.

The Roots have played the Independence Day festival since 2009, long billed as the largest free concert in the U.S. by the city. Last year, the event had 175,000 concertgoers at peak, but has drawn as much as a total 750,000 people throughout the day, according to reports. Welcome America has helped establish the city as a summer music festival destination, part of a lineup that includes the Roots Picnic and Made in America.

The change raises questions about whether the concert can maintain its A-list of talent — in 2014, Ed Sheeran performed a set, likely attributable to Questlove and company’s presence in the lineup.

Ahead of the first Made in America festival, then-Mayor Michael Nutter told the Inquirer, “[Q]uite honestly, it’s something we’re really good at. We’ve demonstrated that time and again with Welcome America, [the 4th of July concert.]” he said. “Obviously, we welcome the economics. But this is really about promoting the brand and image of Philadelphia, nationally and internationally… It really is a priceless kind of thing.”

We’ve reached out to City Hall, the Office of the City Representative, which handles a dozen big events each year, including Welcome America, and the CEO of Welcome America; none had any immediate comment on the festival or any plans for a new headliner.

The Roots have deep connections to the city’s music scene through three decades; their South Street busking became the stuff of local legend, and they’ve served as an engine behind the city’s hip hop and neo-soul scenes. Now, they host their own major festival each year. The Roots were once on the July 4th concert bill, before growing into its headlining spot as well as acting as musical directors, curating the list of artists contracted to perform. Since 2013, Welcome America has aired on VH1 to a national audience, in addition to 6ABC’s local broadcast.

After we published, Questlove shared this article with an interesting hashtag.

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Kenney spokeswoman Lauren Hitt later had this to say via email: “There are some new and exciting changes happening at Wawa Welcome America, and we look forward to announcing those at a press conference that will take place in the coming weeks.”

Mark Dent contributed to this article.

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Chris Krewson

Chris Krewson is the executive director of LION Publishers, a national nonprofit association that serves local journalism entrepreneurs build sustainable news organizations, and the founding editor of...